Law of limitation binds everybody including the government – Supreme Court

In the case of State of Madhya Pradesh Vs Bherulal [Special Leave Petition (C) Diary No. 9217 of 2020] Supreme Court held that Supreme Court of India cannot be a place for the Governments to walk in when they choose ignoring the period of limitation prescribed.

The Special Leave Petition was filed with a delay of 663 days. Court observed that there is no doubt, some leeway is given for the Government inefficiencies but the sad part is that the authorities keep on relying on judicial pronouncements for a period of time when technology had not advanced and a greater leeway was given to the Government.

Court relied on the judgement of Office of the Chief Post Master General & Ors. v. Living Media India Ltd. & Anr. (2012) 3 SCC 563 where it was stated, “It is not in dispute that the person(s) concerned were well aware or conversant with the issues involved including the prescribed period of limitation for taking up the matter by way of filing a special leave petition in this Court. They cannot claim that they have a separate period of limitation when the Department was possessed with competent persons familiar with court proceedings. In the absence of plausible and acceptable explanation, we are posing a question why the delay is to be condoned mechanically merely because the Government or a wing of the Government is a party before us. The claim on account of impersonal machinery and inherited bureaucratic methodology of making several notes cannot be accepted in view of the modern technologies being used and available.”

The Judges further remarked that, “The object appears to be to obtain a certificate of dismissal from the Supreme Court to put a quietus to the issue and thus, say that nothing could be done because the highest Court has dismissed the appeal. It is to complete this formality and save the skin of officers who may be at default that such a process is followed. There seems to be no improvement. The purpose of coming to this Court is not to obtain such certificates and if the Government suffers losses, it is time when the concerned officer responsible for the same bears the consequences. The irony is that in none of the cases any action is taken against the officers, who sit on the files and do nothing. It is presumed that this Court will condone the delay and even in making submissions, straight away counsels appear to address on merits without referring even to the aspect of limitation as happened in this case till we pointed out to the counsel that he must first address us on the question of limitation.”

Court held that, “Looking to the period of delay and the casual manner in which the application has been worded, we consider appropriate to impose costs on the petitioner- State of Rs.25,000/- (Rupees twenty-five thousand) to be deposited with the Mediation and Conciliation Project Committee. The amount be recovered from the officers responsible for the delay in filing the special leave petition and a certificate of recovery of the said amount be also filed in this Court within four weeks.”

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