27 Nov 2010

Anti-Dowry law abuse: Your opinion now matters

Taking it as our responsibility to point out in particular the laws affecting the socio-legal paradigm, this blog has constantly been the platform highlighting the interaction of such laws. One of the major ones in this regard has been the anti-dowry laws, the onset of which can be attributed to the (sad) social psyche against the brides. However of-late the law has been in limelight more on account of the abuse that it has led to in regard to false implications of the relatives under this stringent laws. The latest decision of the Supreme Court, which this blog wrote upon, also covered this aspect. 
Now, in the wake of a petition made before the Parliament, the Rajya Sabha has constituted a committee to consider the amendments to Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which consolidates the law in this respect. The Rajya Sabha has not only made public the petition before it but has also "decided to undertake consultations with a wide cross-section of the society and invites written memoranda thereon." The petitioner has written extensively on the continuous abuse of the law and also the apathy of the judicial institutions to request amendment of the laws. We would urge our erudite readers to send in their comments to the committee within the prescribed time frame on this sensitive issue.

18 Nov 2010

Limitations on Second Appeal: The law revisited

Right of appeal is not a vested right. This proposition of law is so deeply embedded in the common law system that there is no exception to the general rule. Thus whereas the appeal is a creation of statute, the manner in which such appellate proceedings are determined is also provided for under the law. It is in this context that Section 100 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which governs appeals to be filed in civil matters, imposes fetters on the power of the High Courts to entertain second appeals i.e. appeals against appellate decisions.

The provision, which requires the High Court to first determine whether the case before it involves a substantial question of law, has been interpreted to be one of substantive restriction and thus the determination of the High Court without having examined such questions is obvious. In this context this post covers a recent decision of the Supreme Court in Municipal Committee, Hoshiarpur v. Punjab State Electricity Board wherein the law and the underlying concept has been extensively articulated.

