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Monday, February 27, 2012

Bench warns Centre against filing appeals beyond period of limitation

Law is applicable to everyone including the government'
The Supreme Court on Friday warned the Union government and its departments that bureaucratic delays could not be cited as an excuse or a ground for filing appeals beyond the period of limitation of 90 days.
A Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and J. Chelamesar said: “the law of limitation undoubtedly binds everybody, including the government. The claim on account of impersonal machinery and inherited bureaucratic methodology of making several notes cannot be accepted in view of the modern technologies being used and available.”
Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “In our view, it is the right time to inform all the government bodies, their agencies and instrumentalities that unless they have reasonable, and acceptable explanation for the delay and there was bonafide effort, there is no need to accept the usual explanation that the file was kept pending for several months/years due to considerable degree of procedural red-tape in the process. The government departments are under a special obligation to ensure that they perform their duties with diligence and commitment. Condonation of delay is an exception and should not be used as an anticipated benefit for government departments. The law shelters everyone under the same light and should not be swirled for the benefit of a few.”
The Bench said: “It needs no restatement at our hands that the object for fixing time-limit for litigation is based on public policy fixing a lifespan for legal remedy for the purpose of general welfare. They are meant to see that the parties do not resort to dilatory tactics but avail of their legal remedies promptly.”
In the instant case, Living Media India Ltd., which publishes Reader's Digest and India Today magazines, was denied permission by the Postal Department to avail of the concession to post the magazines along with booklets containing certain advertisements. The Delhi High Court, allowed the writ petition filed by the company and a Division Bench also upheld the single judge's order.
Former Attorney General and senior advocate Soli Sorabjee, arguing for the respondent, pointed out that since in this case the Postal Department had filed the present appeal in the Supreme Court after a delay of 427 days, it should not be entertained. However, Additional Solicitor General Harin Raval cited earlier decisions to justify the ground for condonation of delay.
The Bench said: “Considering the fact that there was no proper explanation offered by the department for the delay except mentioning of various dates, according to us, the department has miserably failed to give any acceptable and cogent reasons sufficient to condone such a huge delay.
“It is not in dispute that the person(s) concerned were well aware or conversant with the issues involved including the prescribed period of limitation for taking up the matter by way of filing a special leave petition in this court. They cannot claim that they have a separate period of limitation when the Department was possessed with competent persons familiar with court proceedings.”
The Bench noted that even the certified order copy was obtained only after four months.
The Bench said: “In the absence of plausible and acceptable explanation, we are posing a question why the delay is to be condoned mechanically, merely because the government or a wing of the government is a party before us. Though we are conscious of the fact that in a matter of condonation of delay when there was no gross negligence or deliberate inaction or lack of bonafide, a liberal concession has to be adopted to advance substantial justice, we are of the view that in the facts and circumstances, the Department cannot take advantage of various earlier decisions.”
The Bench, while dismissing the appeal on grounds of delay, did not go into the issue on merits.

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