File Copyright Online - File mutual Divorce in Delhi - Online Legal Advice - Lawyers in India

Reasonable time for filing of Writ Petition in the High Court from arising of Cause of Action or making Representation

There is no time-frame provided under our Constitution within which a Writ Petition ought to be filed in the High Court from the arising of the cause of action. This becomes all the more important as the Limitation Act is not applicable to Petitions under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution. Accordingly, the Writ courts generally refuse to grant relief in cases where Writ Petitions are filed after long, unreasonable and inordinate delay. An important question therefore arises is that what is the reasonable time for filing a writ petition in the High Court from the date of arising of the cause of action or making a Representation.

It would be first trite to reproduce Article 226 (1) of the Constitution which reads as under:
226. Power of High Courts to issue certain writs (1) Notwithstanding anything in Article 32 every High Court shall have powers, throughout the territories in relation to which it exercise jurisdiction, to issue to any person or authority, including in appropriate cases, any Government, within those territories directions, orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibitions, quo warranto and certiorari, or any of them, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III and for any other purpose.

It would be relevant to understand the scope of the various types of writs that can be filed under Article 226 of the Constitution. Habeas Corpus is "a writ requiring a person under arrest or illegal detention to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure the person's release unless lawful grounds are shown for their detention". Mandamus is a writ issued as a command to an inferior court or ordering a person to perform a public or statutory duty.

A writ of Prohibition is issued primarily to prevent an inferior court or tribunal from exceeding its jurisdiction in cases pending before it or acting contrary to the rules of natural justice. A writ of Quo Warranto is issued to enquire into the legality of the claim of a person or public office. It restrains the person or authority to act in an office which he / she is not entitled to and thus, stops usurpation of public office by anyone.

The writ of Certiorari can be issued by the Supreme Court or any High Court for quashing the order already passed by an inferior court, tribunal or quasi-judicial authority. Thus, different types of writs have been provided for different situations but nowhere any time frame for its filing has been mentioned therein. The cause of action usually arises when the concerned authorities do not revert to the representations and the applicant is restrained to file writ petition in the High Court. But the million dollar question is till what time an applicant should legally wait for the representation to be answered or acted upon before filing a writ petition in the Jurisdictional High Court.

Writs are not a device to restart proceedings after unreasonable & inordinate delay. It is often seen that litigants, who sleep over their right of appeal/ revision or any other statutory mode for redressal, decide at a much later time after unreasonable & inordinate time to re-agitate the matter especially against the government or its functionalities. They devise a ruse by agitating the matter by making representations and it is common practice that such representations are seldom answered or responded.

They invoke the extraordinary jurisdiction of the High Court by filing writ petitions under Article 226 of the Constitution seeking Court's directions for considering the representation of the petitioner with a hope to re-enliven the proceedings which had lapsed with the passage of time. However, the Courts deprecate such a practice and dismiss their writ petitions at the admission stage itself. The Courts have consistently held that delay and laches on part of the litigant disentitle him to any relief.

Recently on 30.03.2021, the High Court of Orissa in Writ Petition (C) No.5327 of 2021 Madan Mohan Sahu vs. Collector, Angul and others dealt with an identical situation. The Court expressed concern that in a large number of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) matters, the Petitioners were filing writ petitions soon after making a representation without waiting for a response. The Court reproduced the relevant Rule of the Orissa High Court Public Interest Litigation Rules, 2010 in this regard which reads thus:

8. Before filing a PIL, the Petitioner must send a representation to the authorities concerned for taking remedial action, akin to what is postulated in Section 80 CPC. Details of such representation and reply, if any, from the authority concerned along with copies thereof must be filed with the petition. However, in urgent cases where making of representation and waiting for response would cause irreparable injury or damage, petition can be filed straightway by giving prior notice of filing to the authorities concerned and/or their counsel, if any.

In the said case, the Petitioner objecting to the construction of a building over forest land in Pallahara, District-Angul made a representation on 5th February 2021, to the Opposite Parties, which was pending consideration. However, without waiting much, he has filed the present writ petition on 9th February 2021, i.e. four days thereafter. The Court after hearing in details held thus:

"It is not conceivable that the Opposite Parties would be able to examine the representation and take a decision thereon within such a short period. As Rule 8 of 2010 Rules states, only in very urgent cases where the making of a representation and waiting for a response would cause irreparable injury or damage, a petition can be filed straightway by giving prior notice.

This is not one such case, since clearly the Petitioner has given a prior notice to the Opposite Parties. If the representation is akin to what is postulated in Section 80 CPC, the Petitioner should at least give a two months’ time to the Opposite Parties to take a decision thereon. Further, if he serious about the matter, then he should send at least one reminder within the said two months."

The Court finally disposed of the Writ Petition with a direction to comply with the above requirements and to file a fresh petition in accordance with law if cause of action survives.

The Courts have consistently held that a writ petition ought to be filed within a ‘Reasonable Time’ of the arising of the cause of action. Though reasonable time is not prescribed in the rules framed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, the words reasonable time, as explained in Veerayeeammal v. Seeniammal reported in 2002 (1) SCC 134, at Paragraph 13, is extracted here under:

13. The word reasonable has in law prima facie meaning of reasonable in regard to those circumstances of which the person concerned is called upon to act reasonably knows or ought to know as to what was reasonable. It may be unreasonable to give an exact definition of the word reasonable. The reason varies in its conclusion according to idiosyncrasy of the individual and the time and circumstances in which he thinks. The dictionary meaning of the reasonable time is to be so much time as is necessary, under the circumstances, to do conveniently what the contract or duty requires should be done in a particular case. In other words it means, as soon as circumstances permit.

In P. Ramanatha Aiyar’s The Law Lexicon it is defined to mean: A reasonable time, looking at all the circumstances of the case; a reasonable time under ordinary circumstances; as soon as circumstances will permit; so much time as is necessary under the circumstances, conveniently to do what the contract requires should be done; some more protracted space than directly; such to be filed length of time as may fairly, and properly, and reasonably be allowed or required, having regard to the nature of the act or duty and to the attending circumstances; all these convey more or less the same idea.

15. Statement of law has also been summarized in Halsbury’s Laws of England, Para 911, pg. 395 as follows:
In determining whether there has been such delay as to amount to laches, the chief points to be considered are: (i) acquiescence on the claimant’s part; and (ii) any change of position that has occurred on the defendant’s part. Acquiescence in this sense does not mean standing by while the violation of a right is in progress, but assent after the violation has been completed and the claimant has become aware of it.

It is unjust to give the claimant a remedy where, by his conduct, he has done that which might fairly be regarded as equivalent to a waiver of it; or where by his conduct and neglect, though not waiving the remedy, he has put the other party in a position in which it would not be reasonable to place him if the remedy were afterwards to be asserted. In such cases lapse of time and delay are most material. Upon these considerations rests the doctrine of laches.