The said decision explains the law in the following terms;
9. In Kondiba Dagadu Kadam v. Savitribai Sopan Gujar & Ors., AIR 1999 SC 2213, this Court held as under:-
“It has to be kept in mind that the right of appeal is neither a natural nor an inherent right attached to the litigation. Being a substantive statutory right it has to be regulated in accordance with law in force at the relevant time. The conditions mentioned in the section must be strictly fulfilled before an appeal can be maintained and no Court has the power to add to or enlarge those grounds. The appeal cannot be decided on merit on merely equitable grounds.”
10. Further, there can be no quarrel that the right of appeal/revision cannot be absolute and the legislature can impose conditions for maintaining the same. In Vijay Prakash D. Mehta & Jawahar D. Mehta v. Collector of Customs (Preventive), Bombay, AIR 1988 SC 2010, this Court held as under:- 
“Right to appeal is neither an absolute right noran ingredient of natural justice, the principles of which must be followed in all judicial or quasi-judicial adjudications. The right to appeal is a statutory right and it can be circumscribed by the conditions in the grant ..……......The purpose of the Section is to act in terrorem to make the people comply with the provisions of law.”
11. A similar view has been reiterated by this Court in Anant Mills Co. Ltd. v. State of Gujarat, AIR 1975 SC 1234; and Shyam Kishore & Ors. v. Municipal Corporation of Delhi & Anr., AIR 1992 SC 2279. A Constitution Bench of this court in Nandlal & Anr. v. State of Haryana, AIR 1980 SC 2097, held that the “right of appeal is a creature of statute and there is no reason why the legislature, while granting the right, cannot impose conditions for the exercise of such right so long as the conditions are not so onerous as to amount to unreasonable restrictions rendering the right almost illusory”.
12. In Gujarat Agro Industries Co. Ltd. v. Municipal Corporation of the City of Ahmedabad & Ors., (1999) 4 SCC 468, this Court held that the right of appeal though statutory, can be conditional/qualified and such a law cannot be held to be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. An appeal cannot be filed unless so provided for under the statute and when a law authorises filing of an appeal, it can impose conditions as well.
13. Thus, it is evident from the above that the right to appeal is a creation of Statute and it cannot be created by acquiescence of the parties or by the order of the Court. Jurisdiction cannot be conferred by mere acceptance, acquiescence, consent or by any other means as it can be conferred only by the legislature and conferring a Court or Authority with jurisdiction, is a legislative function. Thus, being a substantive statutory right, it has to be regulated in accordance with the law in force, ensuring full compliance of the conditions mentioned in the provision that creates it. Therefore, the Court has no power to enlarge the scope of those grounds mentioned in the statutory provisions. A second appeal cannot be decided merely on equitable grounds as it lies only on a substantial question of law, which is something distinct from a substantial question of fact. The Court cannot entertain a second appeal unless a substantial question of law is involved, as the second appeal does not lie on the ground of erroneous findings of fact based on an appreciation of the relevant evidence. The existence of a substantial question of law is a condition precedent for entertaining the second appeal, on failure to do so, the judgment cannot be maintained. The existence of a substantial question of law is a sine-qua-non for the exercise of jurisdiction under the provisions of Section 100 C.P.C. It is the obligation on the Court to further the clear intent of the Legislature and not to frustrate it by ignoring the same. (Vide: Santosh Hazari v. Purshottam Tiwari (dead) by Lrs., AIR 2001 SC 965; Sarjas Rai & Ors. v. Bakshi Inderjeet Singh, (2005) 1 SCC 598; Manicka Poosali (Deceased by L.Rs.) & Ors. v. Anjalai Ammal & Anr., AIR 2005 SC 1777; Mst. Sugani v. Rameshwar Das & Anr., AIR 2006 SC 2172; Hero Vinoth (Minor) v. Seshammal, AIR 2006 SC 2234; P. Chandrasekharan & Ors. v. S. Kanakarajan & Ors., (2007) 5 SCC 669; Kashmir Singh v. Harnam Singh & Anr., AIR 2008 SC 1749; V. Ramaswamy v. Ramachandran & Anr., (2009) 14 SCC 216; and Bhag Singh v. Jaskirat Singh & Ors., (2010) 2 SCC 250). 
14. In Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. v. Union of India & Anr., AIR 1979 SC 798, this Court observed:
“..... It is not every question of law that could be permitted to be raised in the second appeal. The parameters within which a new legal plea could be permitted to be raised, are specifically stated in Sub-section (5) of Section 100. Under the proviso, the Court should be ‘satisfied’ that the case involves a substantial question of law and not a mere question of law. The reason for permitting the substantial question of law to be raised, should be recorded by the Court. It is implicit therefrom that on compliance of the above, the opposite party should be afforded a fair or proper opportunity to meet the same. It is not any legal plea that would be alleged at a stage of second appeal. It should be a substantial question of law. The reasons for permitting the plea to be raised should also be recorded.”
15. In Madamanchi Ramappa & Anr. v. Muthaluru Bojjappa, AIR 1963 SC 1633, this Court observed: 
“………Therefore, whenever this Court is satisfied that in dealing with a second appeal, the High Court has, either unwittingly and in a casual manner, or deliberately as in this case, contravened the limits prescribed by Section 100, it becomes the duty of this Court to intervene and give effect to the said provisions. It may be that in some cases, the High Court dealing with the second appeal is inclined to take the view that what it regards to be justice or equity of the case has not been served by the findings of fact recorded by courts of fact; but on such occasions it is necessary to remember that what is administered in courts is justice according to law and considerations of fair play and equity however important they may be, must yield to clear and express provisions of the law. If in reaching its decisions in second appeals, the High Court contravenes the express provisions of Section 100, it would inevitably introduce in such decisions an element of disconcerting unpredictability which is usually associated with gambling; and that is a reproach which judicial process must constantly and scrupulously endeavour to avoid.”
16. In Jai Singh v. Shakuntala, AIR 2002 SC 1428, this Court held as under:
“….it is only in very exceptional cases and on extreme perversity that the authority to examine the same in extenso stands permissible - it is a rarity rather than a regularity and thus it can be safely concluded that while there is no prohibition as such, but the power to scrutiny can only be had in very exceptional circumstances and upon proper circumspection.”
17. While dealing with the issue, this Court in Leela Soni & Ors. v. Rajesh Goyal & Ors., (2001) 7 SCC 494, observed as under: 
“20. There can be no doubt that the jurisdiction of the High Court under Section 100 of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) is confined to the framing of substantial questions of law involved in the second appeal and to decide the same. Section 101 CPC provides that no second appeal shall lie except on the grounds mentioned in Section 100 CPC. Thus it is clear that no second appeal can be entertained by the High Court on questions of fact, much less can it interfere in the findings of fact recorded by the lower appellate court. This is so, not only when it is possible for the High Court to take a different view of the matter but also when the High Court finds that conclusions on questions of fact recorded by the first appellate court are erroneous.
21. It will be apt to refer to Section 103 CPC which enables the High Court to determine the issues of fact: xx xx xx
22. The section, noted above, authorises the High Court to determine any issue which is necessary for the disposal of the second appeal provided the evidence on record is sufficient, in any of the following two situations: (1) when that issue has not been determined both by the trial court as well as the lower appellate court or by the lower appellate court; or (2) when both the trial court as well as the appellate court or the lower appellate court have wrongly determined any issue on a substantial question of law which can properly be the subject-matter of second appeal under Section 100 CPC.”
18. In Jadu Gopal Chakravarty v. Pannalal Bhowmick & Ors., AIR 1978 SC 1329, the question arose as to whether the compromise decree had been obtained by fraud. This Court held that though it is a question of fact, but because none of the courts below had pointedly addressed the question of whether the compromise in the case was obtained by perpetrating fraud on the court, the High Court was justified in exercising its powers under Section 103 C.P.C. to go into the question. (See also Achintya Kumar Saha v. M/s Nanee Printers & Ors., AIR 2004 SC 1591)
19. In Shri Bhagwan Sharma v. Smt. Bani Ghosh, AIR 1993 SC 398, this Court held that in case the High Court exercises its jurisdiction under Section 103 C.P.C., in view of the fact that the findings of fact recorded by the courts below stood vitiated on account of non-consideration of additional evidence of a vital nature, the Court may itself finally decide the case in accordance with Section 103(b) C.P.C. and the Court must hear the parties fully with reference to the entire evidence on record with relevance to the question after giving notice to all the parties. The Court further held as under: 
“…..The grounds which may be available in support of a plea that the finding of fact by the court below is vitiated in law, does not by itself lead to the further conclusion that a contrary finding has to be finally arrived at on the disputed issue. On a re-appraisal of the entire evidence the ultimate conclusion may go in favour of either party and it cannot be pre-judged, as has been done in the impugned judgment..”. 
20. In Kulwant Kaur & Ors. v. Gurdial Singh Mann (dead) by LRs. & Ors., AIR 2001 SC 1273, this Court observed as under : 
“Admittedly, Section 100 has introduced a definite restriction on to the exercise of jurisdiction in a second appeal so far as the High Court is concerned. Needless to record that the Code of Civil Procedure (Amendment) Act, 1976 introduced such an embargo for such definite objectives and since we are not required to further probe on that score, we are not detailing out, but the fact remains that while it is true that in a second appeal a finding of fact, even if erroneous, will generally not be disturbed but where it is found that the findings stand vitiated on wrong test and on the basis of assumptions and conjectures and resultantly there is an element of perversity involved therein, the High Court in our view will be within its jurisdiction to deal with the issue. This is, however, only in the event such a fact is brought to light by the High Court explicitly and the judgment should also be categorical as to the issue of perversity vis-à-vis the concept of justice. Needless to say however, that perversity itself is a substantial question worth adjudication — what is required is a categorical finding on the part of the High Court as to perversity.
The requirements stand specified in Section 103 and nothing short of it will bring it within the ambit of Section 100 since the issue of perversity will also come within the ambit of substantial question of law as noticed above. The legality of finding of fact cannot but be termed to be a question of law. We reiterate however, that there must be a definite finding to that effect in the judgment of the High Court so as to make it evident that Section 100 of the Code stands complied with.” 
21. Powers under Section 103 C.P.C. can be exercised by the High Court only if the core issue involved in the case is not decided by the trial court or the appellate court and the relevant material is available on record to adjudicate upon the said issue. (See: Haryana State Electronics Development Corporation Ltd. & Ors. v. Seema Sharma & Ors., (2009) 7 SCC 311)
22. Before powers under Section 103 C.P.C. can be exercised by the High Court in a second appeal, the following conditions must be fulfilled:
(i) Determination of an issue must be necessary for the disposal of appeal; 
(ii) The evidence on record must be sufficient to decide such issue; and
(iii) (a) Such issue should not have been determined either by the trial court, or by the appellate court or by both; or (b) such issue should have been wrongly determined either by trial court, or by the appellate court, or by both by reason of a decision on substantial question of law. 
If the above conditions are not fulfilled, the High Court cannot exercise its powers under Section 103 CPC. 
Thus, it is evident that Section 103 C.P.C. is not an exception to Section 100 C.P.C. nor is it meant to supplant it, rather it is to serve the same purpose. Even while pressing Section 103 C.P.C. in service, the High Court has to record a finding that it had to exercise such power, because it found that finding(s) of fact recorded by the court(s) below stood vitiated because of perversity. More so, such power can be exercised only in exceptional circumstances and with circumspection, where the core question involved in the case has not been decided by the court(s) below.
23. There is no prohibition on entertaining a second appeal even on a question of fact provided the Court is satisfied that the findings of fact recorded by the courts below stood vitiated by non-consideration of relevant evidence or by showing an erroneous approach to the matter i.e. that the findings of fact are found to be perverse. But the High Court cannot interfere with the concurrent findings of fact in a routine and casual manner by substituting its subjective satisfaction in place of that of the lower courts. (Vide: Jagdish Singh v. Natthu Singh, AIR 1992 SC 1604; Karnataka Board of Wakf v. Anjuman- E-Ismail Madris-Un-Niswan, AIR 1999 SC 3067; and Dinesh Kumar v. Yusuf Ali, AIR 2010 SC 2679).
24. If a finding of fact is arrived at by ignoring or excluding relevant material or by taking into consideration irrelevant material or if the finding so outrageously defies logic as to suffer from the vice of irrationality incurring the blame of being perverse, then the finding is rendered infirm in the eyes of law. If the findings of the Court are based on no evidence or evidence which is thoroughly unreliable or evidence that suffers from the vice of procedural irregularity or the findings are such that no reasonable person would have arrived at those findings, then the findings may be said to be perverse. Further if the findings are either ipse dixit of the Court or based on conjecture and surmises, the judgment suffers from the additional infirmity of non-application of mind and thus, stands vitiated. (Vide: Bharatha Matha & Anr. v. R. Vijaya Renganathan & Ors., AIR 2010 SC 2685)
25. In view of above, the law on the issue can be summarised to the effect that a second appeal lies only on a substantial question of law and it is necessary to formulate a substantial question of law before the second appeal is decided. The issue of perversity itself is a substantial question of law and, therefore, Section 103 C.P.C. can be held to be supplementary to Section 100 C.P.C., and does not supplant it altogether. Reading it otherwise, would render the provisions of Section 100 C.P.C. redundant. It is only an issue that involves a substantial question of law, that can be adjudicated upon by the High Court itself instead of remanding the case to the court below, provided there is sufficient evidence on record to adjudicate upon the said issue and other conditions mentioned therein stand fulfilled. Thus, the object of the Section is to avoid remand and adjudicate the issue if the finding(s) of fact recorded by the court(s) below are found to be perverse. The court is under an obligation to give notice to all the parties concerned for adjudication of the said issue and decide the same after giving them full opportunity of hearing.

17 Nov 2010

Inquest Reports: The concept understood

The law of crimes requires a case to be built by the prosecution which puts the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. A number of procedural safeguards, therefore, are inbuilt in the run-up to the trial to ensure that none of the steps leading to determination of guilt of the accused are hushed up and rather the State machinery works in an efficient manner. Preparation of Inquest Reports is provided for under the Code of Criminal Procedure as a record of crime which even though not a substantive piece of evidence, is an important basis for determining the commission of the offence in as much as improper filing of inquest report can weaken the case of the prosecution.

