“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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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