It would be pertinent to refer to the Apex Court judgment in K.V. Raja Lakshmiah v. State of Mysore AIR 1967 SC. 973 which held that the High Court in exercise of its discretion does not ordinarily assist the tardy and the indolent or the acquiescent and the lethargic and that the Court may decline to intervene and grant relief in exercise of its writ jurisdiction because it is likely to cause confusion and public inconvenience and bring, in its train new injustices. The Court observed that if writ jurisdiction is exercised after unreasonable delay, it may have the effect of inflicting not only hardship and inconvenience but also injustice on third parties.

There is a catena of cases wherein the Apex Court dealt with such a situation. In the case of State of U.P. vs. Raj Bahadur Singh & another (1998) 8 SCC 685, the Apex Court observed that:
there is no time limit for filing the writ petition. All that the Court has to see is whether the laches on the part of the petitioner are such as to disentitle him to the relief claimed by him.

It would be trite to refer to the case in Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation vs. Balwant Regular Motor Service AIR 1969 SC 329 wherein the Apex Court held thus:

"Now the doctrine of laches in Courts of Equity is not an arbitrary or a technical doctrine. Where it would be practically unjust to give a remedy, either because the party has, by his conduct, done that which might fairly be regarded as equivalent to a waiver of it, or where by his conduct and neglect he has, though perhaps not waiving that remedy, yet put the other party in a situation in which it would not be reasonable to place him if the remedy were afterwards to be asserted in either of these cases, lapse of time and delay are most material.

But in every case, if an argument against relief, which otherwise would be just, is founded upon mere delay, that delay of course not amounting to a bar by any statute of limitations, the validity of that defence must be tried upon principles substantially equitable. Two circumstances, always important in such cases, are, the length of the delay and the nature of the acts done during the interval, which might affect either party and cause a balance of justice or injustice in taking the one course or the other, so far as relates to the remedy."

The Apex Court considered the said issue in Smt.Sudama Devi Vs. Commissioner & others AIR 1983 SC 653, (1983) 2 SCC 1 wherein it observed:

"There is no period of limitation prescribed by any law for filing the writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution. It is, in fact, doubtful whether any such period of limitation can be prescribed by law. In any event, one thing is clear and beyond doubt that no such period of limitation can be laid down either under the rules made by the High Court or by practice.

For every case, it would have to be decided on the facts and circumstances whether the petitioner is guilty of latches and that would have to be done without taking into account any specific period as period of limitation. There may be cases where even short delay may be fatal while there may be cases where even a long delay may not be evidence of laches on the part of the petitioner."

It would be relevant to refer to the Apex Court in Northern Indian Glass Industries vs. Jaswant Singh & others 2002 Supp(3) SCR 534, wherein the Court cautioned that the High Court cannot ignore the delay and latches in approaching the writ court and there must be satisfactory explanation by the petitioner as how he could not come to the court well in time.

A similar view was reiterated by the Apex Court in Printers (Mysore) Ltd. Vs. M.A. Rasheed & another (2004) 4 SCC 460, wherein it held that the High Court should have dismissed the writ petition on the ground of delay and laches.

It would be apposite to refer to Moon Mills Ltd. v. Industrial Courts AIR 1967 SC 1450 wherein the Apex Court held that the doctrine of laches in Courts of Equity is not an arbitrary or technical doctrine. The Court observed that where it would be practically unjust to give a remedy either because the party has, by his conduct done that which might fairly be regarded as equivalent to a waiver of it, or where by his conduct and neglect he has though perhaps not waiving that remedy, yet put the other party in a situation in which it would not be reasonable to place him if the remedy were afterwards to be asserted, in either of these cases, lapse of time and delay are most material.

The Court clarified that two circumstances that are always important in such cases are, the length of the delay and the nature of the acts done during the interval which might affect either party and cause a balance of justice or injustice in taking the one course or the other, so far as relates to the remedy.

The said principle was reiterated by the Apex Court in S.S. Balu vs. State of Kerala (2009) 2 SCC 479 in the following terms:
"17. It is also well-settled principle of law that "delay defeats equity". The Government Order was issued on 15-1-2002. The appellants did not file any writ application questioning the legality and validity thereof. Only after the writ petitions filed by others were allowed and the State of Kerala preferred an appeal thereagainst, they impleaded themselves as party-respondents.

It is now a trite law that where the writ petitioner approaches the High Court after a long delay, reliefs prayed for may be denied to them on the ground of delay and laches irrespective of the fact that they are similarly situated to the other candidates who obtain the benefit of the judgment. It is, thus, not possible for us to issue any direction to the State of Kerala or the Commission to appoint the appellants at this stage."

The Apex Court in State of T.N. v. Seshachalam (2007) 10 SCC 137 observed that it is now well settled that filing of series of representations cannot extend the period of limitation to condone the laches on the part of the petitioner and Delay or Laches are a relevant factor for a court of law to determine the question as to whether the claim made by an applicant deserves consideration as law leans in favour of those who are alert and vigilant.

The Apex Court in Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd. vs. K. Thangappan (2006) 4 SCC 322 held that series of representation cannot extend the period of limitation to condone the laches on the part of the petitioner. The Apex Court, at Paragraph 6, held as follows:

6. Delay or laches is one of the factors which is to be borne in mind by the High Court when they exercise their discretionary powers under Article 226 of the Constitution. In an appropriate case the High Court may refuse to invoke its extraordinary powers if there is such negligence or omission on the part of the applicant to assert his right as taken in conjunction with the lapse of time and other circumstances, causes prejudice to the opposite party.

In C. Jacob v. Director of Geology and Mining and another (2008)10 SCC 115 the Apex Court held that Reply to the representation relating to matter which have become stale or barred by limitation, can be rejected on that ground alone, without examining the merits of the claim. The replies to such representations cannot furnish a fresh cause of action or revive a stale or dead claim.

The Apex Court had occasion to examine such a situation in Union of India v. M.K. Sarkarb (2010) 2 SCC 59 wherein the Court held as follows:

"The order of the Tribunal allowing the first application of respondent without examining the merits, and directing appellants to consider his representation has given rise to unnecessary litigation and avoidable complications. …………. When a belated representation in regard to a 'stale' or 'dead' issue/dispute is considered and decided, in compliance with a direction by the Court/Tribunal to do so, the date of such decision can not be considered as furnishing a fresh cause of action for reviving the 'dead' issue or time-barred dispute.

The issue of limitation or delay and laches should be considered with reference to the original cause of action and not with reference to the date on which an order is passed in compliance with a court's direction. Neither a court's direction to consider a representation issued without examining the merits, nor a decision given in compliance with such direction, will extend the limitation, or erase the delay and laches."


It is relevant to refer to a Seven Judge Bench judgment in S.S. Rathore vs State of Madhya Pradesh 1989 SCC (4) 582 while dealing with the cause of action in a case of service dispute in view of the special limitation prescribed under Section 21(1)(3) of the Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 and Article 58 of the Limitation Act, 1963, inter alia, held that the repeated representation would not give rise to cause of action nor would condone the delay.

