No special consideration can be given to the state or its agencies if they are lethargic in pursuing a legal case after the limitation period as provided under the statute, the Supreme Court has held.
A bench of Justices GS Singhvi and SJ Mukhopadhaya upheld an appeal filed by a land owner challenging a Bombay High Court permitting Municipal Corporation of Brihan Mumbai to file an appeal more than seven years after a civil suit was decreed against it.
The maximum permissible period for filing the appeal is normally 90 days.
“In cases involving the state or its agencies/ instrumentalities, the court can take note of the act that sufficient time is taken in the decision making process.
“But no premium can be given for total lethargy or utter negligence on the part of the officers of the state or its agencies/instrumentalities and the applications filed by them for condonation of delay cannot be allowed as a matter of course by accepting the plea that dismissal of the matter on the ground of bar of limitation will cause injury to the public interest,” Justice Singhvi writing the judgement said.
In this case on May 2, 2003, a trial court in Mumbai passed a decree in favour of Maniben Devraj who had challenged the corporation’s notice under Section 314 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, 1888 for demolition of her immovable properties in the city.
The Corporation did not challenge the trial court decree within the prescribed period of limitation and filed an appeal sometime in September, 2010 along with the applications for condonation of seven years and 108 days delay.
A single judge of the Bombay High Court condoned the delay and ruled in favour of the corporation upon which she appealed in the apex court.
The Supreme Court in its judgement noted that there was no justifiable reason for the corporation to file such a belated appeal and its explanation that certain missing papers delayed its efforts to pursue the case after seven years.
The bench said 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 judgement and a lot of time is consumed at various stages of litigation apart from the cost, it said.
“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,” the bench said.