IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
Civil Appeal Nos. 8183-8184 of 2013
Decided On: 13.09.2013
Managing Committee of Raghunathpur Nafar Academy and Ors.
Hon’ble Judges/Coram:Anil R. Dave and Dipak Misra, JJ.
The contours of the area of discretion of the courts in the matter of condonation of delays in filing appeals are set out in a number of pronouncements of this Court. See: Ramlal, Motilal and Chhotelal v. Rewa Coalfield Ltd. MANU/SC/0042/1961 : (1962) 2 SCR 762; Shakuntala Devi Jain v. Kuntal Kumari MANU/SC/0335/1968 : (1969) 1 SCR 1006; Concord of India Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Nirmala Devi MANU/SC/0384/1979 : (1979) 3 SCR 694; Lala Mata Din v. A. Narayanan MANU/SC/0621/1969 : (1970) 2 SCR 90; Collector, Land Acquisition v. Katiji etc. There is, it is true, no general principle saving the party from all mistakes of its counsel. If there is negligence, deliberate or gross inaction or lack of bona fide on the part of the party or its counsel there is no reason why the opposite side should be exposed to a time-barred appeal. Each case will have to be considered on the particularities of its own special facts. However, the expression ‘sufficient cause’ in Section 5 must receive a liberal construction so as to advance substantial justice and generally delays in preferring appeals are required to be condoned in the interest of justice where no gross negligence or deliberate inaction or lack of bona fides is imputable to the party seeking condonation of the delay.
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 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 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.
23. What needs to be emphasized is that even though a liberal and justice-oriented approach is required to be adopted in the exercise of power under Section 5 of the Limitation Act and other similar statutes, the courts can neither become oblivious of the fact that the successful litigant has acquired certain rights on the basis of the judgment under challenge and a lot of time is consumed at various stages of litigation apart from the cost.
24. What colour the expression “sufficient cause” would get in the factual matrix of a given case would largely depend on bona fide nature of the explanation. If the court finds that there has been no negligence on the part of the applicant and the cause shown for the delay does not lack bona fides, then it may condone the delay. If, on the other hand, the explanation given by the applicant is found to be concocted or he is thoroughly negligent in prosecuting his cause, then it would be a legitimate exercise of discretion not to condone the delay.
(i) There should be a liberal, pragmatic, justice-oriented, non-pedantic approach while dealing with an application for condonation of delay, for the courts are not supposed to legalise injustice but are obliged to remove injustice.
(ii) The terms “sufficient cause” should be understood in their proper spirit, philosophy and purpose regard being had to the fact that these terms are basically elastic and are to be applied in proper perspective to the obtaining fact-situation.
(iii) Substantial justice being paramount and pivotal the technical considerations should not be given undue and uncalled for emphasis.
(iv) No presumption can be attached to deliberate causation of delay but, gross negligence on the part of the counsel or litigant is to be taken note of.
(v) Lack of bona fides imputable to a party seeking condonation of delay is a significant and relevant fact.
(vi) It is to be kept in mind that adherence to strict proof should not affect public justice and cause public mischief because the courts are required to be vigilant so that in the ultimate eventuate there is no real failure of justice.
(vii) The concept of liberal approach has to encapsule the conception of reasonableness and it cannot be allowed a totally unfettered free play.
(viii) There is a distinction between inordinate delay and a delay of short duration or few days, for to the former doctrine of prejudice is attracted whereas to the latter it may not be attracted. That apart, the first one warrants strict approach whereas the second calls for a liberal delineation.
(ix) The conduct, behaviour and attitude of a party relating to its inaction or negligence are relevant factors to be taken into consideration. It is so as the fundamental principle is that the courts are required to weigh the scale of balance of justice in respect of both parties and the said principle cannot be given a total go by in the name of liberal approach.
(x) If the explanation offered is concocted or the grounds urged in the application are fanciful, the courts should be vigilant not to expose the other side unnecessarily to face such a litigation.