In the case of Durga Prasad v. Chief Controller of Imports and Exports AIR 1970 SC 769, the Apex Court held that Promotion is not a fundamental right although Right to be considered for promotion is a fundamental right which brings within its purview an effective, purposeful and meaningful consideration. The Court held that delay or laches is one of the factors which is to be borne in mind by the High Court when it exercises its discretionary powers under Article 226 of the Constitution and in an appropriate case the High Court may refuse to invoke its extraordinary powers if there is such negligence or omission on the part of the applicant to assert his right as taken in conjunction with the lapse of time and other circumstances, causes prejudice to the opposite party.

In Ghulam Rasool Lone v. State of Jammu and Kashmir and another the Apex Court held that there can be no cavil over the fact that the claim of promotion is based on the concept of equality and equitability but the said relief has to be claimed within a reasonable time.


It is incumbent that the Person aggrieved by the promotion order must approach the Court expeditiously as held by the Apex Court in P.S. Sadasivasway v. State of Tamil Nadu (1975) 1. SCC 152 wherein it was observed thus:

"2. ... A person aggrieved by an order of promoting a junior over his head should approach the Court at least within six months or at the most a year of such promotion. .............. But it would be a sound and wise exercise of discretion for the Courts to refuse to exercise their extraordinary powers under Article 226 in the case of persons who do not approach it expeditiously for relief and who stand by and allow things to happen and then approach the Court to put forward stale claims and try to unsettle settled matters."

The Apex Court in State of Uttaranchal & another vs Shiv Charan Singh Bhandari & others (2013) 12 SCC 179 reiterated the principle and denied relief to the appellant for promotion on the ground of delay and laches. The Court on fact held that if senior incumbents are eligible as per the rules of promotion and there is no justification to ignore them, the employer cannot extend the promotional benefit to a junior at his whim or caprice.

However, on facts the court denied the relief to the senior as he had failed to challenge the promotion granted to junior employees at relevant time and had approached the Tribunal after two decades. Submission of learned counsel that the aggrieved person was giving repeated representations would not be a ground to give rise a fresh cause of action, cause of action arose when the junior employee was promoted.

In State of M.P. vs. Nandlal Jaismal reported in 1986 (4) SCC 566, the Apex Court, at Paragraph 24, held as follows:

24. Now, it is well settled that the power of the High Court to issue an appropriate writ under Article 226 of the Constitution is discretionary and the High Court in the exercise of its discretion does not ordinarily assist the tardy and the indolent or the acquiescent and the lethargic. If there is inordinate delay on the part of the petitioner in filing a writ petition and such delay is not satisfactorily explained, the High Court may decline to intervene and grant relief in the exercise of its writ jurisdiction.

The evolution of this rule of laches or delay is premised upon a number of factors. The High Court does not ordinarily permit a belated resort to the extraordinary remedy under the writ jurisdiction because it is likely to cause confusion and public inconvenience and bring in its train new injustices. The rights of third parties may intervene and if the writ jurisdiction is exercised on a writ petition filed after unreasonable delay, it may have the effect of inflicting not only third parties.

When the writ jurisdiction of the High Court is invoked, unexplained delay coupled with the creation of third party rights in the meanwhile is an important factor which always weighs the High Court in deciding whether or not to exercise such jurisdiction. We do not think it necessary to burden this judgment with reference to various decisions of this Court where it has been emphasised time and again that where there is inordinate and unexplained delay and third party rights are created in the intervening period, the High Court would decline to interfere, even if the State action complained of is unconstitutional or illegal. ………

Of course, this rule of laches or delay is not a rigid rule which can be cast in a strait jacket formula, for there may be cases where despite delay and creation of third party rights the High Court may still in the exercise of its discretion interfere and grant relief to the petitioner. But, such cases where the demand of justice is so compelling that the High Court would be inclined to interfere in spite of delay or creation of third party rights would by their very nature be few and far between. Ultimately it would be a matter within the discretion of the court; ex hypothesi every discretion must be exercised fairly and justly so as to promote justice and not to defeat it.

In G. C. Gupta vs. N.K. Pandey (1988) 1 SCC 316, the Apex Court held that inordinate delay is not merely a factor for the court to refuse appropriate relief but also a relevant consideration for not unsettling settled things.

In State of Maharastra v. Digambar reported in AIR 1995 SC 1991, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, considered a case, where compensation for the acquired land was claimed belatedly and at Paragraphs 12, 18 and 21, held as follows:

12. How a person who alleges against the State of deprivation of his legal right, can get relief of compensation from the State invoking writ jurisdiction of the High Court under article 226 of the Constitution even though, he is guilty of laches or undue delay is difficult to comprehend, when it is well settled by decision of this Court that no person, be he a citizen or otherwise, is entitled to obtain the equitable relief under Article 226 of the Constitution if his conduct is blame- worthy because of laches, undue delay, acquiescence, waiver and the like.

Moreover, how a citizen claiming discretionary relief under Article 226 of the Constitution against a State, could be relieved of his obligation to establish his unblameworthy conduct for getting such relief, where the State against which relief is sought is a welfare State, is also difficult to comprehend. Where the relief sought under Article 226 of the Constitution by a person against the welfare State is founded on its alleged illegal or wrongful executive action, the need to explain laches or undue delay on his part to obtain such relief, should, if anything, be more stringent than in other cases, for the reason that the State due to laches or undue delay on the part of the person seeking relief, may not be able to show that the executive action complained of was legal or correct for want of records pertaining to the action or for the officers who were responsible for such action not being available later on.

Further, where granting of relief is claimed against the State on alleged unwarranted executive action, is bound to result in loss to the public exchequer of the State or in damage to other public interest, the High Court before granting such relief is required to satisfy itself that the delay or laches on the part of a citizen or any other person in approaching for relief under Article 226 of the Constitution on the alleged violation of his legal right, was wholly justified in the facts and circumstances, instead of ignoring the same or leniently considering it.

Thus, in our view, persons seeking relief against the State under Article 226 of the Constitution, be they citizens or otherwise, cannot get discretionary relief obtainable thereunder unless they fully satisfy the High Court that the facts and circumstances of the case clearly justified the laches or undue delay on their part in approaching the Court for grant of such discretionary relief. Therefore, where a High Court grants relief to a citizen or any other person under Article 226 of the Constitution against any person including the State without considering his blame-worthy conduct, such as laches or undue delay, acquiescence or waiver, the relief so granted becomes unsustainable even if the relief was granted in respect of alleged deprivation of his legal right by the State.

18. Laches or undue delay, the blame-worthy conduct of a person in approaching a Court of Equity in England for obtaining discretionary relief which disentitled for grant of such relief was explained succinctly by Sir Barnes Peacock, long ago, in Lindsay Petroleum Co. v. Prosper Armstrong (1874) 5 PC 221) thus: Now the doctrine of laches in Courts of Equity is not an arbitrary or a technical doctrine. Where it would be practically unjust to give a remedy, either because the party has, by his conduct, done that which might fairly be regarded as equivalent to a waiver of it, or where by his conduct and neglect he has, though perhaps not waiving that remedy, yet put the other party in a situation, in which it would not be reasonable to place him if the remedy were afterwards to be asserted, in either of these cases, lapse of time and delay are most material.

