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WHEN CONCOCTED REASONS ARE ASSIGNED AND WHEN THERE IS NEGLIGENCE IN PROSECUTING THE CASE - DELAY CANNOT BE CONDONED 2012 SC

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Justice G.S. Singhvi, and Justice Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya in a non-reportable judgment of Maniben Devraj Shah vs Mun.Corp.Of Br.Mumbai Decided on 9 April, 2012 held that "What needs to be emphasised is that even though a liberal and justice oriented approach is required to be adopted in the exercise of power under Section 5 of the Limitation Act and other similar statutes, the Courts can neither become oblivious of the fact that the successful litigant has acquired certain rights on the basis of the judgment under challenge and a lot of time is consumed at various stages of litigation apart from the cost. What colour the expression b sufficient causeb would get in the factual matrix of a given case would largely depend on bona fide nature of the explanation. If the Court finds that there has been no negligence on the part of the applicant and the cause shown for the delay does not lack bona fides, then it may condone the delay. If, on the other hand, the explanation given by the applicant is found to be concocted or he is thoroughly negligent in prosecuting his cause, then it would be a legitimate exercise of discretion not to condone the delay. In cases involving the State and its agencies/instrumentalities, the Court can take note of the fact that sufficient time is taken in the decision making process but no premium can be given for total lethargy or utter negligence on the part of the officers of the State and / or its agencies / instrumentalities and the applications filed by them for condonation of delay cannot be allowed as a matter of course by accepting the plea that dismissal of the matter on the ground of bar of limitation will cause injury to the public interest."

The law of limitation is founded on public policy. The Limitation Act, 1963 has not been enacted with the object of destroying the rights of the parties but to ensure that they approach the Court for vindication of their rights without unreasonable delay. The idea underlying the concept of limitation is that every remedy should remain alive only till the expiry of the period fixed by the Legislature. At the same time, the Courts are empowered to condone the delay provided that sufficient cause is shown by the applicant for not availing the remedy within the prescribed period of limitation. The expression b sufficient causeb used in Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963 and other statutes is elastic enough to enable the Courts to apply the law in a meaningful manner which serve the ends of justice. No hard and fast rule has been or can be laid down for deciding the applications for condonation of delay but over the years this Court has advocated that a liberal approach should be adopted in such matters so that substantive rights of the parties are not defeated merely because of delay.

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In Ramlal v. Rewa Coalfields Ltd. AIR 1962 SC 361, this Court while interpreting Section 5 of the Limitation Act, laid down the following proposition: In construing Section 5 (of the Limitation Act), it is relevant to bear in mind two important considerations. The first consideration is that the expiration of the period of limitation prescribed for making an appeal gives rise to a right in favour of the decree-holder to treat the decree as binding between the parties. In other words, when the period of limitation prescribed has expired, the decree-holder has obtained a benefit under the law of limitation to treat the decree as beyond challenge, and this legal right which has accrued to the decree- holder by lapse of time should not be light-heartedly disturbed. The other consideration which cannot be ignored is that if sufficient cause for excusing delay is shown, discretion is given to the court to condone delay and admit the appeal. This discretion has been deliberately conferred on the court in order that judicial power and discretion in that behalf should be exercised to advance substantial justice.

Collector, Land Acquisition, Anantnag v. Mst.Katiji (1987) 2 SCC 107 this Court made a significant departure from the earlier judgments and observed: The legislature has conferred the power to condone delay by enacting Section 5 of the Indian Limitation Act of 1963 in order to enable the courts to do substantial justice to parties by disposing of matters on merits. The expression sufficient cause employed by the legislature is adequately elastic to enable the courts to apply the law in a meaningful manner which subserves the ends of justice b that being the life-purpose for the existence of the institution of courts. It is common knowledge that this Court has been making a justifiably liberal approach in matters instituted in this Court. But the message does not appear to have percolated down to all the other courts in the hierarchy. And such a liberal approach is adopted on principle as it is realized that:
1. Ordinarily a litigant does not stand to benefit by lodging an appeal late.
2. Refusing to condone delay can result in a meritorious matter being thrown out at the very threshold and cause of justice being defeated. As against this when delay is condoned the highest that can happen is that a cause would be decided on merits after hearing the parties.
3. Every day's delay must be explained does not mean that a pedantic approach should be made. Why not every hour's delay, every second's delay? The doctrine must be applied in a rational common sense pragmatic manner.
4. When substantial justice and technical considerations are pitted against each other, cause of substantial justice deserves to be preferred for the other side cannot claim to have vested right in injustice being done because of a non-deliberate delay.
5. There is no presumption that delay is occasioned deliberately, or on account of culpable negligence, or on account of mala fides. A litigant does not stand to benefit by resorting to delay. In fact he runs a serious risk.
6. It must be grasped that judiciary is respected not on account of its power to legalize injustice on technical grounds but because it is capable of removing injustice and is expected to do so.

