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SC: Officers responsible for Delay in filing to pay costs, recoverable from them personally, for 'Wastage of Judicial Time'

The Apex Court recently on January 22 in 2 SLPs (Civil) bearing Diary No. 25743/2020 in State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors. vs. Sabha Narain & Ors & SLP (CIVIL) Diary No. 11989/2020 in the Commissioner of Public Instruction & Ors. vs. Shamshuddin has categorically held that lethargy & incompetence of the erring officers in filing appeals/SLPs after inordinate delay shall no longer be tolerated.

The Court has specifically held that Limitation apply equally to the Government as to the other private litigants and the Courts will not adopt any liberal approach towards the Government or its functionaries. The Court also imposed exemplary costs on the erring officials to be realised from their personal pockets.

The Government & it's functionaries should now realise that the Courts are now stricter in matters of condonation of delay and be vigilant and aware of their liabilities in timely filing of their appeals/revisions/SLPs in courts.

The brief facts of the case from Uttar Pradesh are that SLP had been filed with delay of 502 days with a lame explanation for condonation of delay which is a saga of moving of file from one office/officer to the other and that too with long interludes.

The second SLP is from Karnataka with a delay of 1288 days. The explanation offered is again is the same old story of slow moving files with the Law officers, busy schedules of Government counsels in preparing the petition & casual approach of the State Government officials.

The Court was appalled at the apathy of the Government officials who do not follow the due process of law or delay deliberately and held thus:

"The aforesaid itself shows the casual manner in which the petitioner has approached this Court without any cogent or plausible ground for condonation of delay. In fact, other than the lethargy and incompetence of the petitioner, there is nothing which has been put on record.

We have repeatedly discouraged State Governments and public authorities in adopting an approach that they can walk in to the Supreme Court as and when they please ignoring the period of limitation prescribed by the Statutes, as if the Limitation statute does not apply to them. In this behalf, suffice to refer to our judgments in the State of Madhya Pradesh & Ors. v. Bheru Lal [SLP [C] Diary No.9217/2020 decided on 15.10.2020] and The State of Odisha & Ors. v. Sunanda Mahakuda [SLP [C] Diary No.22605/2020 decided on 11.01.2021].

The leeway which was given to the Government/public authorities on account of innate inefficiencies was the result of certain orders of this Court which came at a time when technology had not advanced and thus, greater indulgence was shown. This position is no more prevalent and the current legal position has been elucidated by the judgment of this Court in Office of the Chief Post Master General & Ors. v. Living Media India Ltd. & Anr. (2012) 3 SCC 563. Despite this, there seems to be a little change in the approach of the Government and public authorities.

We have also categorized such kind of cases as certificate cases filed with the only object to obtain a quietus from the Supreme Court on the ground that nothing could be done because the highest Court has dismissed the appeal. The objective is to complete a mere formality and save the skin of the officers who may be in default in following the due process or may have done it deliberately.

We have deprecated such practice and process and we do so again. We refuse to grant such certificates and if the Government/public authorities suffer losses, it is time when concerned officers responsible for the same, bear the consequences."

The Court was annoyed at the fact that inspite of repeated warnings & specific orders no action is ever taken against the erring officers and only a mild warning is issued to appease the Courts. The Apex Court considering the inordinate period of delay and the casual manner in which the application for delay had been worded imposed costs on the petitioner amounting to Rs.25,000/- to be deposited within a period of 4 weeks for wastage of judicial time which is indeed valuable.

The Court further ordered that the amount be recovered from the officers responsible for the delay in filing the SLP and a certificate of recovery of the said amount was also ordered to be filed in the Court. It was also directed that the Chief Secretary of both the States should comply with the order and any non-adherence with the aforesaid order within timeline would result in appropriate proceedings being initiated against the Chief Secretary himself.

The Apex Court has been passing similar orders admonishing state governments for quite some time over delay in filings. The Apex Court has been repeatedly reiterating that the Government cannot take the plea of differential treatment in matters of condonation of Delay.

It would be trite to refer to the recent decision of the Apex Court in the case of Deputy Conservator of Forests vs. Timblo Irmaos Ltd. & Others decided on 18 December 2020 wherein the Court refused to differentiate between the government and a private party/individual in matter of belatedly approaching a Court without sufficient cause.

The Apex Court reprimanded the petitioner for belatedly approaching the Court without any sufficient cause only by way of formality and to obtain a certificate of Dismissal from the Apex Court and imposed costs of Rs. 15000 to be recovered from the officers responsible for 462 days' delay in filing the SLP for wastage of judicial time of the Apex Court.

In the aforesaid case, the Court while dismissing the SLP held that the Law as declared by Mst. Katiji AIR 1987 SC 1353 as outdated in view of changed circumstances and technological advancements and held thus:
“We have dealt with the issue of Government authorities in approaching Courts belatedly as if the Statute of Limitation does not exist for them. While referring to some reasons given for insufficiencies, we observed that the parties cannot keep on relying on judicial pronouncements for a period of time when technology had not advanced and a greater leeway was given to the Government, (Collector, Land Acquisition, Anantnag & Anr.(supra).

This situation no more prevail and this position had been elucidated by the judgment of this Court in Office of the Chief Post Master General & Ors. vs. Living Media India Ltd. & Anr. (2012) 3 SCC 563.”

After the authoritative pronouncement of the emergence of the new position of law in the said case with regards to condonation of delay, it is expected that the Government & it's functionaries would not sleep over its matters, be vigilant and file & pursue their pending matters within the statutory time limit without any delay as the Government will not get any preferential treatment in Condonation of Delay and the defence of Collector, Land Acquisition, Anantnag & Anr.(supra) would not be available as the same has been impliedly overruled due to advancements in technology & changed circumstances.

Written By: Inder Chand Jain
Email: [email protected] / Ph no: 8279945021

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