‘Acquiescence virtually destroys the right of the person’. SC distinguishes acquiescence from delay and laches 

Supreme Court: Explaining the difference between acquiescence and delay and laches, the bench of L. Nageswara Rao and Sanjiv Khanna*, JJ has held that both limitation and laches destroy the remedy but not the right. Acquiescence, on the other hand, virtually destroys the right of the person.

The Court explained that the doctrine of acquiescence is an equitable doctrine which applies when a party having a right stands by and sees another dealing in a manner inconsistent with that right, while the act is in progress and after violation is completed, which conduct reflects his assent or accord. He cannot afterwards complain. In literal sense, the term acquiescence means silent assent, tacit consent, concurrence, or acceptance, which denotes conduct that is evidence of an intention of a party to abandon an equitable right and also to denote conduct from which another party will be justified in inferring such an intention.  Acquiescence can be either direct with full knowledge and express approbation, or indirect where a person having the right to set aside the action stands by and sees another dealing in a manner inconsistent with that right and inspite of the infringement takes no action mirroring acceptance. However, acquiescence will not apply if lapse of time is of no importance or consequence.

“Inactive acquiescence on the part of the respondent can be inferred till the filing of the appeal, and not for the period post filing of the appeal. Nevertheless, this acquiescence being in the nature of estoppel bars the respondent from claiming violation of the right of fair representation.”

Laches unlike limitation is flexible. However, both limitation and laches destroy the remedy but not the right. Laches like acquiescence is based upon equitable considerations, but laches unlike acquiescence imports even simple passivity. On the other hand, acquiescence implies active assent and is based upon the rule of estoppel in pais. As a form of estoppel, it bars a party afterwards from complaining of the violation of the right. Even indirect acquiescence implies almost active consent, which is not to be inferred by mere silence or inaction which is involved in laches. Acquiescence in this manner is quite distinct from delay.

[Chairman, State Bank of India v. MJ James, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1061, decided on 16.11.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice Sanjiv Khanna

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