Making a justice-oriented approach from this perspective, there was sufficient cause for condoning the delay in the institution of the appeal. The fact that it was the state which was seeking the condonationand not a private party was altogether irrelevant. The doctrine of equality before law demands that all litigants, including the State as a litigant, are accorded the same treatment and the law is administered in an even-handed manner. There is no warrant for according a step-motherly treatment when the state is the applicant praying for condonation of delay. In fact experience shows that on account of an impersonal machinery (no one in charge of the matter is directly hit or hurt by the judgment sought to be subjected to appeal) and the inherited bureaucratic methodology imbued with the note- making, file-pushing and passing-on-the-buck ethos, delay on its part is less difficult to understand though more difficult to approve. In any event, the State which represents the collective cause of the community, does not deserve a litigant-non-grata status. The courts therefore have to be informed with the spirit and philosophy of the provision in the course of the interpretation of the expression sufficient cause. So also the same approach has to be evidenced in its application to matters at hand with the end in view to do even- handed justice on merits in preference to the approach which scuttles a decision on merits.


In N. Balakrishnan v. M. Krishnamurthy, (1998) 7 SCC 123, the Court went a step further and made the following observations: It is axiomatic that condonation of delay is a matter of discretion of the court. Section 5 of the Limitation Act does not say that such discretion can be exercised only if the delay is within a certain limit. Length of delay is no matter, acceptability of the explanation is the only criterion. Sometimes delay of the shortest range may be uncondonable due to a want of acceptable explanation whereas in certain other cases, delay of a very long range can be condoned as the explanation thereof is satisfactory. Once the court accepts the explanation as sufficient, it is the result of positive exercise of discretion and normally the superior court should not disturb such finding, much less in revisional jurisdiction, unless the exercise of discretion was on wholly untenable grounds or arbitrary or perverse. But it is a different matter when the first court refuses to condone the delay. In such cases, the superior court would be free to consider the cause shown for the delay afresh and it is open to such superior court to come to its own finding even untrammelled by the conclusion of the lower court. Rules of limitation are not meant to destroy the rights of parties. They are meant to see that parties do not resort to dilatory tactics, but seek their remedy promptly. The object of providing a legal remedy is to repair the damage caused by reason of legal injury. The law of limitation fixes a lifespan for such legal remedy for the redress of the legal injury so suffered. Time is precious and wasted time would never revisit. During the efflux of time, newer causes would sprout up necessitating newer persons to seek legal remedy by approaching the courts. So a lifespan must be fixed for each remedy. Unending period for launching the remedy may lead to unending uncertainty and consequential anarchy. The law of limitation is thus founded on public policy. It is enshrined in the maxim interest reipublicae up sit finis litium (it is for the general welfare that a period be put to litigation). Rules of limitation are not meant to destroy the rights of the parties. They are meant to see that parties do not resort to dilatory tactics but seek their remedy promptly. The idea is that every legal remedy must be kept alive for a legislatively fixed period of time. It must be remembered that in every case of delay, there can be some lapse on the part of the litigant concerned. That alone is not enough to turn down his plea and to shut the door against him. If the explanation does not smack of mala fides or it is not put forth as part of a dilatory strategy, the court must show utmost consideration to the suitor. But when there is reasonable ground to think that the delay was occasioned by the party deliberately to gain time, then the court should lean against acceptance of the explanation. While condoning the delay, the court should not forget the opposite party altogether. It must be borne in mind that he is a loser and he too would have incurred quite large litigation expenses. It would be a salutary guideline that when courts condone the delay due to laches on the part of the applicant, the court shall compensate the opposite party for his loss.

In P.K. Ramachandran v. State of Kerala, (1997) 7 SCC 556, this Court while reversing the order passed by the High Court which had condoned 565 days delay in filing an appeal by the State against the decree of the Sub- Court in an arbitration application, observed that the law of limitation may harshly affect a particular party but it has to be applied with all its rigour when the statute so prescribes and the Courts have no power to extend the period of limitation on equitable grounds.

In Vedabai v. Shantaram Baburao Patil, (2001) 9 SCC 106, the Court observed that a distinction must be made between a case where the delay is inordinate and a case where the delay is of few days and whereas in the former case the consideration of prejudice to the other side will be a relevant factor, in the latter case no such consideration arises.

In State of Nagaland v. Lipok AO ((2005) 3 SCC 752), the Court referred to several precedents on the subject and observed that the proof of sufficient cause is a condition precedent for exercise of discretion vested in the Court. What counts is not the length of the delay but the sufficiency of the cause and shortness of the delay is one of the circumstances to be taken into account in using the discretion. The Court also took cognizance of the usual bureaucratic delays which takes place in the functioning of the State and its agencies/instrumentalities and observed: Experience shows that on account of an impersonal machinery (no one in charge of the matter is directly hit or hurt by the judgment sought to be subjected to appeal) and the inherited bureaucratic methodology imbued with the note-making, file-pushing, and passing-on-the-buck ethos, delay on its part is less difficult to understand though more difficult to approve. The State which represents collective cause of the community, does not deserve a litigant-non-grata status. The courts, therefore, have to be informed with the spirit and philosophy of the provision in the course of the interpretation of the expression of sufficient cause. Merit is preferred to scuttle a decision on merits in turning down the case on technicalities of delay in presenting the appeal.

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