But in every case, if an argument against relief, which otherwise would be just, is founded upon mere delay, that delay of course not amounting to a bar by any statute or limitations, the validity of that defence must be tried upon principles substantially equitable. Two circumstances, always important in such cases, are, the length of the delay and the nature of the acts done during the interval, which might affect either party and cause a balance of Justice or injustice in taking the one course or the other, so far as it relates to the remedy.

21. Therefore, where a High Court in exercise of its power vested under Article 226 of the Constitution issues a direction, order or writ for granting relief to a person including a citizen without considering his disentitlement of such relief due to his blameworthy conduct of undue delay or laches in claiming the same, such a direction, order or writ becomes unsustainable as that not made judiciously and reasonably in exercise of its sound judicial discretion, but as that made arbitrarily.

In State of Rajasthan v. D.R.Laxmi reported in 1996 (6) SCC 445, the Apex Court observed that though the order may be void, if the party does not approach the Court within a reasonable time, which is always a question of fact and have the order invalidated or acquiesced or waived, the discretion of the Court has to be exercised in a reasonable manner.


In Board of Secondary Education of Assam v. Mohd. Sarifuz Zaman, reported in (2003) 12 SCC 408, the Apex Court has observed as follows:
12. Delay defeats discretion and loss of limitation destroys the remedy itself. Delay amounting to laches results in benefit of discretionary power being denied on principles of equity. Loss of limitation resulting into depriving of the remedy, is a principle based on public policy and utility and not equity alone…….

In Chairman, U. P. Jal Nigam and another v. Jaswant Singh reported in AIR 2007 SC 924, the Apex Court, after considering a catena of decisions, on the aspect of delay, at Paragraph 13, held as follows:

13……..Therefore, whenever it appears that the claimants lost time or while away and did not rise to the occasion in time for filing the writ petitions, then in such cases, the Court should be very slow in granting the relief to the incumbent. Secondly, it has also to be taken into consideration the question of acquiescence or waiver on the part of the incumbent whether other parties are going to be prejudiced if the relief is granted.

In Virender Chaudhary v. Bharat Petroleum Corporation reported in 2009 (1) SCC 297, the Apex Court held that the court exercises its jurisdiction only upon satisfying itself that it would be equitable to do so and also observed that Delay/ Latches, indisputably, are the relevant factors. The Court held thus:

15. The Superior Courts, times without number, applied the equitable principles for not granting a relief and/or a limited relief in favour of the applicant in a case of this nature. While doing so, the court although not oblivious of the fact that no period of limitation is provided for filing a writ petition but emphasize is laid that it should be filed within a reasonable time. A discretionary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India need not be exercised if the writ petitioner is guilty of delay and latches.

In Uttaranchal Forest Development Corporation and Anr. v. Jabar Singh and Ors. [(2007) 2 SCC 112], this Court held thus:

It is not in dispute that the effective alternative remedy was not availed of by many of the workmen as detailed in paragraphs supra. The termination order was made in the year 1995 and the writ petitions were admittedly field in the year 2005 after a delay of 10 years. The High Court, in our opinion, was not justified in entertaining the writ petition on the ground that the petition has been filed after a delay of 10 years and that the writ petitions should have been dismissed by the High Court on the ground of latches.

In New Delhi Municipal Council v. Pan Singh and Ors. [(2007) 9 SCC 278], the Apex Court held thus:

16. There is another aspect of the matter which cannot be lost sight of. The respondents herein filed a writ petition after 17 years. They did not agitate their grievances for a long time. They, as noticed herein, did not claim parity with the 17 workmen at the earliest possible opportunity. They did not implead themselves as parties even in the reference made by the State before the Industrial Tribunal. It is not their case that after 1982, those employees who were employed or who were recruited after the cut-off date have been granted the said scale of pay. After such a long time, therefore, the writ petitions could not have been entertained even if they are similarly situated. It is trite that the discretionary jurisdiction may not be exercised in favour of those who approach the court after a long time. Delay and laches are relevant factors for exercise of equitable jurisdiction

Although, there is no period of limitation provided for filing a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, ordinarily, writ petition should be filed within a reasonable time. (See Lipton India Ltd. v. Union of India [(1994) 6 SCC 524] and M.R.Gupta v. Union of India [(1995) 5 SCC 628])

In Vijay Kumar Kaul v. Union of India, (2012) 7 SCC 610, following the earlier judgment relating to delay and laches, the Supreme Court held that belated approach in filing writ petition is impermissible and at Paragraphs 26 and 27, it is held as follows:

26. From the aforesaid pronouncement of law, it is manifest that a litigant who invokes the jurisdiction of a court for claiming seniority, it is obligatory on his part to come to the court at the earliest or at least within a reasonable span of time. The belated approach is impermissible as in the meantime interest of third parties gets ripened and further interference after enormous delay is likely to usher in a state of anarchy.

27. The acts done during the interregnum are to be kept in mind and should not be lightly brushed aside. It becomes an obligation to take into consideration the balance of justice or injustice in entertaining the petition or declining it on the ground of delay and laches. It is a matter of great significance that at one point of time equity that existed in favour of one melts into total insignificance and paves the path of extinction with the passage of time. r

In Tukaram Kana Joshi v. Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation 2013 (1) SCC 353, the Apex Court, at Paragraphs 12 and 14, held as follows:

12. Delay and laches is adopted as a mode of discretion to decline exercise of jurisdiction to grant relief. There is another facet. The Court is required to exercise judicial discretion. The said discretion is dependent on facts and circumstances of the cases. Delay and laches is one of the facets to deny exercise of discretion. It is not an absolute impediment. There can be mitigating factors, continuity of cause action, etc. That apart, if the whole thing shocks the judicial conscience, then the Court should exercise the discretion more so, when no third-party interest is involved. Thus analysed, the petition is not hit by the doctrine of delay and laches as the same is not a constitutional limitation, the cause of action is continuous and further the situation certainly shocks judicial conscience. ………….

14. Nohard-and-fast rule can be laid down as to when the High Court should refuse to exercise its jurisdiction in favour of a party who moves it after considerable delay and is otherwise guilty of laches. Discretion must be exercised judiciously and reasonably. In the event that the claim made by the applicant is legally sustainable, delay should be condoned. In other words, where circumstances justifying the conduct exist, the illegality which is manifest, cannot be sustained on the sole ground of laches.

When substantial justice and technical considerations are pitted against each other, the cause of substantial justice deserves to be preferred, for the other side cannot claim to have a vested right in the injustice being done, because of a non-deliberate delay. The court should not harm innocent parties if their rights have in fact emerged by delay on the part of the petitioners.

In Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply & Sewerage Board v. T. T. Murali Babu 2014 (4) SCC 108, the Apex Court held as follows:

Thus, the doctrine of delay and laches should not be lightly brushed aside. A writ court is required to weigh the explanation offered and the acceptability of the same. The court should bear in mind that it is exercising an extraordinary and equitable jurisdiction. As a constitutional court it has a duty to protect the rights of the citizens but simultaneously it is to keep itself alive to the primary principle that when an aggrieved person, without adequate reason, approaches the court at his own leisure or pleasure, the Court would be under legal obligation to scrutinize whether the lis at a belated stage should be entertained or not.

Be it noted, delay comes in the way of equity. In certain circumstances delay and laches may not be fatal but in most circumstances inordinate delay would only invite disaster for the litigant who knocks at the doors of the Court. Delay reflects inactivity and inaction on the part of a litigant – a litigant who has forgotten the basic norms, namely, procrastination is the greatest thief of time and second, law does not permit one to sleep and rise like a phoenix.

Delay does bring in hazard and causes injury to the lis. In the case at hand, though there has been four years’ delay in approaching the court, yet the writ court chose not to address the same. It is the duty of the court to scrutinize whether such enormous delay is to be ignored without any justification. That apart, in the present case, such belated approach gains more significance as the respondent-employee being absolutely careless to his duty and nurturing a lackadaisical attitude to the responsibility had remained unauthorisedly absent on the pretext of some kind of ill health. We repeat at the cost of repetition that remaining innocuously oblivious to such delay does not foster the cause of justice.

On the contrary, it brings in injustice, for it is likely to affect others. Such delay may have impact on others’ ripened rights and may unnecessarily drag others into litigation which in acceptable realm of probability, may have been treated to have attained finality. A court is not expected to give indulgence to such indolent persons – who compete with ‘Kumbhakarna’ or for that matter Rip Van Winkle. In our considered opinion, such delay does not deserve any indulgence and on the said ground alone the writ court should have thrown the petition overboard at the very threshold.

In Brijesh Kumar v. State of Haryana 2014 (11) SCC 351, the Apex Court held that it is also a well settled principle of law that if some person has taken a relief approaching the Court just or immediately after the cause of action had arisen, other persons cannot take benefit thereof approaching the court at a belated stage for the reason that they cannot be permitted to take the impetus of the order passed at the behest of some diligent person.

In State of U.P. v. Aravind Kumar Srivastava 2015 (1) SCC 347 the Apex Court held as follows:

22. The legal principles which emerge from the reading of the aforesaid judgments cited both by the appellants as well as the respondents can be summed up as under.

22.1. The normal rule is that when a particular set of employees is given relief by the court, all other identically situated persons need to be treated alike by extending that benefit. Not doing so would amount to discrimination and would be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. This principle needs to be applied in service matters more emphatically as the service jurisprudence evolved by this Court from time to time postulates that all similarly situated persons should be treated similarly. Therefore, the normal rule would be that merely because other similarly situated persons did not approach the Court earlier, they are not to be treated differently.

22.2. However, this principle is subject to well- recognised exceptions in the form of laches and delays as well as acquiescence. Those persons who did not challenge the wrongful action in their cases and acquiesced into the same and woke up after long delay only because of the reason that their counterparts who had approached the court earlier in time succeeded in their efforts, then such employees cannot claim that the benefit of the judgment rendered in the case of similarly situated persons be extended to them. They would be treated as fence-sitters and laches and delays, and/or the acquiescence, would be a valid ground to dismiss their claim.

22.3. However, this exception may not apply in those cases where the judgment pronounced by the court was judgment in rem with intention to give benefit to all similarly situated persons, whether they approached the court or not. With such a pronouncement the obligation is cast upon the authorities to itself extend the benefit thereof to all similarly situated persons. Such a situation can occur when the subject- matter of the decision touches upon the policy matters, like scheme of regularisation and the like (see K.C.Sharma v. Union of India (1997) 6 SCC 721: 1998 SCC (L&S) 226]).

On the other hand, if the judgment of the court was in personam holding that benefit of the said judgment shall accrue to the parties before the court and such an intention is stated expressly in the judgment or it can be impliedly found out from the tenor and language of the judgment, those who want to get the benefit of the said judgment extended to them shall have to satisfy that their petition does not suffer from either laches and delays or acquiescence.

In Prabhakar v. Joint Director, Sericulture Department reported in 2015 (3) SCC 1, the Apex Court held as follows:

37. Let us examine the matter from another aspect viz. laches and delays and acquiescence.
38. It is now a well-recognised principle of jurisprudence that a right not exercised for a long time is non-existent. Even when there is no limitation period prescribed by any statute relating to certain proceedings, in such cases courts have coined the doctrine of laches and delays as well as doctrine of acquiescence and non-suited the litigants who approached the Court belatedly without any justifiable explanation for bringing the action after unreasonable delay. Doctrine of laches is in fact an application of maxim of equity delay defeats equities.

39. This principle is applied in those cases where discretionary orders of the court are claimed, such as specific performance, permanent or temporary injunction, appointment of Receiver, etc. These principles are also applied in the writ petitions filed under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution of India.

In such cases, courts can still refuse relief where the delay on the petitioner’s part has prejudiced the respondent even though the petitioner might have come to court within the period prescribed by the Limitation Act. 40. Likewise, if a party having a right stands by and sees another acting in a manner inconsistent with that right and makes no objection while the act is in progress he cannot afterwards complain. This principle is based on the doctrine of acquiescence implying that in such a case the party who did not make any objection acquiesced into the alleged wrongful act of the other party and, therefore, has no right to complain against that alleged wrong. 41.

Thus, in those cases where period of limitation is prescribed within which the action is to be brought before the court, if the action is not brought within that prescribed period the aggrieved party loses remedy and cannot enforce his legal right after the period of limitation is over. Likewise, in other cases even where no limitation is prescribed, but for a long period the aggrieved party does not approach the machinery provided under the law for redressal of his grievance, it can be presumed that relief can be denied on the ground of unexplained delay and laches and/or on the presumption that such person has waived his right or acquiesced into the act of other. As mentioned above, these principles as part of equity are based on principles relatable to sound public policy that if a person does not exercise his right for a long time then such a right is non-existent.

In State of Jammu and Kashmir v. R.K.Zalpuri reported in 2015 (15) SCC 602, the Apex Court, at paragraph 27, held as follows:

27. The grievance agitated by the respondent did not deserve to be addressed on merits, for doctrine of delay and laches had already visited his claim like the chill of death which does not spare anyone even the one who fosters the idea and nurtures the attitude that he can sleep to avoid death and eventually proclaim Deo gratias – ‘thanks to God’.

In B.S.Sheshagiri Setty v. State of Karnataka reported in 2016 (2) SCC 123, the Apex Court, at Paragraph 28, held as follows:

If a statute does not prescribe the time limit for exercise of revisional power, it must be exercised within a reasonable time frame. In the instant case, it is evident that constant litigation has been carried on by the appellants, and therefore they cannot be accused of suddenly waking up after 13 years to claim their land. Further, in the context of limitation, it has been held by this Court in a catena of cases that when what is at stake is justice, then a technical or pedantic approach should not be adopted by the Courts to do justice when there is miscarriage of justice caused to a public litigant.