In a recent decision [Brahm Swaroop v. State of U.P.] the Supreme Court explained the concept and the significance of Inquest Report in criminal trials in the following terms;
6. Undoubtedly, there are five blanks in the inquest report. The crime number and names of the accused have not been filled up. The column for filling up the penal provisions under which offences have been committed is blank. The time of incident and time of dispatch of the special report have not been mentioned. Therefore, Shri Tulsi has submitted that the FIR is ante-timed and there is manipulation in the case of the prosecution.
7. The whole purpose of preparing an inquest report under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter referred to as ‘Cr.P.C’) is to investigate into and draw up a report of the apparent cause of death, describing such wounds as may be found on the body of the deceased and stating as in what manner, or by what weapon or instrument such wounds appear to have been inflicted. For the purpose of holding the inquest it is neither necessary nor obligatory on the part of the Investigating Officer to investigate into or ascertain who were the persons responsible for the death. The object of the proceedings under Section 174 Cr.PC is merely to ascertain whether a person died under suspicious circumstances or met with an unnatural death and, if so, what was its apparent cause. The question regarding the details of how the deceased was assaulted or who assaulted him or under what circumstances he was assaulted is foreign to the ambit and scope of such proceedings i.e. the inquest report is not the statement of any person wherein all the names of the persons accused must be mentioned. Omissions in the inquest report are not sufficient to put the prosecution out of court. The basic purpose of holding an inquest is to report regarding the apparent cause of death, namely, whether it is suicidal, homicidal, accidental or by some machinery etc. It is, therefore, not necessary to enter all the details of the overt acts in the inquest report. Evidence of eyewitnesses can not be discarded if their names do not figure in the inquest report prepared at the earliest point of time. The inquest report cannot be treated as substantive evidence but may be utilised for contradicting the witnesses of inquest. (See Podda Narayana & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1975 SC 1252; Khujji v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1991 SC 1853; George & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Anr., (1998) 4 SCC 605; Shaikh Ayub v. State of Maharashtra, (1998) 9 SCC 521; Suresh Rai v. State of Bihar, (2000) 4 SCC 84; Amar Singh v. Balwinder Singh & Ors., (2003) 2 SCC 518; Radha Mohan Singh alias Lal Sahab & Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh, (2006) 2 SCC 450; and Aqeel Ahmad v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 2009 SC 1271).
8. In Radha Mohan Singh (supra), a three judge bench of this Court held:
“No argument on the basis of an alleged discrepancy, overwriting, omission or contradiction in the inquest report can be entertained unless the attention of the author thereof is drawn to the said fact and he is given an opportunity to explain when he is examined as a witness in court.”
9. Even where, the attention of the author of the inquest is drawn to the alleged discrepancy, overwriting, omission or contradiction in the inquest report and the author in his deposition has also admitted that through a mistake he omitted to mention the crime number in the inquest report, this Court has held that just because the author of the report had not been diligent did not mean that reliable and clinching evidence adduced by the eyewitnesses should be discarded by the Court. (Vide: Dr. Krishna Pal & Anr. v. State of Uttar Pradesh, (1996) 7 SCC 194).
10. In view of the law referred to hereinabove it cannot be held that any omission or discrepancy in the inquest is fatal to the prosecution’s case and such omissions would necessarily lead to the inference that FIR is ante-timed. ...

The Child as ‘Democratic Citizen’

In what promises to be an intriguing insight, in the paper titled "The Child as ‘Democratic Citizen’ – Challenging the ‘Participation Gap’" Aoife Nolan examines the role and position of children in democratic institutions. Taking note of provisions under various Constitutions wherein children have been given a special right of participation in the governance of the country, the paper examines the "relatively low priority accorded to children’s participation rights in constitutional schema". Thus compared against the backdrop of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the paper brings to fore the "a consistent concern with the linkage between participation and the evolution/development of the child as a current and/or future citizen". 

Further commenting that "the denial of children’s participation in democratic decision-making processes not only poses a serious obstacle to the conceptualisation of children as full ‘citizens’ but undermines the legitimacy of the outputs of so-called representative democratic decision-making bodies in relation to children’s rights issues", the paper examines key issues in this area to inter alia call upon the "Committee on the Rights of the Child to lead the way in relation to children’s democratic participation and citizenship". In all, the paper provides interesting insights on the issue.

The abstract reads as under;
This article centres on the position of children as ‘democratic citizens’. Incorporating discussions of key aspects of democratic and citizenship theory, it considers the ways in which children may interact with, and contribute to, the exercise of political power in democratic societies. Having briefly discussed the position of children vis-à-vis democratic processes, the author focuses on that provision of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which is arguably of greatest use in terms of serving as a springboard for children to input into democratic decision-making processes that affect them: Article 12 CRC. The author proceeds to consider the approach of the Committee on the Rights of that Child to children’s participation rights under the CRC, arguing that the Committee has failed to construe and apply Article 12 in such a way as to address effectively children’s exclusion from democracy. This gap in the Committee’s jurisprudence necessarily filters down into the practice of states. The article concludes by highlighting key points that should be borne in mind when arguing in favour of particular mechanisms and structures aimed at increasing child participation in democratic decision-making and hence strengthening their democratic citizenship.

16 Nov 2010

Bride Burning reflects a sick society: Supreme Court

In a recent decision [Satya Narayan Tiwari @ Jolly v. State of U.P. later reported as 2010 AIR SCW 7144] the Supreme Court has expressed its anguish and ire over the state of affairs prevailing in the Indian society as brought to fore by repeated incidents of bride-burning. The Bench comprising of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra spoke unrestrained on the intensity with which such crimes need to be prosecuted. Holding that there was an inherent different in crimes against women as not being caused just be enemity, passion or anger but are rather on account of human greed, it was held that such crimes need to be dealt with a iron-hand.

The Bench in this context observed as under;
The hallmark of a healthy society is the respect it shows to women.
Indian society has become a sick society. This is evident from the large number of cases coming up in this Court (and also in almost all courts in the country) in which young women are being killed by their husbands or by their in-laws by pouring kerosene on them and setting them on fire or by hanging/strangulating them. What is the level of civilsation of a society in which a large number of women are treated in this horrendous and barbaric manner? What has our society become – this is illustrated by this case.
Although bride burning or bride hanging cases have become common in our country, in our opinion, the expression “rarest of rare” as referred to in Bachan Singh Vs. State of Punjab, AIR 1980 SC 898 does not mean that the act is uncommon, it means that the act is brutal and barbaric. Bride killing is certainly barbaric. Crimes against women are not ordinary crimes committed in a fit of anger or for property. They are social crimes. They disrupt the entire social fabric. Hence, they call for harsh punishment. Unfortunately, what is happening in our society is that out of lust for money people are often demanding dowry and after extracting as much money as they can they kill the wife and marry again and then again they commit the murder of their wife for the same purpose. This is because of total commercialization of our society, and lust for money which induces people to commit murder of the wife. The time has come when we have to stamp out this evil from our society, with an iron hand.

The International Law of Drones

Viewed in multi-dimensional perspective, law follows the society. This proposition stands affirmed with the law being examined as a tool of social regulation and thus requiring adaptation such as to meet the changed social dynamics. Thus law evolves along with the evolution of law. A recent article entitled "The International Law of Drones" published by Mary Ellen OʼConnell under the aegis of American Society of International Law in this context "surveys the international law applicable to the recent innovation of weaponizing drones". Tracing the rise of drones and particularly 'attack drones' in recent times, the paper goes on to explore the need for 'special rules for drones' under International law.
In all, the paper provides interesting insights in the law-making process which culminates into rules of international standards and thus international law itself in the context of this new-found weapon of destruction. While the paper concludes that "drones have not created a revolution in legal affairs" and that "the current rules governing battlefield launch vehicles are adequate for regulating resort to drones", the paper does advocate further research to be undertaken in order
to understand the psychological effects of deploying unmanned vehicles and the effects on drone operators of sustained, close visual contact with the aftermath of drone attacks". In all, an insightful discussion and thus recommended for our readers.

