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“Delay should not be excused as a matter of generosity” Supreme Court Rejects Govt’s Time Barred Suit

Case title: Union of India & Anr. v. Jahangir Byramji Jeejeebhoy

Case no.: Civil Appeal No. of 2024 (arising out of S.L.P. (Civil) No. 21096 of 2019)

Dated on: 3rd April 2024

Quorum: Justice Aniruddha Bose and Justice J.B. Pardiwala

FACTS OF THE CASE

In the annals of legal battles, the saga of delays often takes center stage. The case at hand, emanating from an order by a learned single Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Bombay, bears testament to the perennial struggle between the imperatives of justice and the rigidity of timelines. Let’s delve into the intricate web of facts, submissions, issues, and judicial pronouncements that define this legal saga.

The genesis of the dispute lies in a lease agreement dated 09.03.1951, wherein the respondent leased a property to the appellants. Subsequently, due to alleged breaches by the appellants, the respondent filed a suit for possession and arrears of rent in 1981. The trial court decreed the suit in 1987, which was subsequently affirmed in appellate proceedings in 1992. The appellants then approached the High Court in 1993, seeking relief under Article 227 of the Constitution.

However, due to non-prosecution, the petition was dismissed in 2006. Despite subsequent execution proceedings initiated by the respondent in 2013, the appellants only moved to restore the petition in 2019, citing a delay of 12 years and 158 days. The High Court, in its order dated 09.07.2019, declined to condone the delay, prompting the present appeal before the Supreme Court.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

The learned Attorney General, representing the appellants, argued vehemently for condonation of the delay. He underscored the significance of the suit property being within Pune Cantonment, asserted as Union-owned land. The delay, according to him, should not prejudice the government’s rights over the land.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENTS

In opposition, Mr. Sudhanshu Chaudhari, the learned senior counsel for the respondent, contended that the High Court’s decision was legally sound. He emphasized the lack of sufficient cause presented by the appellants to justify the lengthy delay in seeking restoration.

In Oriental Aroma Chemical Industries Limited v. Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation, (2010) 5 SCC 459, SC rejected the application for condonation of delay of 4 years in filing an application to set aside an ex-parte decree on the ground that the explanation offered for condonation of delay is found to be not satisfied.

In Postmaster General and others v. Living Media India Limited, (2012) 3 SCC 563, while dismissing the application for condonation of delay of 427 days in filing the Special Leave Petition, held that condonation of delay is not an exception and it should not be used as an anticipated benefit for the government departments.

In that case, SC held that unless the Department has reasonable and acceptable reason for the delay and there was bona fide effort, there is no need to accept the usual explanation that the file was kept pending for several months/years due to considerable degree of procedural red tape in the process cannot be accepted.

LEGAL PROVISIONS

Article 227 of Constitution of India, Power of superintendence over all courts by the High Court, Every High Court shall have superintendence over all courts and tribunals throughout the territories in relation to which it exercises jurisdiction.

ISSUE

  • Whether the delay of 12 years and 158 days in filing the restoration application warrants condonation.
  • Whether the appellants have presented sufficient cause to justify the delay.
  • Whether the High Court erred in its decision to decline condonation.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

Upon meticulous examination of the submissions and pertinent legal precedents, the Supreme Court embarked on a rigorous analysis. The Court acknowledged the suggestion made by the High Court regarding the possibility of restoration if possession of the property were relinquished, a proposition the appellants declined. It emphasized the significance of diligence in litigation and the sanctity of limitation periods.

Referring to established legal principles, the Court underscored that condonation of delay is not an automatic entitlement. It stressed the need for parties to demonstrate sufficient cause, highlighting the lack thereof in the present case. The Court disapproved of the appellants’ casual approach towards litigation and their failure to proffer a compelling rationale for the delay.

Drawing parallels from prior judgments, the Court reiterated that the law of limitation is founded on principles of equity and public policy, serving to maintain certainty and prevent undue prejudice. It cautioned against leniency in condoning delays, particularly in the absence of bona fide efforts or justifiable reasons.

Ultimately, the Court upheld the High Court’s decision, refusing to intervene in the absence of compelling grounds to condone the delay. It emphasized the paramountcy of adherence to legal timelines and the imperative of balancing justice with procedural rigor.

In the realm of legal proceedings, time is of the essence, and the case law discussed serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of delay. Upholding the sanctity of limitation periods, the Supreme Court’s judgment underscores the need for parties to approach litigation with diligence and foresight, lest they risk forfeiture of their rights. As legal battles unfold, the scales of justice remain finely calibrated, weighing the merits of each case against the imperative of timely recourse to legal remedies.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Chiraag K A

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“Merits of Case not necessary for Granting Delay in Condonation,” Principles For Condonation Of Delay Under Limitation Act laid down by Supreme Court.

