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Dismissing the writ petition on grounds of delay should not be the thumb rule: Supreme Court

High Court should exercise its discretion while hearing a petition that has been delayed in filing and dismissing the writ petition on grounds of delay should not be the thumb rule and the court should exercise its judicious discretion after considering all pros and cons of the matter, including the nature of the dispute, the explanation for the delay, whether any third-party rights have intervened etc.

In the matter of Vetindia Pharmaceuticals Limited  V State Of Uttar Pradesh And Another, CIVIL APPEAL NO.3647 OF 2020, where the appellant who was a licensed drug manufacturer, took the plea of a bonafide inadvertent printing error on the label, by stating “OXYTETRACYCLINE INJ. I.P. VET” in place of “OXYTETRACYCLINE HCL INJ. I.P. VET. It was pertinent to note that the products were not spurious, adulterated or misbranded.

The appellant through their show cause notice explained their stance to their respondents which the latter rejected and further went on to blacklist the appellants through an impugned order. It was alleged that the impugned order for blacklisting contained no specific time duration and even after the appellants seeking clarification on the same, the respondents did not pay heed to it. In light of these circumstances, the appellants filed a writ petition.

The court after viewing the blacklisting order held it illegal on various grounds, one of them being it was arbitrarily passed which is against the principle of natural justice. The court opined that “An order of blacklisting operates to the prejudice of a commercial person not only in presenting but also puts a taint which attaches far beyond and may well spell the death knell of the organization/institution for all times to come described as a civil death. The repercussions on the appellant were clearly spelt out by it in the representations as also in the writ petition, including the consequences under the Rajasthan tender, where it stood debarred expressly because of the present impugned order. an order of blacklisting beyond 3 years or maximum of 5 years was disproportionate.”

The court moved on to the matter of delay which was an approximate of 10 years to which the court opined that, “There is no doubt that the High Court in its discretionary jurisdiction may decline to exercise the discretionary writ jurisdiction on ground of delay in approaching the court. But it was only a rule of discretion by exercise of self-restraint evolved by the court in exercise of the discretionary equitable jurisdiction and not a mandatory requirement that every delayed petition must be dismissed on the ground of delay. The Limitation Act stricto sensu does not apply to the writ jurisdiction. The discretion vested in the court under Article 226 of the Constitution therefore has to be a judicious exercise of the discretion after considering all pros and cons of the matter, including the nature of the dispute, the explanation for the delay, whether any third-party rights have intervened etc. The jurisdiction under Article 226 being equitable in nature, questions of proportionality in considering whether the impugned order merits interference or not in exercise of the discretionary jurisdiction will also arise.”

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