(xi) It is to be borne in mind that no one gets away with fraud, misrepresentation or interpolation by taking recourse to the technicalities of law of limitation.
(xii) The entire gamut of facts are to be carefully scrutinized and the approach should be based on the paradigm of judicial discretion which is founded on objective reasoning and not on individual perception.
(xiii) The State or a public body or an entity representing a collective cause should be given some acceptable latitude.
(a) An application for condonation of delay should be drafted with careful concern and not in a half hazard manner harbouring the notion that the courts are required to condone delay on the bedrock of the principle that adjudication of a lis on merits is seminal to justice dispensation system.
(b) An application for condonation of delay should not be dealt with in a routine manner on the base of individual philosophy which is basically subjective.
(c) Though no precise formula can be laid down regard being had to the concept of judicial discretion, yet a conscious effort for achieving consistency and collegiality of the adjudicatory system should be made as that is the ultimate institutional motto.
(d) The increasing tendency to perceive delay as a non-serious matter and, hence, lackadaisical propensity can be exhibited in a non-challant manner requires to be curbed, of course, within legal parameters.
14. That from the record it appears that the order impugned was communicated to the then managing committee including the head master in question and the said fact is totally unknown to the newly elected managing committee as they have been elected on 20.9.2009 and they have been handed over charge on 21.11.09 and to the teacher in charge who has been handed over charge on 1.3.10. It is pertinent to mention in this context that after having received the notice and the contempt application the applicants entrusted the Ld. Advocate for taking appropriate steps and they have been advised to defend the case but due to miscommunication the applicant herein again handed over the brief from Mr. Banik, Ld. Advocate to Mr. Baidya, Ld. Advocate. After having received the said papers and after perusing all the records he opined to prefer an appeal before the appeal court or to prefer an application for vacating the interim order and ultimately the same was filed on 07.06.2010 after several pursuance in spite of taking the application for vacating the interim order the court below day to day is proceeding with the contempt application.
15. Having got no other alternative applicant have been advised to prefer an appeal without certified copy and the leave has been prayed for and the same was allowed.
The photocopy of the receipt for application of Xerox certified copy is annexed herewith and marked with letter “A”.
16. That the delay occasioned in presenting the said mandamus appeal has taken place due to the aforesaid reasons which was beyond the control of the applicants and was completely unintentional.
Nonetheless adoption of strict standard of proof may lead to grave miscarriage of public justice apart from resulting in public mischief by skilful management of delay in the process of filing the appeal, the Appellants/applicants do not stand to benefit from the delay of about 2449 days occasioned in preferring the said Mandamus Appeal, nor it is a fact that the writ Petitioners/Respondents will be immense/prejudiced if such non-deliberate delay is not condoned. There has not been deliberate delay as would be evidenced from the foregoing paragraphs. Refusing to condone such non-deliberate delay may result in meritorious matters like the instant case, being thrown out at the very threshold and the cause of justice being defeated. As against this when delay is condoned the highest that can happen in the instant case is that a cause would be decided on merits after hearing the parties.
Now upon a close look at the prayer made for condonation of delay we find that although the delay is substantial, the same has been sought to be explained in a manner even if it may not be full proof but is quite convincing.
The law of limitation fixes a lifespan for such legal remedy for the redress of the legal injury so suffered. Time is precious and wasted time would never revisit. During the efflux of time, newer causes would sprout up necessitating newer persons to seek legal remedy by approaching the courts. So a lifespan must be fixed for each remedy. Unending period for launching the remedy may lead to unending uncertainty and consequential anarchy. The law of limitation is thus founded on public policy. It is enshrined in the maxim interest reipublicae up sit finis litium (it is for the general welfare that a period be put to litigation). Rules of limitation are not meant to destroy the rights of the parties. They are meant to see that parties do not resort to dilatory tactics but seek their remedy promptly. The idea is that every legal remedy must be kept alive for a legislatively fixed period of time.