In State of Gujarat v. Sree Ratnakar Entrprise reported in 2016 (13) SCC 186, the Apex Court, on the facts and circumstances of the said case, held as follows:

. …..This Revision was rejected on the ground of delay and was taken up in challenge before the High Court again after a delay of five years. In the circumstances the Single Judge of the High Court was right in observing that the respondent had remained indolent in pursuing its remedy and that because of delay and latches on its part, no indulgence could be shown.

In Shiv Dass vs. Union of India and others reported in (2007) 9 SCC 274, the Apex Court. Held that although fixation of correct pay and emoluments is a continuous cause on the pension to be paid to a Government servant, yet the same cannot be granted beyond a period of three years from the date of cause of action. The Apex Court, at paragraph Nos.10 and 11 held thus:

10. In the case of pension the cause of action actually continues from month to month. That, however, cannot be a ground to overlook delay in filing the petition. It would depend upon the fact of each case. If petition is filed beyond a reasonable period say three years normally the Court would reject the same or restrict the relief which could be granted to a reasonable period of about three years. The High Court did not examine whether on merit appellant had a case. If on merits it would have found that there was no scope for interference, it would have dismissed the writ petition on that score alone.

11. In the peculiar circumstances, we remit the matter to the High Court to hear the writ petition on merits. If it is found that the claim for disability pension is sustainable in law, then it would mould the relief but in no event grant any relief for a period exceeding three years from the date of presentation of the writ petition. We make it clear that we have not expressed any opinion on the merits as to whether appellant’s claim for disability pension is maintainable or not. If it is sans merit, the High Court naturally would dismiss the writ petition.

The Apex Court in Rup Diamonds & Ors vs Union Of India And Ors 1989 SCR (1) 13 has held in clear terms that Recourse to judicial proceedings should be within ' reasonable time' and the Petitioner cannot rise from slumber to seek indulgence of Court and held thus:

"Apart altogether from the merits of the grounds for rejection on which it cannot be said that the mere rejection of the Special Leave Petitions in the cases of M/s. Ripal Kumar & Co., and M/s. H. Patel & Co., could by itself, be construed as the imprimatur of this Court on the correctness of the decisions sought to be appealed against--there is one more ground which basically sets the present case apart. Petitioners are re-agitating claims which they had not pursued for several years.

Petitioners were not vigilant but were content to be dormant and chose to sit on the fence till somebody else's case came to be decided. There case cannot be considered on the anology of one where a law had been declared unconstitutional and void by a Court, so as to enable persons to recover monies paid under the compulsion of a law later so declared void. There is also an unexplained, inordinate delay in preferring this writ petition which is brought after almost an year after the first rejection."

The Apex Court in Shri Vallabh Glass Works Ltd. vs. Union of India (1984) 3 SCC 362, it was observed thus:
"While there are different periods of limitation prescribed for the institution of different kinds of suits by the Limitation Act, 1963, there is no such period prescribed by law in respect of petitions filed under Article 226 of the Constitution. Whether relief should be granted to a petitioner under Article 226 of the Constitution where the cause of action had arisen in the remote past is a matter of sound judicial discretion governed by the doctrine of laches.

Where a petitioner who could have availed of the alternative remedy by way of suit approaches the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution, it is appropriate ordinarily to construe any unexplained delay in the filing of the writ petition after the expiry of the period of limitation prescribed for filing a suit as unreasonable. This rule, however, cannot be a rigid formula. There may be cases where even a delay of a shorter period may be considered to be sufficient to refuse relief in a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution."

People often wait for years together to file a suit, a criminal complaint or a writ petition for redressal but the Courts do not grant relief to those who are casual & lethargic in pursuit of their legal rights and rise from long slumber to knock the doors of the Courts taking their own sweet time. The Courts only help the vigilant and not the negligent.

The Courts have been deprecating the thriving practice of delay in moving to courts & have been preaching for speedy and swift approach to the courts for due redressal within a 'reasonable time'. The Apex Court has repeatedly held that the Courts would not be inclined to interfere where the redressal is sought after a considerable time gap from the cause of action.

It would be apposite to refer to the case of the Apex Court in State of Jammu and Kashmir Vs. R.K. Zalpuri and Ors., (2015) 15 SCC 602 wherein a writ petion challenging the dismissal order was filed after six years. The Apex Court categorically held that delay in approaching High Court under Article 226 was fatal. The Court held thus:

"In the case at hand, the employee was dismissed from service in the year 1999, but he chose not to avail any departmental remedy. He woke up from his slumber to knock at the doors of the High Court after a lapse of five years. The staleness of the claim remained stale and it could not have been allowed to rise like a phoenix by the writ court.

The grievance agitated by the respondent did not deserve to be addressed on merits, for doctrine of delay and laches had already visited his claim like the chill of death which does not spare anyone even the one who fosters the idea and nurtures the attitude that he can sleep to avoid death and eventually proclaim deo gratias—thanks to God.

The Apex Court has time & again explained the term 'reasonable time' to file a writ petition in the High Courts under Article 226 of the Constitution. It is true that under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, there is no time limit for filing a Writ Petition but the courts have mandated that there should be a reasonable time to file the writ petition for seeking redressal.

In Tarun Bharat Sangh, Alwar v. Union of India 1994 Supp (2) SCC 342, the benefits were disallowed in a case where the petitioner was sleeping over his rights. it was observed that the petitioner was not vigilant and has been sleeping over his rights, if any. The petitioner cannot say that it was not aware of all that was going on in this Court or that it was not aware of the proceedings of the committee.

In State of Madhya Pradesh & Ors vs Nandlal Jaiswal & Ors 1987 AIR 251 the Apex Court held thus:
"Now, it is well settled that the power of the High Court to issue an appropriate writ under article 226 of the Constitution is discretionary and the High Court in the exercise of its discretion does not ordinarily assist the tardy and the indolent of the acquiescent and the lethargic. If there is inordinate delay on the part of the petitioner in filing a writ petition and such delay is not satisfactorily explained, the High Court may decline to intervene and grant relief in the exercise of its writ jurisdiction.

The evolution of this rule of laches or delay is premised upon a number of factors. The High Court does not ordinarily permit a belated resort to the extraordinary remedy under the writ jurisdiction because it is likely to cause confusion and public inconvenience and bring in its train new injustices. The rights of third parties may intervene and if the writ jurisdiction is excercised on a writ petition filed after unreasonable delay, it may have the effect of inflicting not only hardship and inconvenience but also injustice on third parties.

When the writ jurisdiction of the High Court is invoked, unexplained delay coupled With the creation of third party rights in the meanwhile is an important factor which always weighs with the High Court in deciding whether or not to exercise such jurisdiction. We do not think it necessary to burden this judgment with reference to various decisions or this Court where it has been emphasised time and again that where there is inordinate and unexplained delay and third party rights are created in the intervening period, the High Court would decline to interfere, even if the State action complained of is unconstitutional or ille- gal.