15 Nov 2010

Liability of Corporations: The law revisited

The creation of a legal entity with a separate personality from an individual owning it has led to development of considerable jurisprudence on the nature and extent of liabilities of artificial persons. One such development in field of law is the liability for criminal offences committed by corporations wherein most cases the punishment is both "imprisonment and fine". There is no doubt that corporates cannot be imprisoned and thus it had been argued that the corporate should not be held liable at all as the law cannot be interpreted to do the impossible whereas the word "and" requires both imprisonment along with fine. This contention prevailed for long unless the hyper-techniques of interpretation were set aside by a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court in Standard Chartered Bank

In this post we bring to you a recent decision of the Supreme Court in Iridium India Telecom Ltd. v. Motorola Incorporated wherein the Supreme Court inter alia has revisited the law relating to liability of corporations. The Supreme Court in this context observed as under;
35. We are of the considered opinion that there is much substance in the submission of Mr. Jethmalani that virtually in all jurisdictions across the world governed by the rule of law, the companies and corporate houses can no longer claim immunity from criminal prosecution on the ground that they are incapable of possessing the necessary mens rea for the commission of criminal offences. The legal position in England and the United States has now crystallized to leave no manner of doubt that a corporation would be liable for crimes of intent. In the year 1909, the United 34 [1992 Crl. L.J. 1448] States Supreme Court in New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Co. Vs. United States, stated the principle thus:- 
“It is true that there are some crimes which, in their nature, cannot be committed by corporations. But there is a large class of offences, of which rebating under the federal statutes is one, wherein the crime consists in purposely doing the things prohibited by statute. In that class of crimes we see no good reason why corporations may not be held responsible for and charged with the knowledge and purposes of their agents, acting within the authority conferred upon them. If it were not so, many offences might go unpunished and acts be committed in violation of law where, as in the present case, the statute requires all persons, corporate or private, to refrain from certain practices, forbidden in the interest of public policy.
* * *
We see no valid objection in law, and every reason in public policy, why the corporation, which profits by the transaction, and can only act through its agents and officers, shall be held punishable by fine because of the knowledge and intent of its agents to whom it has entrusted authority to act in the subject-matter of making and fixing rates of transportation, and whose knowledge and purposes may well be attributed to the corporation for which the agents act. While the law should have regard to the rights of all, and to those of corporations no less than to those of individuals, it cannot shut its eyes to the fact that the great majority of business transactions in modern times are conducted through these bodies, and particularly that inter-State commerce is almost entirely in their hands, and to give them immunity from all punishment because of the old and exploded doctrine that a corporation cannot commit a crime would virtually take away the only means of effectually controlling the subject-matter and correcting the abuses aimed at.”
The aforesaid sentiment is reiterated in the 19 American Jurisprudence 2d para 1434 in the following words:- 
“Lord Holt is reported to have said (Anonymous, 12 Mod 559, 88 Eng Reprint 1164) that ‘a corporation is not indictable, but the particular members of it are’. On the strength of this statement it was said by the early writers that a corporation is not indictable at common law, and this view was taken by the courts in some of the earlier cases. The broad general rule is now well established, however, that a corporation may be criminally liable. This rule applies as well to acts of misfeasance as to those of nonfeasance, and it is immaterial that the Act constituting the offence was ultra vires. It has been held that a de facto corporation may be held criminally liable. As in case of torts the general rule prevails that a corporation may be criminally liable for the acts of an officer or agent, assumed to be done by him when exercising authorized powers, and without proof that his act was expressly authorized or approved by the corporation. A specific prohibition made by the corporation to its agents against violation of the law is no defence. The rule has been laid down, however, that corporations are liable, civilly or criminally, only for the acts of their agents who are authorized to act for them in the particular matter out of which the unlawful conduct with which they are charged grows or in the business to which it relates.”
Again in 19 Corpus Juris Secundum, para 1363 it has been observed as under:-
“A corporation may be criminally liable for crimes which involve a specific element of intent as well for those which do not, and, although some crimes require such a personal, malicious intent, that a corporation is considered incapable of committing them, nevertheless, under the proper circumstances the criminal intent of its agent may be imputed to it so as to render it liable, the requisites of such imputation being essentially the same as those required to impute malice to corporations in civil actions.” 
36. The Courts in England have emphatically rejected the notion that a body corporate could not commit a criminal offence which was an outcome of an act of will needing a particular state of mind. The aforesaid notion has been rejected by adopting the doctrine of attribution and imputation. In other words, the criminal intent of the “alter ego” of the company / body corporate, i.e., the person or group of person that guide the business of the company, would be imputed to the corporation. It may be appropriate at this stage to notice the observations made by the MacNaghten, J. in the case of Director of Public Prosecutions Vs. Kent and Sussex Contractors Ltd.:
“A body corporate is a ‘person’ to whom, amongst the various attributes it may have, there should be imputed the attribute of a mind capable of knowing and forming an intention — indeed it is much too late in the day to suggest the contrary. It can only know or form an intention through its human agents, but circumstances may be such that the knowledge of the agent must be imputed to the body corporate. Counsel for the respondents says that, although a body corporate may be capable of having an intention, it is not capable of having a criminal intention. In this particular case the intention was the intention to deceive. If, as in this case, the responsible agent of a body corporate puts forward a document knowing it to be false and intending that it should deceive, I apprehend, according to the authorities that Viscount Caldecote, L.C.J., has cited, his knowledge and intention must be imputed to the body corporate.”
The principle has been reiterated by Lord Denning in the case of H.L.Bolton (Engg.) Co. Ltd. Vs. T.J.Graham & Sons in the following words:-
“A company may in many ways be likened to a human body. They have a brain and a nerve centre which controls what they do. They also have hands which hold the tools and act in accordance with directions from the centre. Some of the people in the company are mere servants and agents who are nothing more than hands to do the work and cannot be said to represent the mind or will. Others are directors and managers who represent the directing mind and will of the company, and control what they do. The state of mind of these managers is the state of mind of the company and is treated by the law as such. So you will find that in cases where the law requires personal fault as a condition of liability in tort, the fault of the manager will be the personal fault of the company. That is made clear in Lord Haldane’s speech in Lennard’s Carrying Co. Ltd. Vs. Asiatic Petroleum Co. Ltd. (AC at pp. 713, 714). So also in the criminal law, in cases where the law requires a guilty mind as a condition of a criminal offence, the guilty mind of the directors or the managers will render the company themselves guilty.”
37. The aforesaid principle has been firmly established in England since the decision of House of Lords in Tesco Supermarkets Ltd. Vs. Nattrass. In stating the principle of corporate liability for criminal offences, Lord Reid made the following statement of law:-
“I must start by considering the nature of the personality which by a fiction the law attributes to a corporation. A living person has a mind which can have knowledge or intention or be negligent and he has hands to carry out his intentions. A corporation has none of these; it must act through living persons, though not always one or the same person. Then the person who acts is not speaking or acting for the company. He is acting as the company and his mind which directs his acts is the mind of the company. There is no question of the company being vicariously liable. He is not acting as a servant, representative, agent or delegate. He is an embodiment of the company or, one could say, he hears and speaks through the persona of the company, within his appropriate sphere, and his mind is the mind of the company. If it is guilty mind then that guilt is the guilt of the company. It must be a question of law whether, once the facts have been ascertained, a person in doing particular things is to be regarded as the company or merely as the company’s servant or agent. In that case any liability of the company can only be a statutory or vicarious liability.” 
38. From the above it becomes evident that a corporation is virtually in the same position as any individual and may be convicted of common law as well as statutory offences including those requiring mens rea. The criminal liability of a corporation would arise when an offence is committed in relation to the business of the corporation by a person or body of persons in control of its affairs. In such circumstances, it would be necessary to ascertain that the degree and control of the person or body of persons is so intense that a corporation may be said to think and act through the person or the body of persons. The position of law on this issue in Canada is almost the same. Mens rea is attributed to corporations on the principle of ‘alter ego’ of the company
39. So far as India is concerned, the legal position has been clearly stated by the Constitution Bench judgment of this Court in the case of Standard Chartered Bank Vs. Directorate of Enforcement. On a detailed consideration of the entire body of case laws in this country as well as other jurisdictions, it has been observed as follows:
“There is no dispute that a company is liable to be prosecuted and punished for criminal offences. Although there are earlier authorities to the effect that corporations cannot commit a crime, the generally accepted modern rule is that except for such crimes as a corporation is held incapable of committing by reason of the fact that they involve personal malicious intent, a corporation may be subject to indictment or other criminal process, although the criminal act is committed through its agents.”
This Court also rejected the submission that a company could avoid criminal prosecution in cases where custodial sentence is mandatory. Upon examination of the entire issue, it is observed as follows:-
“27. In the case of Penal Code offences, for example under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code, for cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property, the punishment prescribed is imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine; and for the offence under Section 417, that is, simple cheating, the punishment prescribed is imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both. If the appellants’ plea is accepted then for the offence under Section 417 IPC, which is an offence of minor nature, a company could be prosecuted and punished with fine whereas for the offence under Section 420, which is an aggravated form of cheating by which the victim is dishonestly induced to deliver property, the company cannot be prosecuted as there is a mandatory sentence of imprisonment.
28. So also there are several other offences in the Indian  Penal Code which describe offences of serious nature whereunder a corporate body also may be found guilty, and the punishment prescribed is mandatory custodial sentence. There are a series of other offences under various statutes where the accused are also liable to be punished with custodial sentence and fine.
30. As the company cannot be sentenced to imprisonment, the court has to resort to punishment of imposition of fine which is also a prescribed punishment. As per the scheme of various enactments and also the Indian Penal Code, mandatory custodial sentence is prescribed for graver offences. If the appellants’ plea is accepted, no company or corporate bodies could be prosecuted for the graver offences whereas they could be prosecuted for minor offences as the sentence prescribed therein is custodial sentence or fine.
31. As the company cannot be sentenced to imprisonment, the court cannot impose that punishment, but when imprisonment and fine is the prescribed punishment the court can impose the punishment of fine which could be enforced against the company. Such a discretion is to be read into the section so far as the juristic person is concerned. Of course, the court cannot exercise the same discretion as regards a natural person. Then the court would not be passing the sentence in accordance with law. As regards company, the court can always impose a sentence of fine and the sentence of imprisonment can be ignored as it is impossible to be carried out in respect of a company. This appears to be the intention of the legislature and we find no difficulty in construing the statute in such a way. We do not think that there is a blanket immunity for any company from any prosecution for serious offences merely because the prosecution would ultimately entail a sentence of mandatory imprisonment. The corporate bodies, such as a firm or company undertake a series of activities that affect the life, liberty and property of the citizens. Large-scale financial irregularities are done by various corporations. The corporate vehicle now occupies such a large portion of the industrial, commercial and sociological sectors that amenability of the corporation to a criminal law is essential to have a peaceful society with stable economy.
32. We hold that there is no immunity to the companies from prosecution merely because the prosecution is in respect of offences for which the punishment prescribed is mandatory imprisonment (sic and fine). We overrule the views expressed by the majority in Velliappa Textiles on this point and answer the reference accordingly. Various other contentions have been urged in all appeals, including this appeal, they be posted for hearing before an appropriate Bench.”
40. These observations leave no manner of doubt that a company / corporation cannot escape liability for a criminal offence, merely because the punishment prescribed is that of imprisonment and fine. We are of the considered opinion that in view of the aforesaid Judgment of this Court, the conclusion reached by the High Court that the respondent could not have the necessary mens rea is clearly erroneous.

