A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is a written agreement between two or more parties, setting out the terms and conditions of their understanding. It is a generally non-binding document, which means that it is not enforceable in a court of law. The purpose of an MOU is to provide a framework for cooperation and understanding between the parties and to ensure that they are working towards common goals. In Indian law, the validity of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is not considered as strong as a formal contract. An MOU is considered a non-binding document, meaning that it is not enforceable in a court of law. However, an MOU can still have legal consequences if one of the parties violates the terms of the agreement.
In India, the enforceability of an MOU is determined by the nature of the agreement, the parties involved, and the purpose of the MOU. An MOU can be considered binding if it contains specific terms and conditions that are clear, definite, and enforceable. Additionally, if the parties to an MOU intend for it to be binding, the MOU can be considered enforceable under the principles of estoppel. Estoppel is a legal doctrine that prevents a party from denying the truth of a representation that they have previously made. If one party relies on the representations made in an MOU, the other party may be estopped from denying the validity of the MOU.
BINDING NATURE OF MOU IN INDIA
Depending on the circumstances, MOUs may be non-binding, contain some binding clauses, or be entirely binding. To enhance the efficacy, this needs to be explicitly stated in the contract. The following are a few MoU variations:
A situation where parties intend to be bound immediately: In the first scenario, all of the terms of the agreement have been agreed upon and the parties intend to be bound immediately. They are not subject to the occurrence or non-occurrence of any events, and they do not anticipate changing the terms of their agreement in any way. For instance, the parties might come to an agreement, draw it, and sign it as a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), but they might also declare that they will later engage an attorney to formalize the agreement.
A situation where the execution is conditional upon the formal agreement being formed: The second situation is one in which all of the parameters of the prospective partnership have been agreed upon by the parties, who have no plans to change them, but who have made compliance with the terms contingent upon the execution of a legal document. This kind of agreement frequently uses phrases like “subject to contract,” “subject to a formal contract,” and “non-binding.”
LEGAL APPROACHES WHICH CAN MAKE AN MOU ENFORCEABLE IN A COURT OF LAW
By inserting a dispute resolution clause: A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) can be made binding by inserting a dispute resolution clause. This clause sets out the method for resolving any disputes that may arise between the parties concerning the MOU. If a dispute resolution clause is included in an MOU, it can indicate the parties’ intention to make the MOU a binding agreement.
By fulfilling the requisites of a valid contract: In India, the construction of words in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) can make it legally binding if it satisfies the requirements of a contract. For an MOU to be considered a binding contract, it must contain the essential elements as mentioned under Section 10 of the Indian Contracts Act, 1872.
By paying the requisite stamp duty: In India, payment of stamp duty on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) can make it legally binding under the Indian Stamp Act, 1899. The payment of stamp duty acts as evidence of the existence of the document, and the amount paid is proportional to the value of the obligations under the MOU. However, it is important to note that while payment of stamp duty may make an MOU legally binding, it does not necessarily make it a legally enforceable agreement.
KEY NEGOTIABLE CLAUSES IN AN MOU
Negotiation is a critical step in the contract formation process that helps ensure that all parties involved reach a mutually acceptable agreement on the terms and conditions of the contract. Effective negotiation skills are important to ensure the success of the agreement and prevent disputes. Some of the important clauses which need to be negotiated in an MOU are as follows:
Purpose and scope of the agreement: This clause outlines the purpose and objectives of the MOU, as well as any limitations or restrictions on the parties’ obligations. Consensus ad idem plays an important role in the recitals. Whenever there is confusion relating to the intention of the parties or the crux of the entire agreement, one should refer to the recitals.
Payment cycle and invoice processing: While drafting and negotiating the payment clause, the prescribed criteria followed by the particular company must be kept in mind by the lawyer who is in charge. One must always check with the finance team the payment cycle followed by them as one cannot conflict the payment cycle clause against the internal policies of the company.
Obligations and responsibilities of parties: This clause specifies the duties and responsibilities of each party involved in the MOU, including any time frames for completion. While negotiating this clause, a lawyer must consult the client about what he is aiming to achieve and then work back to figure out his legal obligation which will be triggered by the agreement.
Liability and Indemnification: This clause outlines the parties’ liabilities and obligations in the event of breach of the MOU, as well as provisions for indemnification in case of any losses or damages. It is usually found in breach of confidential information, IP infringement, etc.
Confidentiality: If sensitive or confidential information will be shared between the parties, this clause outlines the obligations of each party to protect the confidentiality of that information. The confidentiality clause is always a survival clause that is even when the contract is terminated, the clause will survive for a certain period.
The Indian legal system has several landmark cases where MOUs have been declared as legally binding documents. The case of Jai Beverages Pvt. Ltd. v. State of Jammu and Kashmir and Ors the High Court held that the MOU was binding and enforceable as the obligations set out in the MoU were duly performed by the company and that the State of Jammu and Kashmir was obligated to honour its commitments under the agreement. The Court noted that the MOU contained all the essential elements of a contract, including offer, acceptance, and consideration, and that it was entered into with the intention of creating a legally binding relationship.
Another landmark case heard by the Karnataka High Court was Millenia Realtors Private Limited v. SJR Infrastructure Private Limited. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between two real estate companies, Millenia Realtors and SJR Infrastructure, was the subject of the court action. The dispute arose when Millenia Realtors alleged that SJR Infrastructure failed to perform its obligations under the MOU, which was signed for the joint development of a real estate project. Millenia Realtors sought an injunction to prevent SJR Infrastructure from backing out of the MOU. The court held that Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) are competent for enforcement and should not be seen as contingent contracts.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court of India has established in several cases that MOUs are binding if they contain all the essential terms of the agreement and that the parties have the intention to create legal relations. This means that MOUs can be relied upon as evidence of negotiations between parties and can be used to prove the terms of the agreement. In my personal opinion, MOUs can be a valuable tool for parties in negotiations and can help to clarify the terms of an agreement before entering into a formal contract. They are particularly useful in complex transactions, where the parties require time to finalize the details of the agreement. However, they must be drafted carefully to ensure that they are enforceable in the event of a dispute, and they should be reviewed regularly to ensure that they remain relevant and in line with the changing needs and requirements of the parties. In addition, parties should seek legal advice before entering into an MOU to ensure that they are aware of the legal implications and to confirm that the MOU meets the requirements for enforceability.
Author(s) Name: Diya Pasari (Amity University, Kolkata)
 Indian Contract Act 1872, s 10
 Indian Stamp Act 1899, s 17(1)
 Jai Beverages Pvt. Ltd. v State of Jammu and Kashmir and Ors (2006) SCC OnLine SC 587
 Millenia Realtors Private Limited v SJR Infrastructure Private Limited (2005) 6 Kant LJ 36