Beyond Ink and Paper: The Legal Framework of E-Signatures and E-Contracts in India

author Apoorv Shishodia , Shreyika Walia

calender March 7, 2024

Beyond Ink and Paper: The Legal Framework of E-Signatures and E-Contracts in India

The advancement of technology has brought several changes to the formation and execution of contracts. One of the major changes introduced in this evolving era is the shift to electronic signatures from traditional paper-based signatures. It is pertinent to note that technological progress and government programs such as Digital India are driving this digital revolution and hence, a surge in digital transactions and online connections is being observed in India.

The current digital transformation in India has highlighted the importance of recognizing the validity of e-signatures and the enforceability of e-contracts. The present article deals with the concept of e-signatures and e-contracts in the Indian context.

In India, the Information Technology Act, 2000 (the IT Act), is the primary governing legislation of digital signatures and electronic transactions. Accordingly, it is crucial to emphasize the provisions of the IT Act in order to understand the legal implications of electronic signatures.

Validity of E-Signatures

In this digital era, electronic signatures commonly known as e-signatures are a key element of our day-to-day transactions and hence, it is important to understand the basic concept of an e-signature before dealing with the specific provisions of the IT Act. It is to be noted that an e-signature broadly refers to a signature or a mere process adopted to validate an electronic record, which also includes digital signatures.

The introduction of e-signatures has brought efficiency and made the process of executing documents simpler for businesses. However, it is important to simultaneously regulate the use of e-signatures and to establish a proper structure for the use of e-signatures in India.

The IT Act regulates the authentication of electronic records through the use of e-signatures and the same is recognized under Sections 3A and 5 of the said act. The said provisions of the IT Act demonstrate that any document's signing requirement is deemed satisfied if it is authenticated by means of an affixed e-signature. In light of the said provisions, the IT Act not only acknowledges the validity of electronic signatures but has also combined the traditional concept of signatures into electronic transactions/signatures which also ensures the legality and authenticity of digital documents.

Recognized Forms of E-Signatures

The IT Act identifies two forms of e-signatures as means of authentication which are digital signatures and electronic signatures. Digital signatures are a type of e-signature that functions through asymmetric or public-key cryptography by using a pair of private and public keys. The private key is securely owned by the signatory and is used to encrypt a hash generated by a hash function. This technology has always been considered highly secure and is mostly preferred for various important transactions (involving financial transactions and/or legal documents).

On the other hand, electronic signatures include a broader scope of authentication methods wherein the process of verification of documents ranges from basic procedures (viz. scanned signatures, PINs, and checkboxes confirming agreement) to more technical procedures (involving identity verification by using services such as Aadhar or e-KYC). It is to be considered that the electronic signatures are flexible which allows the parties to use them in different cases and makes them suitable for day-to-day transactions with the facility of changeable security requirements.

E-Contracts in India

Electronic contracts or e-contracts are formal agreements entered into electronically, and they are crucial in facilitating commerce by eliminating geographical barriers and reducing the contract formation process. In contemporary times, e-contracts have become increasingly common, enabling parties to execute agreements without the need for traditional paper-based signatures. In this era ruled by e-contracts, the fundamental role played by e-signatures cannot be overstated.

E-contracts in India are valid and enforceable under the provisions of Section 10-A of the IT Act. The only pre-requisite for the enforceability of an e-contract is that the contracting parties are required to follow the conditions of a contract set forth in the Indian Contract Act, 1872.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, in the matter of Trimex International FZE Ltd. Dubai Vs. Vedanta Aluminium Ltd., India, observed that the terms of an agreement that had been agreed to over e-mail was legally enforceable. Further, in the absence of a signed agreement between the parties, emails exchanged between the parties served as adequate approval and acknowledgment since it provided for a record of the agreement. 

Types of E-Contracts

  1. Shrink-wrap agreements: Such agreements require the parties to accept the terms in the packaging of a product, which is inclusive of software or other electronic products. In such cases, the terms and conditions of the agreement are affixed outside the package and are visible to the consumers. Accordingly, they will have the option to return it if they do not agree with such terms as mentioned.
  2. E-mail agreements: These types of agreements are enforced on the basis of the exchange of emails between the parties. However, such agreements can only be enforced if the terms and conditions of such agreements are clear and free from any ambiguity. 
  3. Click-wrap agreements: These agreements are often encountered during the installation of software or accessing online services. This type of agreement requires users to click on an “I agree” button or checkbox to signify the acceptance of the contract terms. 
  4. Browse-wrap agreements: Under the cover of these agreements, the parties display their terms and conditions on a website and imply users to accept such terms for their continued use of the website. However, such agreements are difficult to enforce in India in light of the lack of explicit acceptance.  

Need for E-Signatures and E-Contracts

In the present digital era, e-contracts provide security and convenience to the parties as the transactions occur across geographical boundaries and the parties are now not required to be present physically at any certain location to sign the documents through the traditional methods.

The use of e-signatures enables parties to authenticate documents and agreements electronically without any requirement of paper-based documents as well as physical signatures. Therefore, it is worth mentioning that e-contracts provide flexibility and are a more accessible platform for parties to execute agreements. Hence, the use of e-signatures in the present era is more cost-effective and beneficial as it eliminates logistical constraints while running operations by the parties.

Furthermore, in the wake of global events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a clear shift towards remote work and digital transactions and since then the significance of e-signatures and e-contracts in facilitating continuity and resilience in business operations has become even more pronounced.


The legal recognition of e-signatures and the validity of e-contracts under the IT Act clearly showcase India's desire to ensure legal safeguards while embracing technological advancements. As discussed in the article, the IT Act provides legal validity to electronic authentication methods and empowers organizations and individuals to conduct their business securely in the digital era through digital transactions. Hence, it is worthwhile to mention that the IT Act is a foundation for legitimizing e-signatures, promoting the development of electronic commerce, and facilitating governance throughout the country.

In conclusion, it is pertinent to note that a careful understanding of the essentials of a contract and compliance with the IT Act is the necessity to enforce e-contracts in India. Parties operating online in India need to understand that e-signatures can be affixed authentically on any document in compliance with the legal framework and should also ensure that their contracts meet the legal conditions and requirements.

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