“All our counseling to Government and Government authorities have fallen on deaf ears”; SC on inordinate delay in filing appeals/petitions by Govt./State Authorities

Supreme Court: Irked by the inordinate delay of 663 days by the State of Madhya Pradesh in filing a Special Leave Petition, the bench of SK Kaul and Dinesh Maheshwari, JJ said,

“… it appears that all our counseling to Government and Government authorities have fallen on deaf ears i.e., the Supreme Court of India cannot be a place for the Governments to walk in when they choose ignoring the period of limitation prescribed.”

Sending a signal, the Court wrote that where there are such inordinate delays that the Government or State authorities must pay for wastage of judicial time which has its own value. Directing the State to deposit a cost of Rs. 25000 with the Mediation and Conciliation Project Committee within 4 weeks, the Court said that such costs can be recovered from the officers responsible.

The reason accorded for the delay by the State Government was “due to unavailability of the documents and the process of arranging the documents” and that “bureaucratic process works, it is inadvertent that delay occurs”.

The Court noticed that that in the present case a preposterous proposition was sought to be propounded that if there is some merit in the case, the period of delay is to be given a go-by.

“If a case is good on merits, it will succeed in any case. It is really a bar of limitation which can even shut out good cases. This does not, of course, take away the jurisdiction of the Court in an appropriate case to condone the delay.”

The Court further said that

“… if the Government machinery is so inefficient and incapable of filing appeals/petitions in time, the solution may lie in requesting the Legislature to expand the time period for filing limitation for Government authorities because of their gross incompetence. That is not so. Till the Statute subsists, the appeals/petitions have to be filed as per the Statues prescribed.”

Terming such cases as “Certificate Cases”, the Court said that the object of such cases appears to be to obtain a certificate of dismissal from the Supreme Court to put a quietus to the issue and thus, say that nothing could be done because the highest Court has dismissed the appeal. It is to complete this formality and save the skin of officers who may be at default that such a process is followed.

“The irony is that in none of the cases any action is taken against the officers, who sit on the files and do nothing. It is presumed that this Court will condone the delay and even in making submissions, straight away counsels appear to address on merits without referring even to the aspect of limitation as happened in this case till we pointed out to the counsel that he must first address us on the question of limitation.”

The Court concluded by stating that if the present order is not complied with, the Court will be constrained to initiate contempt proceedings against the Chief Secretary.

Earlier on July 27, 2020, in an application filed by State of Odisha, seeking condonation of delay of 587 days, the 3-judge bench of SK Kaul, Ajay Rastogi and Aniruddha Bose, JJ had imposed a cost of Rs. 50, 000 and directed that an enquiry be conducted and cost be recovered from the delinquent officer.

In Office of the Chief Post Master General v. Living Media India Ltd., (2012) 3 SCC 563, all the government bodies, their agencies and instrumentalities were informed 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 redtape 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 bench of P. Sathasivam and J. Chelameswar, JJ said,

“The law shelters everyone under the same light and should not be swirled for the benefit of a few.”

[State of Madhya Pradesh v. Bherulal, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 849, decided on 15.10.2020]

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