We may only mention in the passing two decision of this Court one in Ramanna Dayaram Shetty v. International Airport Authority of India & Ors., [1979] 3 SCR 1014 and the other in Ashok Kumar Mishra & Ant. v. Collector Rajput & Ors., [1980] 1 SCR 491, We may point out that in R.D. Shetty's case (supra), even though the State action was held to be unconstitutional as being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution, this Court refused to grant relief to the petitioner on the ground that the writ petition had been filed by the petitioner more than five months after the acceptance of the tender of the fourth respondent and during that period, the fourth respondent had incurred considerable expenditure, aggregating to about Rs. 1.25 lakhs, in making arrangements for putting up the restaurant and the snack bar of course, this rule of laches or delay is not a rigid rule which.

Can be cast in a straitjacket formula, for there may be cases where despite delay and creation of third party rights the High Court may still in the exercise of its discretion interfere and grant relief to the petitioner. But, such cases where the demand of justice is so compelling that the High Court would be inclined to interfere inspite of'delay or creation of ,third party rights would by their very nature be few and for between. Ultimately it would be a matter within the discretion of the Court ex-hypothese every discretion must be exercised fairly and justly so as to promote justice and not to defeat it."

In Royal Orchid Hotels Limited v. G. Jayarama Reddy (2011) 10 SCC 608, it has been observed by the Apex Court as under:

25. Although, framers of the Constitution have not prescribed any period of limitation for filing a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India and the power conferred upon the High Court to issue to any person or authority including any Government, directions, orders or writs including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo-warranto and certiorari is not hedged with any condition or constraint, in last 61 years the superior Courts have evolved several rules of self-imposed restraint including the one that the High Court may not enquire into belated or stale claim and deny relief to the petitioner if he is found guilty of laches.

The principle underlying this rule is that the one who is not vigilant and does not seek intervention of the Court within reasonable time from the date of accrual of cause of action or alleged violation of constitutional, legal or other right is not entitled to relief under Article 226 of the Constitution. Another reason for the High Court's refusal to entertain belated claim is that during the intervening period rights of third parties may have crystallized and it will be inequitable to disturb those rights at the instance of a person who has approached the Court after long lapse of time and there is no cogent explanation for the delay. We may hasten to add that no hard and fast rule can be laid down and no straightjacket formula can be evolved for deciding the question of delay/laches and each case has to be decided on its own facts.

Similarly, in Dilbagh Rai Jarry v. Union of India, reported in (1974) 3 SCC 554, the Apex Court on this issue observed thus:
……….the Authority is competent to devise, consistently with the provisions of the Act and the Rules made there under, its own procedure based on general principles of justice, equity and good conscience. One of such principles is that delay defeats equity.

The Authority found that the applicant was guilty of gross negligence. He took no steps whatever to carry out the amendment for several months after the order permitting the amendment, and thereafter, when the case was at the final stage, he suddenly woke up, as it were, from slumber, and sought to amend his application. In the circumstances, the Authority rightly refused to put a premium on this delay and laxity on the part of the appellant.

In Banda Development Authy, Banda vs Moti Lal Agarwal & Ors (2011) 5 SCC 394 it was held thus:

"16. It is true that no limitation has been prescribed for filing a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution but one of the several rules of self imposed restraint evolved by the superior courts is that the High Court will not entertain petitions filed after long lapse of time because that may adversely affect the settled/crystallized rights of the parties. If the writ petition is filed beyond the period of limitation prescribed for filing a civil suit for similar cause, the High Court will treat the delay unreasonable and decline to entertain the grievance of the petitioner on merits.

In State of Madhya Pradesh v. Bhailal Bhai AIR 1964 SC 1006, the Constitution Bench of the Apex Court considered the effect of delay in filing writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution and held thus:

17. In matters involving challenge to the acquisition of land for public purpose, this Court has consistently held that delay in filing the writ petition should be viewed seriously and relief denied to the petitioner if he fails to offer plausible explanation for the delay. The Court has also held that the delay of even few years would be fatal to the cause of the petitioner, if the acquired land has been partly or wholly utilised for the public purpose."

In the case of P.S.Sadasivasamy Vs. State of Tamil Nadu (1975) 1 SCC 152 the Apex Court held thus:-

2….A person aggrieved by an order or promoting a junior over his head should approach the Court at least within six months or at the most a year order of suspension such promotion; it is not that there is any period of limitation of the Courts to exercise their powers under Article 226 nor is it that there can never be a case where the Courts cannot interfere in a matter after the passage of a certain length of time.

But it would be a sound and wise exercise of discretion for the Courts to refuse to exercise their extraordinary powers under Article 226 in the case of persons who do not approach it expeditiously for relief and who stand by and allow things to happen and then approach the Court to put forward stale claims and try to unsettle settled matters. The petitioner’s petition should, therefore, have been dismissed in liminie. Entertaining such petitions is a waste of time of the Court. It clogs the work of the Court and impedes the work of the Court in considering legitimate grievances as also its normal work.

In G. C.Gupta v. N.K Pandey (1988) 1 SCC 316, the Apex Court at categorically held that inordinate delay is a valid consideration for the court to refuse appropriate relief and not to unsettle settled things.

In State of Maharashtra vs Digambar AIR 1995 SC 1991, the Apex Court, considered a case, where compensation for the acquired land was claimed belatedly wherein it was held as follows:

12. How a person who alleges against the State of deprivation of his legal right, can get relief of compensation from the State invoking writ jurisdiction of the High Court under article 226 of the Constitution even though, he is guilty of laches or undue delay is difficult to comprehend, when it is well settled by decision of this Court that no person, be he a citizen or otherwise, is entitled to obtain the equitable relief under Article 226 of the Constitution if his conduct is blame- worthy because of laches, undue delay, acquiescence, waiver and the like.

Moreover, how a citizen claiming discretionary relief under Article 226 of the Constitution against a State, could be relieved of his obligation to establish his unblameworthy conduct for getting such relief, where the State against which relief is sought is a welfare State, is also difficult to comprehend.

Where the relief sought under Article 226 of the Constitution by a person against the welfare State is founded on its alleged illegal or wrongful executive action, the need to explain laches or undue delay on his part to obtain such relief, should, if anything, be more stringent than in other cases, for the reason that the State due to laches or undue delay on the part of the person seeking relief, may not be able to show that the executive action complained of was legal or correct for want of records pertaining to the action or for the officers who were responsible for such action not being available later on.

Further, where granting of relief is claimed against the State on alleged unwarranted executive action, is bound to result in loss to the public exchequer of the State or in damage to other public interest, the High Court before granting such relief is required to satisfy itself that the delay or laches on the part of a citizen or any other person in approaching for relief under Article 226 of the Constitution on the alleged violation of his legal right, was wholly justified in the facts and circumstances, instead of ignoring the same or leniently considering it.

