18 May 2010

Delay at end of Government to be liberally condoned: High Court

Holding that delay in approaching an appellate court on the part of the Government can be on account of various reasons peculiar to government alone, a recent decision of Delhi High reaffirms the law that the Court must liberally view the delay at the end of the Government. While it is well settled that the law of limitation comes against a person who does not approach the court in time and extinguishes the remedies available to the person, the same is applicable to the Government, just that a different yardstick is to be applied in condoning the delay.

The High Court noted as under;

5. It has been consistently held in a number of judicial pronouncements that the expression “sufficient cause” in Section 5 of the Limitation Act, must receive liberal construction so as to advance substantial justice and where there are no allegations of gross negligence, absence of bonafides, or intentional delay/inaction attributable to a party, generally, delays in preferring appeals, particularly when they are filed by the Government, are required to be condoned in the interest of justice, as also in public interest.(Refer: G.Ramegowda Major Vs. The Special Land Acquisition Officer, Bangalore, AIR 1988 SC 897).
6. The yardstick for examining “just and sufficient cause” for the purposes of considering an application for condonation of delay, where it relates to a Government department as against private citizen, is therefore a little different for the reason that the considerations which weigh with the Court include the fact the decision making process in a Government department takes much longer as it is taken collectively and at an institutional level. Hence the extent of latitude granted to the Government is wider. It is not unheard of that in revenue matters, like the present one, where the issue for consideration is compensation payable by the UOI for land acquired by it for public purpose, the delay in preferring the appeals is some times substantial. Even in the case of private landowners seeking enhancement of compensation assessed by the Reference Court and payable by UOI for their land so acquired, generally, there is delay in filing the appeals, as in many cases it is claimed that the villagers took time to arrive at a collective decision in the panchayat, for filing the appeal. However instead of adopting a pedantic approach of ousting parties at the threshold on technicalities, it is invariably considered appropriate to overcome the technicalities and deal with the matter on merits, as the effort is to do substantial justice between the parties.
7. In the present case, no doubt, the appellant ought to have taken a prompt decision to file the appeal and the matter ought to have been pursued by the concerned responsible officers diligently and dealt with reasonable despatch. However, as noted in the case of State(NCT of Delhi) Vs. Ahmed Jaan reported as 2008(11) Scale 455, “the State cannot be put on the same footing as an individual. The individual would always be quick in taking the decision as to whether he would pursue the remedy by way of an appeal or application since he is a person legally injured while State is an impersonal machinery working through its officers or servants.” Even on earlier occasions, a similar view has been taken in such like matters where it was noted by the Supreme Court that adoption of strict standard of proof sometimes fails to protect public justice and it would result in public mischief by skilful management of delay in the process of filing an appeal. [Refer: State of Haryana Vs. Chandra Mani and Ors., (1996) 3 SCC 132; Special Tehsildar, Land Acquisition, Kerala Vs. K.V.Ayisumma (1996) 10 SCC 634; and State of Nagaland Vs. Lipok AO and Ors. (2005) 3 SCC 752]
8. A similar trend of thought was expressed by the Supreme Court in the case of State of Karnataka Vs. Y.Moideen Kunhi(dead) by LRs. and Ors. reported as 2009(6) SCALE 677 where it was observed that many matters concerning the State Government and Central Government are delayed either by the nature of bureaucratic process or by the deliberate manipulation of the same by taking advantage of loopholes in the conduct of the litigation. 9. In the present case, there is no reason why the explanation offered by the appellant for the movement of the file in department ought not to be considered “just and sufficient” reason for condoning the delay in filing the accompanying appeal. No malafides have been attributed to the officers of the appellant. Nor are there any allegations of deliberate inaction on their part.

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