Case title: Pathapati Subba Reddy (Died) By L.Rs. & Ors. v. The Special Deputy Collector (LA)

Case no.: Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 31248 Of 2018

Order on: 8th April 2024

Quorum: Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Bela M. Trivedi

FACTS OF THE CASE

In the village of Gandluru, District Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, certain lands were acquired for the Telugu Ganga Project in 1989. Dissatisfied with the compensation offered, 16 claimants filed a reference under Section 18 of the Land Acquisition Act. During the pendency of the reference, three of the claimants passed away, but their heirs were not substituted. Eventually, the reference was dismissed along with others, upholding the collector’s award.

Several years later, some heirs and legal representatives of one of the deceased claimants, Pathapati Subba Reddy, sought to file an appeal challenging the dismissal. However, they did so after an inordinate delay of 5659 days. They cited reasons such as lack of awareness of the reference due to living away from the ancestral home.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

The appellants, heirs of the deceased claimant No. 11, sought to explain the delay by citing lack of awareness of the reference due to living in a different household. They argued that they promptly filed the appeal upon discovering the reference.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENTS

The respondent argued against condoning the delay, highlighting the lack of due diligence by the claimants in pursuing the reference earlier. They also emphasized that most claimants had accepted the reference court’s decision, implying acquiescence to the dismissal. Few Judgements which were relied on:

  • Bhag Mal alias Ram Bux and Ors. vs. Munshi (Dead) by LRs. and Ors. [1]:

it has been observed that different provisions of Limitation Act may require different construction, as for example, the court exercises its power in a given case liberally in condoning the delay in filing the appeal under Section 5 of the Limitation Act, however, the same may not be true while construing Section 3 of the Limitation Act. It, therefore, follows that though liberal interpretation has to be given in construing Section 5 of the Limitation Act but not in applying Section 3 of the Limitation Act, which has to be construed strictly.

  • Lanka Venkateswarlu vs. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors.[2]:

where the High Court, despite unsatisfactory explanation for the delay of 3703 days, had allowed the applications for condonation of delay, this Court held that the High Court failed to exercise its discretion in a reasonable and objective manner. High Court should have exercised the discretion in a systematic and an informed manner. The liberal approach in considering sufficiency of cause for delay should not be allowed to override substantial law of limitation. The Court observed that the concepts such as ‘liberal approach’, ‘justice-oriented approach’ and ‘substantial justice’ cannot be employed to jettison the substantial law of limitation.

  • Imrat Lal & Ors. vs. Land Acquisition Collector & Ors.[3]:

In this case also the matter was regarding determination of compensation for the acquired land and there was a delay of 1110 days in filing the appeal for enhancement of compensation. Despite findings that no sufficient cause was shown in the application for condoning the delay, this Court condoned the delay in filing the appeal as a large number of similarly situate persons have been granted relief by this Court.

LEGAL PROVISIONS

Section 3 of the Limitation Act, in no uncertain terms lays down that no suit, appeal or application instituted, preferred or made after the period prescribed shall be entertained rather dismissed even though limitation has not been set up as a defence subject to the exceptions contained in Sections 4 to 24 (inclusive) of the Limitation Act.

Section 5 of the Limitation Act, Extension of prescribed period in certain cases. – Any appeal or any application, other than an application under any of the provisions of Order XXI of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908), may be admitted after the prescribed period if the appellant or the applicant satisfies the court that he had sufficient cause for not preferring the appeal or making the application within such period.

ISSUE – The key issue was whether the High Court was justified in refusing to condone the inordinate delay in filing the appeal.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

The Court analysed the principles underlying the law of limitation, emphasizing the need for finality in litigation and the mandatory nature of Section 3. It discussed the discretionary power of courts to condone delay under Section 5, contingent upon the demonstration of “sufficient cause” by the appellant.

The Court cited precedents to underscore the necessity of exercising caution in condoning delays, particularly when negligence or lack of due diligence is apparent. It emphasized that while the court may adopt a liberal approach, it should not disregard the statutory provisions or the need for substantial cause for delay.

Ultimately, the Court upheld the decision of the High Court, reasoning that the claimants had failed to demonstrate sufficient cause for the delay. It highlighted their lack of diligence in pursuing the reference earlier and noted that most claimants had accepted the reference court’s decision. Consequently, the Special Leave Petition was dismissed.

The case underscores the importance of diligence and awareness in pursuing legal remedies and the stringent application of limitation laws. It reaffirms that while courts may exercise discretion in condoning delays, such discretion is not absolute and must be exercised judiciously.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Chiraag K A

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[1] (2007) 11 SCC 285

[2] (2011) 4 SCC 363

[3] (2014) 14 SCC 133