No writ to return vehicle recovered by Bank: High Court

That the scope of writ petitions is limited largely against the State is a proposition well founded in the jurisprudence which has developed under the Constitutional precincts. In this respect the Constitutional Courts of India have consistently declared that writ petitions would not be issued against private parties where such parties are not performing state/statutory functions. In this line we came across this decision wherein a High Court refused to issue writ against a private bank wherein the allegation was of illegal recovery of vehicle by the bank against the borrower. While the Court declared that there may be a right, the remedy availed was inappropriate.

The Calcutta High Court in a recently reported decision [Rabindra Kumar Singh v. State of West Bengal, AIR 2010 NOC 949] clarified the law in this respect by passing the following judgment;
ICICI Bank Limited, the fifth respondent in the pending art.226 petition dated March 5, 2008, has filed this application for dismissal of the petition on the ground that it is not maintainable. It is submitted that the application has been served. Affidavit of service has been filed. None appears to oppose the application. 
The principal reliefs seeking which the petition has been filed are these: "(a) A writ in the nature of Mandamus commanding and directing the respondents and their men, agents and/or associates, specially upon the respondent no.4 to take immediate steps in terms of illegal dispossession of the vehicle of the petitioner from his rightful possession. (b) A writ in the nature of Mandamus directing the respondent No.5 to take the part-payment of the due installments from your petitioner in respect of the above mentioned  vehicle. (c) A writ in the nature of Mandamus directing the respondent No.5 to release the Jute as early as possible which is in his custody till now."
The petitioner purchased a truck financed by ICICI Bank. Alleging that he failed and neglected to pay the loan according to the terms and conditions of the agreement between the parties, and that the contract entitled it to repossess the vehicle, ICICI Bank took possession of the vehicle on February 10, 2008 under an inventory of that same day, Annexure P2 at p.20. By a letter of that same day, Annexure P4 at p.22, it informed the petitioner that his failure to pay the amount mentioned therein would compel it to dispose of the vehicle.
On February 12, 2008 the petitioner sent by post a letter of that same day, Annexure P3 at p.21, to the officer in charge of Itahar police station in Uttar Dinajpur alleging that on February 10, 2008 certain unknown persons forcibly took possession of the vehicle. He then gave a reply dated February 26, 2008, Annexure P5 at p.23, to the bank's letter dated February 10, 2008 through his advocate offering to pay the loan. Then seeking the above-noted reliefs he brought this petition.
ICICI Bank is not a state within the meaning of art.12 of the constitution and no public law element was involved in the action it took for repossession of the vehicle. It repossessed the vehicle in exercise of its pure private law contractual right flowing from the contract between the parties. On the basis of the letter dated February 12, 2008 the police could not recover the vehicle from it and restore possession thereof to the petitioner. In exercise of power under art.226 this court cannot direct the bank to accept any amount from the petitioner and return the vehicle and goods. 
I am, therefore, of the view that the bank is right in contending that the petition is not maintainable. The petitioner's remedy, if any, was before the appropriate civil and criminal courts. 
For these reasons, I allow the application and dismiss the art.226 petition.

14 Nov 2010

Principles for condoning delay: The law revisited

This blog has witnessed a number of posts on law of limitation. While it definitely pertains to procedural aspects of law, it nonetheless gains prominent owing to the fact that the law of limitation acts as a prescription to limit the enforcement of rights and availment of legal remedies. Requiring the litigant to act with diligence, the law of limitation points out to the concerned the time limits within which they should act and also the consequences of such failure. Further, the incumbent courts also ensure that the delay is not condoned in a routine manner and thus rendering the law of limitation meaning less.

