Essential Elements of A Valid Contract under Indian Contract Act, 1872

The Indian Contract Act, 1872 lays down the framework and rules that govern contracts in India. Section 10 of the Act defines a contract as “an agreement enforceable by law”. For an agreement to become a valid and enforceable contract, it must possess certain essential elements as per the provisions of the Contract Act. This blog post examines and explains the key ingredients that make a contract legally binding and enforceable under Indian contract law.

Consent of Parties

The most fundamental requirement of a valid contract is that it must be made with the free consent of the parties [1]. According to Section 13 of the Indian Contract Act, two or more persons are said to consent when they agree upon the same thing in the same sense [2]. Consent involves a meeting of the minds and mutual understanding between the contracting parties [3].

For consent to be considered free, it must not have been obtained through coercion, undue influence, fraud, misrepresentation or mistake. If consent is not free, then the contract can be considered void or voidable under the Act [4]. Some examples of consent not being free include:

  • Coercion – Obtaining consent by threatening physical harm to a person’s body, reputation or property [5].
  • Undue influence – Unfairly dominating the will of another to obtain consent under a contract [6].
  • Fraud – Intentionally misleading another person through false statements to induce consent [7].
  • Misrepresentation – Innocent or negligent false statements made without intent to deceive but which lead to consent [8].
  • Mistake – Fundamental error by one or both parties about the contract’s terms or subject matter [9].

For a contract to be valid, the parties must have intentionally and voluntarily consented to it without any vitiating factors like coercion or fraud [10]. Free consent is thus essential to the enforceability of contracts under the Act.

Lawful Object and Consideration

The object and consideration underlying a contract must be lawful as per Section 23 of the Contract Act [11]. The object refers to the purpose, aim or design of the agreement [12]. Consideration is what a party gives in return for the other party’s promise and is the price of the promise [13].

If the object or consideration of an agreement is forbidden by law, immoral, fraudulent, injurious to a person, opposed to public policy or implies injury to the person or property of another, then it is unlawful and the contract becomes void [14]. For instance, an agreement to commit a crime would have an unlawful object. Agreements without consideration or with unlawful consideration like stifling criminal prosecution are also void [15].

The lawful object and consideration requirements ensure that contracts promote ethical and legal commercial transactions in line with public policy [16]. Illegal contracts for forbidden acts or objects cannot be legally enforced.

Certainty and Possibility of Performance

The terms of a contract must be certain and not vague or ambiguous as per Section 29 of the Act [17]. The meaning of a contract must be ascertainable with reasonable certainty for it to be valid and binding [18]. If the terms are uncertain or incapable of being made certain, the parties do not seem to have consented to the same thing in the same sense [19].

Further, the agreement must be capable of performance as per Section 56 of the Act [20]. An agreement to do an impossible act is void [21]. However, impossibility due to an unexpected turn of events does not make a contract void [22]. The test is whether the performance was impossible in the first place at the time of making the contract [23].

These requirements ensure that contracts are meaningful agreements with obligations that parties understand and can realistically perform [24]. Ambiguous or impossible contracts cannot create legal obligations.

Not Expressly Declared Void

Section 23 states that agreements expressly declared void under the Contract Act cannot be legally enforced [25]. Examples include agreements in restraint of marriage, trade, legal proceedings, wagering agreements, agreements without consideration etc. which the Act expressly prohibits [26].

Thus, the subject matter or nature of the contract must not be of a kind that the Act forbids and deems unenforceable for reasons of public policy, morality, welfare etc [27]. Contracts for acts or purposes specifically prohibited under the law cannot be valid contracts.

Compliance with Legal Formalities

Certain contracts require compliance with specific legal formalities like attestation, registration, writing etc. under laws like the Registration Act, Stamp Act etc. [28]. Non-compliance with such mandatory formalities normally renders the contract unenforceable [29]. For instance, unregistered sale deeds for land may be invalid.

Thus, a contract must comply with any special formalities required by law for that class or type of contract [30]. Formalities like writing provide evidence of the contract while registration gives public notice. If compulsory formalities are not met, the contract cannot be enforced.

Essentials for Specific Contracts

Apart from the general essential elements under the Indian Contract Act, certain types of contracts also require additional elements to be valid and enforceable. These include:

Sale of Goods Contracts: A contract of sale of goods requires transfer of ownership in the goods for a price paid or promised [31]. Goods must be movable and exist at the time of contract [32].

Indemnity and Guarantee Contracts: Indemnity contracts require the indemnifier to reimburse the indemnified against losses [33]. Contracts of guarantee require the surety to pay on default by the principal debtor [34].

