Explain the various modes of discharge of a contract?


A Contract is said to be discharged when the rights and obligations created by it come to an end. A contract may be discharged in the following modes:-

1.  Discharge by performance – Discharge by performance takes place when the parties to a contract fulfill their obligations arising under the contract within the time and in the manner prescribed. Performance may be actual performance or attempted performance.

2.  Discharge by Agreement or Consent – A Contract comes into existence by an agreement and it may be discharged also by an agreement. The following are modes of discharge of a contract by an agreement –

a)  By Waiver – Waiver takes place when the parties to a contract agree that they shall no longer be bound by the contract. For eg. A an actor promised to make a guest performance in the film made by B. Later B forbids A from making the guest appearance. B is discharged of his obligation.

b)  By Novation – (Explained in detail in the next answer)

c)  By Rescission – Rescission of a contract takes place when all or some of the terms of the contract are cancelled. It may  occur by mutual consent or where one party fails in the performance of his obligations, the other party may rescind the contract.

d)  By alteration – Alteration of a contract may take place when one or more of the terms of the contract is/are altered by mutual consent of the parties to the contract.

e)  By Remission – Remission means acceptance of a lesser fulfillment of the promise made, Eg.

Acceptance of a lesser sum than what was contracted for, in discharge of the whole of the debt.

f)   By Merger – Merger takes place when an inferior right accruing to a party under a contract merges into a superior right accruing to the same party under the same or some other contract. For eg. P holds a property under a lease. He later buys the property. His rights as a lessee merge into his rights as an owner.

3.  Discharge by impossibility of performance – If a contract contains an undertaking to perform an impossibility, it is void ab initio. As per Section 56, impossibility of performance may fall into either of the following categories –

(i)  Impossibility existing at the time formation of the contract – This is know as pre-contractual impossibility. The fact of impossibility may be –

a) known to the parties – Both the parties are aware or know that the contract is to perform an impossible act. For eg. A agrees with B to put life into dead wife of B, the agreement is void.

b) unknown to the parties – Both the parties are unaware of the impossibility. The contract could be on the ground of mutual mistake of fact. For eg.A contract to sell his house at Andaman to B. Both the parties are in Mumbai and are unknown to the fact that the house is actually washed away due to Tsunami.

(ii)     Impossibility arising subsequent to the formation of the contract – Where impossibility of performance of the contract is caused by circumstances beyond the control of the parties, the parties are discharged from further performance of the obligation arising under the contract.

4.  Discharge by lapse of time – The Limitation Act, 1963 lays down certain specified periods within which different contracts  are to be performed and be enforceable. If a party to a contract does not perform, action can be taken only within the time specified by the Act. Failing which the contract is terminated by lapse of time.

For eg. A sold a gold chain to B on credit without any period of credit, the payment must be made or the suit to recover it, must be instituted within three years from the date of delivery of the instrument.

5.  Discharge by Operation of Law – A contract may be discharged independently of the wished of the parties i.e. by operation of law. This includes discharge –

a)  By death – In contract involving personal skill or ability, the contract is terminated on the death of the promisor. In other contracts the rights and liabilities of a deceased person pass on to the legal representatives of the deceased person.

b)  By insolvency – When a person is declared insolvent, he is discharged from all liabilities incurred prior to such declaration.

c)  By  unauthorized  material  alteration  of  the  terms  of  a  written  agreement  –  Any  material alteration made by  a party to the contract, without the prior permission of the other party, the innocent party is discharged.



d)  By rights and liabilities becoming vested in the same person – When the rights and liabilities under a contract vests in the same person.

6.  Discharge by Breach of Contract – A breach of contract occurs when a party thereto without lawful excuse does not fulfill his contractual obligation or by his own act makes it impossible that he should perform his obligation under it. A breach to a contract occurs in two ways :-

a)  Actual Breach – When a party fails, or neglects or refuses or does not attempt to perform his obligation at the time fixed for performance, it results in actual breach of contract. For eg. A promises to deliver 100 packs of ice-cream to B on his wedding day. A does not deliver the packs on that day. A has committed actual breach of the contract.

b)  Anticipatory Breach – Anticipatory Breach is a breach before the time of the performance of the contract has  arrived.    This may take place either by the promisor doing an act which makes the performance of  his promise impossible or by the promisor , in way showing his intention not to perform it.




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