In this context, the Supreme Court in a recently reported decision in Balwant Singh v. Jagdish Singh (AIR 2010 SC 3043) has revisited the law of limitiation to cull out the principles involved while condoning the delay. The Division Bench of the Court iterated the law prevailing in terms of its earlier decisions in the following terms;
8. In the case of P.K. Ramachandran v. State of Kerala, [(1997) 7 SCC 556] where there was delay of 565 days in filing the first appeal by the State, and the High Court had observed, “taking into consideration the averments contained in the affidavit filed in support of the petition to condone the delay, we are inclined to allow the petition”. While setting aside this order, this Court found that the explanation rendered for condonation of delay was neither reasonable nor satisfactory and held as under: 
“3. It would be noticed from a perusal of the impugned order that the court has not recorded any satisfaction that the explanation for delay was either reasonable or satisfactory, which is an essential prerequisite to condonation of delay. 
4. That apart, we find that in the application filed by the respondent seeking condonation of delay, the thrust in explaining the delay after 12.5.1995 is:
“…..at that time the Advocate General’s office was fed up with so many arbitration matters (sic) equally important to this case were pending for consideration as per the directions of the Advocate General on 2.9.1995.”
5. This can hardly be said to be a reasonable, satisfactory or even a proper explanation for seeking condonation of delay. In the reply filed to the application seeking condonation of delay by the appellant in the High Court, it is asserted that after the judgment and decree was pronounced by the learned Sub-Judge, Kollam on 30-10-1993, the scope for filing of the appeal was examined by the District Government Pleader, Special Law Officer, Law Secretary and the Advocate General and in accordance with their opinion, it was decided that there was no scope for filing the appeal but later on, despite the opinion referred to above, the appeal was filed as late as on 18.1.1996 without disclosing why it was being filed. The High Court does not appear to have examined the reply filed by the appellant as reference to the same is conspicuous by its absence from the order. We are not satisfied that in the facts and circumstances of this case, any explanation, much less a reasonable or satisfactory one had been offered by the respondent-State for condonation of the inordinate delay of 565 days.
6. Law of limitation may harshly affect a particular party but it has to be applied with all its rigour when the statute so prescribed and the courts have no power to extend the period of limitation on equitable grounds. The discretion exercised by the High Court was, thus, neither proper nor judicious. The order condoning the delay cannot be sustained. This appeal, therefore, succeeds and the impugned order is set aside. Consequently, the application for condonation of delay filed in the High Court would stand rejected and the miscellaneous first appeal shall stand dismissed as barred by time. No costs.”
9. In the case of Mithailal Dalsangar Singh (supra), a Bench of this Court had occasion to deal with the provisions of Order 22 Rule 9, CPC and while enunciating the principles controlling the application of and exercising of discretion under these provisions, the Court reiterated the principle that the abatement is automatic and not even a specific order is required to be passed  by the Court in that behalf. It would be useful to reproduce paragraph 8 of the said judgment which has a bearing on the matter in controversy before us:
“8. Inasmuch as the abatement results in denial of hearing on the merits of the case, the provision of abatement has to be construed strictly. On the other hand, the prayer for setting aside an abatement and the dismissal consequent upon an abatement, have to be considered liberally. A simple prayer for bringing the legal representatives on record without specifically praying for setting aside of an abatement may in substance be construed as a prayer for setting aside the abatement. So also a prayer for setting aside abatement as regards one of the plaintiffs can be construed as a prayer for setting aside the abatement of the suit in its entirety. Abatement of suit for failure to move an application for bringing the legal representatives on record within the prescribed period of limitation is automatic and specific order dismissing the suit as abated is not called for. Once the suit has abated as a matter of law, though there may not have been passed on record a specific order dismissing the suit as abated, yet the legal representatives proposing to be brought on record or any other applicant proposing to bring the legal representatives of the deceased party on record would seek the setting aside of an abatement. A prayer for bringing the legal representatives on record, if allowed, would have the effect of setting aside the abatement as the relief of setting aside abatement though not asked for in so many words is in effect being actually asked for and is necessarily implied. Too technical or pedantic an approach in such cases is not called for.”
10. Another Bench of this Court in a recent judgment of Katari Suryanarayana v. Koppisetti Subba Rao, [AIR 2009 SC 2907] again had an occasion to construe the ambit, scope and application of the expression ‘sufficient cause’. The application for setting aside the abatement and bringing the legal heirs of the deceased on record was filed in that case after a considerable delay. The explanation rendered regarding the delay of 2381 days in filing the application for condonation of delay and 2601 days in bringing the legal representatives on record was not found to be satisfactory. Declining the application for condonation of delay, the Court, while discussing the case of Perumon Bhagvathy Devaswom v. Bhargavi Amma [(2008) 8 SCC 321] in its para 9 held as under:
“11. The words “sufficient cause for not making the application within the period of limitation” should be understood and applied in a reasonable, pragmatic, practical and liberal manner, depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case, and the type of case. The words ‘sufficient cause’ in Section 5 of Limitation Act should receive a liberal construction so as to advance substantial justice, when the delay is not on account of any dilatory tactics, want of bona fides, deliberate inaction or negligence on the part of the appellant.”
11. The Learned Counsel appearing for the applicant, while relying upon the cases of Ram Sumiran, Mithailal Dalsangar Singh and Ganeshprasad Badrinarayan Lahoti (supra), contended  that the Court should adopt a very liberal approach and the delay should be condoned on the mere asking by the applicant. Firstly, none of these cases is of much help to the applicant. Secondly, in the case of Ram Sumiran (supra), the Court has not recorded any reasons or enunciated any principle of law for exercising the discretion. The Court, being satisfied with the facts averred in the application and particularly giving benefit to the applicant on account of illiteracy and ignorance, condoned the delay of six years in filing the application. This judgment cannot be treated as a precedent in the eyes of the law. In fact, it was a judgment on its own facts.
12. In the case of Ganeshprasad Badrinarayan Lahoti (supra), the High Court had rejected the application, primarily, on the ground that no separate application had been filed for substitution and for setting aside the abatement. The Court held that the principles of res judicata were not applicable and the application could be filed at a subsequent stage. Thus, the delay was condoned. We must notice here that the earlier judgments of the equi benches and even that of larger benches (three Judge Bench) in the case of Ram Charan (supra) were not brought to the notice of the Court. Resultantly, the principles of law stated by this Court in its earlier judgments were not considered by the Bench dealing with the case of Ganeshprasad Badrinarayan Lahoti (supra).
13. As held by this Court in the case of Mithailal Dalsangar Singh (supra), the abatement results in the denial of hearing on the merits of the case, the provision of abatement has to be construed strictly. On the other hand, the prayer for setting aside an abatement and the dismissal consequent upon an abatement, have to be construed liberally. We may state that even if the term ‘sufficient cause’ has to receive liberal construction, it must squarely fall within the concept of reasonable time and proper conduct of the concerned party. The purpose of introducing liberal construction normally is to introduce the concept of ‘reasonableness’ as it is understood in its general connotation. The law of limitation is a substantive law and has definite consequences on the right and obligation of a party to arise. These principles should be adhered to and applied appropriately depending on the facts and circumstances of a given case. Once a valuable right, as accrued in favour of one party as a result of the failure of the other party to explain the delay by showing sufficient cause and its own conduct, it will be unreasonable to take away that right on the mere asking of the applicant, particularly when the delay is directly a result of negligence, default or inaction of that party. Justice must be done to both parties equally. Then alone the ends of justice can be achieved. If a party has been thoroughly negligent in implementing its rights and remedies, it will be equally unfair to deprive the other party of a valuable right that has accrued to it in law as a result of his acting vigilantly. The application filed by the applicants lack in details. Even the averments made are not correct and ex-facie lack bona fide. The explanation has to be reasonable or plausible, so as to persuade the Court to believe that the explanation rendered is not only true, but is worthy of exercising judicial discretion in favour of the applicant. If it does not specify any of the enunciated ingredients of judicial pronouncements, then the application should be dismissed. On the other hand, if the application is bona fide and based upon true and plausible explanations, as well as reflect normal behaviour of a common prudent person on the part of the applicant, the Court would normally tilt the judicial discretion in favour of such an applicant. Liberal construction cannot be equated with doing injustice to the other party. In the case of State of Bihar v. Kameshwar Prasad Singh [(2000) 9 SCC 94], this Court had taken a liberal approach for condoning the delay in cases of the Government, to do substantial justice. Facts of that case were entirely different as that was the case of fixation of seniority of 400 officers and the facts were required to be verified. But what we are impressing upon is that delay should be condoned to do substantial justice without resulting in injustice to the other party. This balance has to be kept in mind by the Court while deciding such applications. In the case of Ramlal and Others v. Rewa Coalfields Ltd., [AIR 1962 SC 361] this Court took the view: 
“7. In construing Section 5 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. As has been observed by the Madras High Court in Krishna v. Chathappan, ILR 13 Mad 269. It is however, necessary to emphasize that even after sufficient cause has been shown a party is not entitled to the condonation of delay in question as a matter of right. The proof of a sufficient cause is a condition precedent for the exercise of the discretionary jurisdiction vested in the court by Section 5. If sufficient cause is not proved nothing further has to be done; the application for condoning delay has to be dismissed on that ground alone. If sufficient cause is shown then the Court has to enquire whether in its discretion it should condone the delay. This aspect of the matter naturally introduces the consideration of all relevant facts and it is at this stage that diligence of the party or its bona fides may fall for consideration;…”
14. In the case of Union of India v. Tata Yodogawa Ltd., [1988 (38) Excise Law Times 739 (SC)], this Court while granting some latitude to the Government in relation to condonation of delay, still held that there must be some way or attempt to explain the cause for such delay and as there was no whisper to explain what legal problems occurred in filing the Special Leave Petition, the application for condonation of delay was dismissed. Similarly, in the case of Collector of Central Excise, Madras v. A.MD. Bilal & Co., [1999 (108) Excise Law Times 331 (SC)], the Supreme Court declined to condone the delay of 502 days in filing the appeal because there was no satisfactory or reasonable explanation rendered for condonation of delay. The provisions of Order 22 Rule 9, CPC has been the subject matter of judicial scrutiny for considerable time now. Sometimes the Courts have taken a view that delay should be condoned with a liberal attitude, while on certain occasions the Courts have taken a stricter view and wherever the explanation was not satisfactory, have dismissed the application for condonation of delay. Thus, it is evident that it is difficult to state any straight-jacket formula which can uniformly be applied to all cases without reference to the peculiar facts and circumstances of a given case. It must be kept in mind that whenever a law is enacted by the legislature, it is intended to be enforced in its proper perspective. It is an equally settled principle of law that the provisions of a statute, including every word, have to be given full effect, keeping the legislative intent in mind, in order to ensure that the projected object is achieved. In other words, no provisions can be treated to have been enacted purposelessly. Furthermore, it is also a well settled canon of interpretative jurisprudence that the Court should not give such an interpretation to provisions which would render the provision ineffective or odious. Once the legislature has enacted the provisions of Order 22, with particular reference to Rule 9, and the provisions of the Limitation Act are applied to the entertainment of such an application, all these provisions have to be given their true and correct meaning and must be applied wherever called for. If we accept the contention of the Learned Counsel appearing for  the applicant that the Court should take a very liberal approach and interpret these provisions (Order 22 Rule 9 of the CPC and Section 5 of the Limitation Act) in such a manner and so liberally, irrespective of the period of delay, it would amount to practically rendering all these provisions redundant and inoperative. Such approach or interpretation would hardly be permissible in law.  Liberal construction of the expression ‘sufficient cause’ is intended to advance substantial justice which itself presupposes no negligence or inaction on the part of the applicant, to whom want of bona fide is imputable. There can be instances where the Court should condone the delay; equally there would be cases where the Court must exercise its discretion against the applicant for want of any of these ingredients or where it does not reflect ‘sufficient cause’ as understood in law. [Advanced Law Lexicon, P. Ramanatha Aiyar, 2nd Edition, 1997] The expression ‘sufficient cause’ implies the presence of legal and adequate reasons. The word ‘sufficient’ means adequate enough, as much as may be necessary to answer the purpose intended. It embraces no more than that which provides a plentitude which, when done, suffices to accomplish the purpose intended in the light of existing circumstances and when viewed from the reasonable standard of practical and cautious men. The sufficient cause should be such as it would persuade the Court, in exercise of its judicial discretion, to treat the delay as an excusable one. These provisions give the Courts enough power and discretion to apply a law in a meaningful manner, while assuring that the purpose of enacting such a law does not stand frustrated. We find it unnecessary to discuss the instances which would fall under either of these classes of cases. The party should show that besides acting bona fide, it had taken all possible steps within its power and control and had approached the Court without any unnecessary delay. The test is whether or not a cause is sufficient to see whether it could have been avoided by the party by the exercise of due care and attention. [Advanced Law Lexicon, P. Ramanatha Aiyar, 3rd Edition, 2005] 
15. We feel that it would be useful to make a reference to the judgment of this Court in Perumon Bhagvathy Devaswom (supra). In this case, the Court, after discussing a number of judgments of this Court as well as that of the High Courts, enunciated the principles which need to be kept in mind while dealing with applications filed under the provisions of Order 22, CPC along with an application under Section 5, Limitation Act for condonation of delay in filing the application for bringing the legal representatives on record. In paragraph 13 of the judgment, the Court held as under:-
“13 (i) The words “sufficient cause for not making the application within the period of limitation” should be understood and applied in a reasonable, pragmatic, practical and liberal manner, depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case, and the type of case. The words ‘sufficient cause’ in Section 5 of the Limitation Act should receive a liberal construction so as to advance substantial justice, when the delay is not on account of any dilatory tactics, want of bona fides, deliberate inaction or negligence on the part of the appellant.”
(ii) In considering the reasons for condonation of delay, the courts are more liberal with reference to applications for setting aside abatement, than other cases. While the court will have to keep in view that a valuable right accrues to the legal representatives of the deceased respondent when the appeal abates, it will not punish an appellant with foreclosure of the appeal, for unintended lapses. The courts tend to set aside abatement and decided the matter on merits. The courts tend to set aside abatement and decide the matter on merits, rather than terminate the appeal on the ground of abatement.
(iii) The decisive factor in condonation of delay, is not the length of delay, but sufficiency of a satisfactory explanation.
(iv) The extent or degree of leniency to be shown by a court depends on the nature of application and facts and circumstances of the case. For example, courts view delays in making applications in a pending appeal more leniently than delays in the institution of an appeal. The courts view applications relating to lawyer’s lapses more leniently than applications relating to litigant’s lapses. The classic example is the difference in approach of courts to applications for condonation of delay in filing an appeal and applications for condonation of delay in re-filing the appeal after rectification of defects.
(v) Want of “diligence” or “inaction” can be attributed to an appellant only when something required to be done by him, is not done. When nothing is required to be done, courts do not expect the appellant to be diligent. Where an appeal is admitted by the High Court and is not expected to be listed for final hearing for a few years, an appellant is not expected to visit the court or his lawyer every few weeks to ascertain the position nor keep checking whether the contesting respondent is alive. He merely awaits the call or information from his counsel about the listing of the appeal.
We may also notice here that this judgment had been followed with approval by an equi-bench of this Court in the case of Katari Suryanarayana (supra) 
16. Above are the principles which should control the exercise of judicial discretion vested in the Court under these provisions. The explained delay should be clearly understood in contradistinction to inordinate unexplained delay. Delay is just one of the ingredients which has to be considered by the Court. In addition to this, the Court must also take into account the conduct of the parties, bona fide reasons for condonation of delay and whether such delay could easily be avoided by the applicant acting with normal care and caution. The statutory provisions mandate that applications for condonation of delay and applications belatedly filed beyond the prescribed period of limitation for bringing the legal representatives on record, should be rejected unless sufficient cause is shown for condonation of delay. The larger benches as well as equi-benches of this Court have consistently followed these principles and have either allowed or declined to condone the delay in filing such applications. Thus, it is the requirement of law that these applications cannot be allowed as a matter of right and even in a routine manner. An applicant must essentially satisfy the above stated ingredients; then alone the Court would be inclined to condone the delay in the filing of such applications.
Have a look at the decision.