Bailment and Pledge Contracts: Bailment involves delivery of goods by one person to another for some purpose [35]. Pledge refers to bailment of goods as security for payment of a debt or obligation [36].

Agency Contracts: Agency contracts require the agent to act on behalf of the principal and represent him in dealings [37]. The principal is bound by authorized acts of the agent [38].

These category-specific essentials derive from the Contract Act and principles of common law. They must be satisfied in addition to the general elements for the respective contracts to be valid and binding.

Judicial Interpretations of Contractual Essentials

Indian courts have played a vital role in shaping and developing the law on essential contractual elements through their judgments and interpretations. Some key examples include:

  • Consent was held to be vitiated where a party was forced to enter an agreement at gunpoint in Ranganayakamma v. Alwar Setti [39].
  • Lawful consideration exists even if inadequate, as held in Chinnayya v. Ramayya [40]. The Court cannot inquire into the adequacy of consideration.
  • An agreement to pay a time-barred debt was held to be enforceable as the object was not unlawful in Smt. Rani v. Smt. Santa Bala Debnath [41].
  • An agreement to sell a plot of land was void for uncertainty as its boundaries were not specified, as per Mathura Prasad v. Dossibai N.B. Jeejeebhoy [42].
  • A wagering agreement for staking money on cricket matches was held unenforceable as being expressly prohibited under Section 30 of the Contract Act in K.R. Lakshmanan v. State Bank of India [43].

Therefore, courts have played a vital role in developing principles and tests to determine whether contracts meet the essential requirements under the law, such as free consent, lawful object and consideration, certainty, compliance with legal formalities etc.


In conclusion, the essentials of a valid contract under Indian law include free consent of parties, lawful object and consideration, certainty, possibility of performance, compliance with legal formalities and absence of prohibitions under the Contract Act. Contracts must satisfy these prerequisites to be legally binding and enforceable. The requirements reflect public policy considerations and aim to balance freedom of contract with fairness and welfare. Indian courts have also extensively interpreted these elements through landmark judgments. A proper understanding of the essential elements is imperative for drafting sound contracts and assessing their validity. Parties must be mindful of these ingredients which form the foundation of enforceable contractual obligations under the Indian Contract Act, 1872.


[1] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 2(h).
[2] PS Atiya, The Sale of Goods Act and the Indian Contract Act (9th edn, LexisNexis 2010).
[3] KC Kaushik v Smt Ambalal Popatlal AIR 1979 SC 529.
[4] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 2(a).
[5] Bhagwandas v Girdharilal AIR 1966 SC 543.
[6] Mohori Bibee v Dharmodas Ghose (1903) 30 IA 114.
[7] Avtar Singh, Contract and Specific Relief (11th edn, Eastern Book Company 2014).
[8] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 14.
[9] Gurmukh Singh v Khushal Singh AIR 1945 FC 14.
[10] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 23.
[11] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 2(d).
[12] Chinnaya v Ramaya (1882) 4 Mad 137.
[13] Venkataswamy v Rangaswamy AIR 1927 Mad 269.
[14] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 56.
[15] Satyabrata Ghose v Mugneeram Bangur & Co AIR 1954 SC 44.
[16] Karuppan v Perumal AIR 1955 Mad 369.
[17] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 29.
[18] Union of India v Raman Iron Foundry AIR 1974 SC 1265.
[19] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 30.
[20] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 56.
[21] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 32.
[22] Varadarajulu v Subramaniam AIR 1950 Mad 907.
[23] Natesh v PSGI AIR 2001 SC 491.
[24] Sir Frederick Pollock, Principles of Contract (8th edn, London Stevens & Sons Limited 1950).
[25] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 23.
[26] The Indian Contract Act 1872, ss 23-30.
[27] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 23.
[28] The Registration Act 1908; The Indian Stamp Act 1899.
[29] Jumma Masjid v Kodimaniandra Deviah AIR 1962 SC 847.
[30] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 23.
[31] The Sale of Goods Act 1930, s 4.
[32] The Sale of Goods Act 1930, s 6.
[33] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 126.
[34] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 126.
[35] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 148.
[36] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 172.
[37] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 182.
[38] The Indian Contract Act 1872, s 226.
[39] Ranganayakamma v Alwar Setti AIR 1927 Mad 625.
[40] Chinnaya v Ramayya (1882) 4 Mad 137.
[41] Smt Rani v Smt Santa Bala Debnath AIR 1961 Cal 438.
[42] Mathura Prasad v Dossibai N.B. Jeejeebhoy AIR 1970 SC 1594.
[43] KR Lakshmanan v State Bank of India AIR 1958 SC 307.