SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS HIGH COURT ORDER CONDONING DELAY OF 479 DAYS IN FILING APPEAL CAUSED BY BUREAUCRATIC PROCEDURES
A two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Bela M. Trivedi and Justice Dipankar Datta passed a Judgment dated 09-10-2023 in the matter of Sheo Raj Singh (Deceased) Through Lrs. and Ors. Vs Union of India and Anr. Civil Appeal No. 5867 of 2015 and reiterated the circumstances in which delay in filing a case / appeal, etc may be condoned under the Limitation Act 1963.
i) In the present case, during a land acquisition proceeding, the Reference Court passed an Order dated 31-10-2008 in LAC No. 198 / 2008 and enhanced the compensation payable to land owners in Delhi against land acquisition by the Government.
ii) Aggrieved by the Reference Court Order dated 31-10-2008, the Respondent- Union of India filed a Land Acquisition Appeal in App. / 655 / 2010 before the Hon’ble Delhi High Court on 02-06-2010. As the Appeal was filed with a delay of 479 days, the Respondent filed a Civil Miscellaneous Application bearing CM-11018-2010 in LA. App. / 655 / 2010 seeking condonation of delay, citing reasons for delay as ‘the lamentable institutional inefficiency and the deplorable bureaucratic inertia’. In the period that transpired after the Reference Court passed the Order dated 31-10-2008 and the Respondent filed the Appeal, the following events occurred that caused the delay in filing of Appeal:
a) The Respondent applied for the certified copy of the Reference Court’s Order before the Reference Court on 22-04-2009, i.e. around 6 months after passing of such Order.
b) The certified copy was granted on 30-07-2009, i.e. around 3 months after filing of application.
c) The Deputy Legal Advisor (Land and Building) advised the Respondent to file an appeal before the High Court on 10-08-2009.
d) The Principal Secretary (Land and Building) approved the proposal for filing the appeal on 11-08-2009.
e) Thereafter, the Deputy Legal Advisor (Land and Building) sent the certified copy of the Reference Court’s Order and the approval of the Principal Secretary, to the Deputy Commissioner (East) on 26-08-2009, which was received on 28-08-2009.
f) The case file then reached the Land Acquisition Collector on 31-08-2009.
g) The case file was later forwarded to the Respondent’s Counsel for preparation of the appeal on 17-09-2009. The case file was then sent back to the Respondent on 07-10-2009.
h) The file for payment of Court Fee of Rs. 51,36,592/- was put up before the Deputy Commissioner on 12-10-2009.
i) Thereafter, the Budget for the payment of Court Fee, etc was sanctioned on 15-12-2009.
j) In the meantime, the Certified Copy of the Reference Court’s Order got misplaced. As a result, another application for certified copy had to be filed before the Ld. Reference Court on 24-10-2009, which was granted on 03-11-2009.
k) Subsequently, the Accounts Department sent the case file to the Finance Department on 12-01-2010 for arranging the requisite funds.
l) The Finance Department’s Letter dated 15-03-2010 approving the funds was received by the Accounts Department on 25-03-2010.
m) However, the cheque towards Court Fees was received only next month in April 2010, whereafter the funds were deposited with the Treasury on 07-05-2010.
n) The Treasury then deposited the Court Fees in the High Court on 11-05-2010.
o) Finally, the Appeal was filed by the Respondent on 02-06-2010 in the High Court, i.e. around more than a year after the process had been initiated for filing the Appeal.
iii) Taking into consideration the aforementioned reasons for delay, the Delhi High Court passed an Order dated 21-12-2011 in CM-11018-2010 and allowed the Condonation of Delay Application filed by the Respondent- Union of India under Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963 (Extension of prescribed period in certain cases) and thereby condoned the delay of around 479 days in filing the Appeal against the Order of the Ld. Reference Court. However, the High Court imposed Rs. 10,000/- costs on the Respondent-Union of India.
Supreme Court Observations
Aggrieved by the High Court Order dated 21-12-2011 allowing the Condonation of Delay Application filed by the Respondent- Union of India, the Appellant-Landowners filed Civil Appeal No. 5867 of 2015 before the Supreme Court. The Apex Court, vide Order dated 09-10-2023, made the following observations:
(1) That the Supreme Court has in earlier cases observed as follows, the objective behind conferring power upon Courts to condone delay in filing application / appeal, etc under Section 5 of the Limitation Act and the circumstances in which delay may be condoned:
(i) To enable the Courts to do substantial justice to the parties by disposing of matters on “merits”. Hence, the expression “sufficient cause” used in Section 5 has been kept flexible enough for the Courts to apply the law in a meaningful manner and ensure that justice is served.
(ii) “When substantial justice and technical considerations are pitted against each other, cause of substantial justice deserves to be preferred for the other side cannot claim to have vested right in injustice being done because of a non-deliberate delay”
(iii) “For sufficient cause to receive liberal treatment, the same must fall within reasonable time and through proper conduct of the concerned party.”
(iv) “The Court emphasised that for such an application for condonation to be seen in a positive light, the same should be bona fide, based on true and plausible explanations, and should reflect the normal conduct of a common prudent person.”
(v) “Further, the explained delay should be clearly understood in contradistinction to inordinate unexplained delay to warrant a condonation.”
(2) The Bench in the present case observed that it is the Court’s discretionary power to allow or refuse condonation of delay, hence, such exercise of discretion ought to be based on (i) the sufficiency of the cause of delay and (ii) the degree of acceptability of the explanation and in either case, the length of delay is immaterial.
(3) Hence, applying the aforesaid principles to the present case, the Bench held that the High Court rightly found that although there was negligence in handling the entire process, but there was no callousness as such. “The officer responsible for the negligence would be liable to suffer and not public interest through the State. The High Court felt inclined to take a pragmatic view since the negligence therein did not border on callousness.”
Thus, based on the aforesaid observations, the Apex Court held that the discretion exercised by the High Court in condoning the Respondent’s delay in filing the Appeal was not arbitrary and was based on the finding that there was ‘sufficient’ cause for delay and the explanation provided by the Respondent was satisfactory in nature. As a result, the Appeal filed by the Landowners before the Supreme Court was dismissed and the High Court Order dated 21-12-2011 allowing condonation of 479 days in filing the Appeal before the High Court, was upheld.
The Indian Lawyer
 Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963: Extension of prescribed period in certain cases
Any appeal or any application, other than an application under any of the provisions of Order XXI of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908), may be admitted after the prescribed period if the appellant or the applicant satisfies the court that he had sufficient cause for not preferring the appeal or making the application within such period.
Explanation.—The fact that the appellant or the applicant was missed by any order, practice or judgment of the High Court in ascertaining or computing the prescribed period may be sufficient cause within the meaning of this section.