Post-Script Rejoinder

Subsequent to writing this post, we came across a later decision of the Supreme Court in which these principles have been reiterated. For the benefit of our readers, we are extracting the relevant paragraphs of the decision in Lanka Venkateswarlu v. State of A.P in this post itself, as under;
17. We have heard the learned counsel for parties. Mr. P.S. Narasimha, senior advocate, appearing for the appellant submitted that the impugned order of the High Court cannot be justified on any legal ground. He submits that the High Court having itself recorded the utter negligence of the respondents in pursuing the appeal at every stage, without any justification, condoned the delay. The learned senior counsel pointed out that there was no explanation, much less any plausible explanation to justify the delay of 3703 days in filing the application for bringing on record the LRs. of the sole respondent or for the delay in filing the application for setting aside the order dated 6th February, 1998. It was further submitted that there was no justification to permit the respondent No.3 to be impleaded as a party in the appeal. Learned counsel relied on the judgment of this Court in the case of Balwant Singh (dead) Vs. J agdish Singh 1 in support of the submission that the law of limitation has to be enforced in its proper prospective. Even though the Courts have power to condone the delay, it can not be condoned without any justification. Such an approach would result in rendering the provisions contained in the Limitation Act redundant and inoperative.
18. On the other hand, learned counsel for the respondents relied on the judgments of this Court in the case of N. Balakrishnan Vs. M . Krishnamurthy, Mithailal Dalsangar Singh & Ors. Vs. Annabai Devram Kini & Ors. and Sardar Amarjit Singh Kalra (dead) by LRs Vs. P ramod Gupta (dead) by LRs.  and submitted that the High Court in condoning the delay has merely advanced the cause of substantial justice.
19. We have considered the submissions made by the learned counsel. At the outset, it needs to be stated that generally speaking, the courts in this country, including this Court, adopt a liberal approach in considering the application for condonation of delay on the ground of sufficient cause under Section 5 of the Limitation Act. This principle is well settled and has been set out succinctly in the case of Collector, Land Acquisition, Anantnag & Ors. Vs. Katiji & Ors. 
20. In the case of M. Balakrishnan (supra), this Court again reiterated the principle that rules of limitation are not meant to destroy the rights of parties. They are meant to see that the parties do not resort to dilatory tactics, but seek their remedy promptly.
21. In the case of Sardar Amarjit Singh Kalra (supra), this Court again emphasized that provisions contained in the Order 22 CPC were devised to ensure continuation and culmination in an effective adjudication and not to retard further progress of the proceedings. The provisions contained in the Order 22 are not to be construed as a rigid matter of principle, but must ever be viewed as a flexible tool of convenience in the administration of justice. It was further observed that laws of procedure are meant to regulate effectively, assist and aid the object of doing a substantial and real justice and not to foreclose even adjudication on merits of substantial rights of citizen under personal, property and other laws. In the case of Mithailal Dalsangar Singh and Ors. Vs. Annabai Devram Kini & Ors, (Supra), this Court again reiterated that in as much as abatement results in denial of hearing on the merits of the case, the provision of an abatement has to be construed strictly. On the other hand, the prayer of setting aside abatement and the dismissal consequent upon abatement had to be considered liberally. It was further observed as follows:-
“The Courts have to adopt a justice oriented approach dictated by the uppermost consideration that ordinarily a litigant ought not to be denied an opportunity of having a lis determined on merits unless he has, by gross negligence, deliberate inaction or something akin to misconduct, disentitled himself from seeking the indulgence of the court.”
22. The concepts of liberal approach and reasonableness in exercise of the discretion by the Courts in condoning delay, have been again stated by this Court in the case of Balwant Singh (supra), as follows:-
“25. We may state that even if the term “sufficient cause” has to receive liberal construction, it must squarely fall within the concept of reasonable time and proper conduct of the party concerned. The purpose of introducing liberal construction normally is to introduce the concept of “reasonableness” as it is understood in its general connotation.”
“26. The law of limitation is a substantive law and has definite consequences on the right and obligation of party to arise. These principles should be adhered to and applied appropriately depending on the facts and circumstances of a given case. Once a valuable right has accrued in favour of one party as a result of the failure of the other party to explain the delay by showing sufficient cause and its own conduct, it will be unreasonable to take away that right on the mere asking of the applicant, particularly when the delay is directly a result of negligence, default or inaction of that party. Justice must be done to both parties equally. Then alone the ends of justice can be achieved. If a party has been thoroughly negligent in implementing its rights and remedies, it will be equally unfair to deprive the other party of a valuable right that has accrued to it in law as a result of his acting vigilantly.” 

