Performance of Reciprocal Promise Under Indian Contract Act

The Indian Contract Act defines reciprocal promises as promises that form the consideration or part of the consideration for each other. In other words, reciprocal promises are made when the parties to an agreement make mutual promises to do or refrain from doing something. As a result, each party is obligated to fulfill his promise and accept the fulfillment of the other's promise.

Types of Reciprocal Promises

Following are the major types of reciprocal Promises −

  • Mutual and Independent − When promises are to be fulfilled independently by each party without waiting for the other party to fulfill its promise.

  • Conditional and Dependent − When one party's performance is dependent on the prior performance of the other party.

  • Mutual and Concurrent − When the promises must be kept simultaneously with time.

Performance of Reciprocal Promise Described under Sections 51-58 of Indian Contract Act

It includes −

Section 51: Promisors are not bound to perform unless the reciprocal promisee is ready and willing to do so

This section states that when several promises must be performed at the same time, a Promisor is not bound to perform until the reciprocal promisee is ready and ready to perform. Section 51 deals with two promises that must be performed concurrently; they are known as mutual and concurrent reciprocal promises.

When a contract consists of reciprocal promises to be performed simultaneously, the promisor is not required to perform his promise if the promisee is not willing and able to perform his reciprocal promise in accordance with the contract.

The Hon'ble Supreme Court decided in Mrs. Saradamani Kandappan vs. Mrs. S. Rajalakshmi and Ors that the terms of the contract and familiarity with the reciprocal promises were mutual and independent.

Section 52: Order of performance of a reciprocal contract

When an order for the performance of reciprocal promises is prescribed, that order must be followed. If it is not mentioned, the reciprocal promises shall be made in the order required by the nature of the transaction.

In the case of Edridge v. R.D. Sethna, it was ruled that subsequent conduct could not be used to decide how the promises should be fulfilled.

For example, if A Promises B to renovate his cabin for a fixed price, the natural order will be A renovating the cabin and then receiving payment.

Section 53: Liability of party preventing the event on which the contract is to take effect

If one party refuses to let the other party perform their promise, the party that is prohibited from performing their promise has the option of declaring the contract void.

Additionally, any other party barred from performing a contract may seek and allege reimbursement from the encumbering party for any losses he may incur as a result of the contract's non-performance.

In other words, if a contract contains reciprocal promises and one party to the contract prevents the other party from performing his promise, the contract becomes voidable, and the party so prevented is entitled to compensation from the other party for any loss he may sustain as a result of the contract's non-performance.

Section 54: Effect of default as to that promise which should be performed in a contract consisting of reciprocal promises

Because the promises are dependent, if one fails to perform the first, he cannot expect the reciprocal promise to be performed. The person who fails to perform the promise is liable to compensate the other party for any costs incurred as a condition of the failure to perform the promise.

For example, if a guy wants to rent a flat and promises to make the advance payment, the other party promises to deliver the flat after the payment. If the man fails to make the payment for any reason, he cannot claim the flat since the reciprocal promise was dependent on his promise, which he failed to perform. It is also possible that the man was compelled to give compensation for the losses suffered by the other party as a result of the contract's non-performance.

Section 55: Effect of failure to perform at a fixed time in a contract in which time is essential

According to this section, the essence of a contract is time. If it is essential to the contract that a certain promise be fulfilled within a certain time limit, and the promisor fails to do so, the promisee may terminate the contract and seek compensation for any loss sustained.

It is usually up to the parties to decide on the time of performance when they make a contract. In this case, the promisor must fulfill his promise within the time specified. In other cases, a reasonable timeline for performance must be followed.

In other words, if a contractual party promises to do something at or before a certain time and fails to do it at or before that time, the contract, or the portion of it that has not been performed, becomes voidable at the option of the promisee if the parties intended for time to be of the essence of the contract.

Section 56: Agreement to Do an Impossible Act

When two parties enter into a contract to do an impossible task or something unlawful, the contract becomes null and void. There are two considerations to make in this case: first, the subject matter of the promise may have been impossible or unlawful at the time the contract was made, and second, the subject matter may have been impossible or unlawful subsequently.

Section 57: Reciprocal of Legal and Illegal Acts

Section 57 of the Indian Contract Act applies only where there are two sets of promises made that are distinct enough to be split if required. There are two types of such promises: one that is legal and the other that is illegal and hence void. In this case, the first part is performed while the latter becomes invalid.


Sections 51 to 55 of the Indian Contract Act require the parties to perform the reciprocal promise in the contract at the same time. These sections contain the essence of the contract's time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q1. What is the performance of reciprocal promises under Sections 51–55?

Ans. This section states that when some promises must be performed at the same time, a promiseor is not bound to perform until the reciprocal promisee is prepared and ready to perform.

Q2. What is the principle of reciprocity in contract law?

Ans. The principle of contract reciprocity recognizes that in many contracts, the parties' common intention, expressed or unspoken, is that there should be an exchange of performances. Until there is evidence to the contrary, there is a presumption that interdependent promises are reciprocal.

Q3. Who must perform the performance in the case of a joint promise generally?

Ans. Unless a contrary intention appears from the contract, each of two or more joint promisors may compel every other joint promisor to contribute equally with himself to the performance of the promise.

Updated on: 03-Apr-2023

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