Imported sweets/chocolates to declare ingredients: High Court

Holding that it was mandatory for imported edible items such as sweets and chocolates to declare on their packages the contents and ingredients such that the public could make an informed choice upon its consumption, the Delhi High Court recently in Ferrero Spa v. Shri Maa Distributors passed a direction to the authorities publicize the requirement of such declaration before the edibles are sold in the market and also to ensure that the contents are within the prescribed range for edible items.

The High Court inter alia observed as under;
10. It is apparent from the above discussion that at the stage of seizure, or detention of the goods, and their eventual release, the Central Government had got them chemically examined; the Central Government laboratory in its opinion stated that the products confirmed to the prescribed specifications in the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, even though the irregularity in regard to absence of the importer’s name, was disclosed. The controversy as to whether the products contain milk, in this context, does not assume such a predominant consideration. The Government laboratory’s opinion was later endorsed by the FICCI laboratory’s view, of mid October, 2010. Though the plaintiff’s report has been furnished, in this court’s opinion, that cannot outweigh the initial opinion and report of the Central Government food laboratory. Since the suit is at an interim stage, and pertains to adjudication of trademark claims, appropriate orders for their release can be made, after imposing suitable conditions.
11. Rule 32 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, inter alia, reads as follows:
“32. Every Prepackaged food to carry a label. -
(a) General
(1) Prepackaged food shall not be described or presented on any label or in any labelling manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character in any respect. 
(2) Label in prepackaged foods shall be applied in such a manner that they will not become separated from the container.
(3) Contents on the label shall be clear, prominent, indelible and readily legible by the consumer under normal condition of purchase and use.
(4) Where the container is covered by a wrapper, the wrapper shall carry the necessary information or the label on the container shall be readily legible through the outer wrapper or not obscured by it.
(b) Labelling of Prepackaged Foods : Every package of food shall carry the following information on the label. 
(1) The Name of the Food :The name of the food shall include trade name or description of food contained in the package.
(2) List of Ingredients. - A list of ingredients shall be declared on the label and shall be in the following manner:-
(i) the list of ingredients shall contain an appropriate title, such as the term "ingredients";
(ii) the names of ingredients used in the product shall be mentioned in descending order in respect of their composition, by weight or volume, as the case may be;
(iii) every package of food sold as a mixture or combination shall disclose the ingoing percentage, by weight or volume as may be appropriate, of any ingredient at the time of the manufacture of the food (including compound ingredients or categories of ingredients) and if such ingredient,-
(A) is emphasized as present on the label through words or pictures or graphics; or
(B) is essential to characterize the food in order to distinguish the food from other categories of food with which it may be confused; or
(C) is emphasized as ingredients in the name of the food; or
(D) the disclosure of which is deemed to be necessary to enhance the health of consumers or to prevent consumers from being deceived, or
(E) is the subject of an express claim about the presence of any fruits, vegetables, whole grains or added sugars:
……… ………….
“(c)(i) the name and complete address of the manufacture and the manufacturing unit, if these are located at different places and in case the manufacturer is not the packer or  bottler, the name and complete address of the packing or bottling unit as the case may be;
(ii) where an article of food is manufactured or packed or bottled by a person or a company under the written authority of some other manufacturer or company, under his or its brand name, the label shall carry the name and complete address of the manufacturing or packing or bottling unit as the case may be, and also the name and complete address of the manufacturer or the company, for and on whose behalf it is manufactured or packed or bottled;
(iii) where an article of food is imported into India, the package of food shall also carry the name and complete address of the importer in India: Provided that where any food article manufactured outside India is packed or bottled in India, the package containing the such food article shall also bear on the label, the name of the country of origin of the food article and the name and complete address of the importer and the premises of the packing or bottling in India.”
The above provision is an important piece of public interest norm, to ensure accountability towards public health standards, in regard to edible articles offered for sale. In this case, the dispute hinges on rival contentions regarding trademark ownership and usage. Yet, there is a subsidiary issue, since importation, and sale of chocolates with any milk content, of Chinese origin are prohibited. Prima facie, the court is of the opinion that the defendants chocolates do not contain milk, and can be offered in the market. Yet, the labeling in these packets, does not contain the prescribed and listed out details, pertaining to ingredients, and importantly, the name of manufacturer and name and address of the importer. Now, these are extremely vital pieces of information which a potential buyer should be informed about, since in the event of any health condition or concern, arising after consumption, it would be well nigh impossible for the importer, who is responsible for the placing of the product in the market, to be brought to book. Now, any infraction of provisions of the PFA and Rules amounts to an offence. This court, of course, is not called upon to decide that issue. Nevertheless, the court cannot be blind to the question.
12. Diwali is a celebration of light; it is also a time for renewal of familial ties and reaffirmation of friendship. Traditionally, celebration of Diwali begins with the exchange of gifts. Elders in the family present clothes to the younger members; the latter gift sweets for members in the family and so on. Gifts are an occasion for elders in the family to show their love and affection for other members of the family. Social mores have undergone radical changes in the manner of celebration of Diwali and particularly in exchange of gifts. Traditionally when families were big and people did not live far from one another personal visits of relatives and exchange gifts and home-made sweets was the accepted norm. Urban compulsions and a burgeoning middle class has completely transformed these practices; it is passé to exchange home-made sweets perhaps for the simple reason that very few people have the time or inclination to cook them. Therefore, sweets, chocolates, packaged bakery and confectionary items are bought and gifted commonly. Apart from gifts amongst family members, the festival has seen change in values; sweets and such like gifts are routinely given to office colleagues, employees, business associates, and “those who matter”. Time only will tell whether these changes have merit, or are necessary; the point however, is that Diwali time spawns a huge industry which caters to these gifts. Sale of sweets, confectionaries, chocolates, and the like goes up by leaps and bounds. In this background, public health considerations become even more crucial. Often, as in this case, these sweets or chocolates are imported and sold as Diwali packages. The quality and standards for manufacture of these products, however, has to conform to the existing laws. In such instances, it becomes essential that the labels fixed on the packages containing such products should indicate the ingredients, in a clear manner, and also disclose the manufacturer, and importer, with his address, simply to fix responsibility, in the event of a mishap or illness.
13. In view of the above discussion, this court deems it appropriate that the concerned authorities of the Departments of Health and Consumer Affairs, Govt. of NCT of Delhi, as well as the Central Government, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, should take appropriate steps to publish in the media, newspapers and periodicals, as well as the public domain, explaining the existence of these standards, to members of the public, to spread awareness, and exhibit caution while purchasing such goods, in order to prevent any harm to the health and well being of the general public