Thus, in our view, persons seeking relief against the State under Article 226 of the Constitution, be they citizens or otherwise, cannot get discretionary relief obtainable thereunder unless they fully satisfy the High Court that the facts and circumstances of the case clearly justified the laches or undue delay on their part in approaching the Court for grant of such discretionary relief. Therefore, where a High Court grants relief to a citizen or any other person under Article 226 of the Constitution against any person including the State without considering his blame-worthy conduct, such as laches or undue delay, acquiescence or waiver, the relief so granted becomes unsustainable even if the relief was granted in respect of alleged deprivation of his legal right by the State.

It would be apposite to refer to the case of R & M Trust vs. Koramangala Residents Vigilance Group and others 2005 (3) SCC 91 wherein the Court held thus:-

"There is no doubt that delay is a very important factor while exercising extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution. We cannot disturb the third party interest created on account of delay. Even otherwise also why Court should come to rescue of person who is not vigilant of his rights."

It is the consistent view of the Apex Court that the High Court under Article 226 does not entertain a belated plea for indulgence. The Apex Court in Shiv Dass vs. Union of India 2007 (9) SCC 274 opined as under:

"The High Court does not ordinarily permit a belated resort to the extraordinary remedy because it is likely to cause confusion and public inconvenience and bring in its train new injustices, and if writ jurisdiction is exercised after unreasonable delay, it may have the effect of inflicting not only hardship and inconvenience but also injustice on third parties. It was pointed out that when writ jurisdiction is invoked, unexplained delay coupled with the creation of third party rights in the meantime is an important factor which also weighs with the High Court in deciding whether

In Shankara Co-op. Housing Society Ltd. vs. M. Prabhakar and ors. reported at 2011 (5) SCC 607, the Apex Court reiterated settled position of law and confirmed the well-established criteria which has to be considered before exercise of discretion under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. The relevant portion is extracted herein below:

"53. The relevant considerations, in determining whether delay or laches should be put against a person who approaches the writ court under Article 226 of the Constitution is now well settled. They are:
  1. there is no inviolable rule of law that whenever there is a delay, the court must necessarily refuse to entertain the petition; it is a rule of practice based on sound and proper exercise of discretion, and each case must be dealt with on its own facts.
  2. The principle on which the court refuses relief on the ground of laches or delay is that the rights accrued to others by the delay in filing the petition should not be disturbed, unless there is a reasonable explanation for the delay, because court should not harm innocent parties if their rights had emerged by the delay on the part of the Petitioners.
  3. The satisfactory way of explaining delay in making an application under Article 226 is for the Petitioner to show that he had been seeking relief elsewhere in a manner provided by law. If he runs after a remedy not provided in the Statute or the statutory rules, it is not desirable for the High Court to condone the delay. It is immaterial what the Petitioner chooses to believe in regard to the remedy.
  4. No hard and fast rule, can be laid down in this regard. Every case shall have to be decided on its own facts.
  5. That representations would not be adequate explanation to take care of the delay

The Courts saw through the designs of such litigants and foiled their intent in no uncertain terms. The Apex Court considered this issue in C. Jacob Vs. Director of Geology & Min. Indus. Est. and another 2008 (10) SCC 115 and observed thus:

"6. Let us take the hypothetical case of an employee who is terminated from service in 1980. He does not challenge the termination. But nearly two decades later, say in the year 2000, he decides to challenge the termination. He is aware that any such challenge would be rejected at the threshold on the ground of delay (if the application is made before Tribunal) or on the ground of delay and laches (if a writ petition is filed before a High Court). Therefore, instead of challenging the termination, he gives a representation requesting that he may be taken back to service. Normally, there will be considerable delay in replying such representations relating to old matters.

Taking advantage of this position, the ex-employee files an application/writ petition before the Tribunal/High Court seeking a direction to the employer to consider and dispose of his representation. The Tribunals/High Courts routinely allow or dispose of such applications/petitions (many a time even without notice to the other side), without examining the matter on merits, with a direction to consider and dispose of the representation.

The courts/tribunals proceed on the assumption, that every citizen deserves a reply to his representation. Secondly they assume that a mere direction to consider and dispose of the representation does not involve any `decision' on rights and obligations of parties. Little do they realize the consequences of such a direction to `consider'. If the representation is considered and accepted, the ex-employee gets a relief, which he would not have got on account of the long delay, all by reason of the direction to `consider'.

If the representation is considered and rejected, the ex-employee files an application/writ petition, not with reference to the original cause of action of 1982, but by treating the rejection of the representation given in 2000, as the cause of action. A prayer is made for quashing the rejection of representation and for grant of the relief claimed in the representation. The Tribunals/High Courts routinely entertain such applications/petitions ignoring the huge delay preceding the representation, and proceed to examine the claim on merits and grant relief. In this manner, the bar of limitation or the laches gets obliterated or ignored."

Summing up Law has long set its face against delay in approaching the court. The courts have consistently declined to condone the delay and denied relief to litigants who are guilty of laches. Litigants who are in long slumber and not vigilant about their rights are discouraged by the courts. Belated claims are rejected at the threshold. The rule of laches and delay is founded on sound policy and is supported by good authority.

The rule of laches and delay is employed by the courts as a tool for efficient administration of justice and a bulwark against abuse of process of courts. In case claims filed after inordinate delay are entertained by courts, lives and affairs of such individuals and institutions would be in disarray for no fault of theirs. Their lives and affairs would be clouded with uncertainty and they would face prospects of long and fruitless litigation. The refusal to permit agitation of stale claims is based on the principle of acquiescence. The rule of delay and laches by the assertion of belated claims puts to final rest long dormant claims.

The Allahabad High Court recently in Ganga Sahay & Ors. v. Deputy Director of Consolidation & 14 Ors. vide order dated March 18, 2021 observed that the rule of delay and laches, as a policy of litigative repose, creates certainty in legal relations and curtails fruitless litigation thereby ensuring that the administration of justice is not clogged by pointless litigation. The observation came from a Single Judge Bench comprising of Justice Ajay Bhanot, while dismissing a writ petition filed after a delay of more than 4 years, by observing it to be barred by the rule of delay and laches, without there being any satisfactory explanation as to the delay.

The Court observed that "Rip Van Winkles have a place in literature, but not in law". It would be relevant to refer to a short classic story written in 1819 by American Author, Washington Irving wherein a man awakes 20 years later to a changed world having missed the American Revolution. This is not permissible in Law. The Court held that the rule of laches and delay is employed by the courts as a tool for efficient administration of justice and creates certainty in legal relations and curtails fruitless litigation. It ensures that the administration of justice is not clogged by pointless litigation.

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

Law Article in India

Ask A Lawyers

You May Like

Legal Question & Answers



Lawyers in India - Search By City

Copyright Filing
Online Copyright Registration


LawArticles

Section 482 CrPc - Quashing Of FIR: Guid...

Titile

The Inherent power under Section 482 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (37th Chapter of th...

Whether Caveat Application is legally pe...

Titile

Whether in a criminal proceeding a Caveat Application is legally permissible to be filed as pro...

How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi

Titile

How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi Mutual Consent Divorce is the Simplest Way to Obtain a D...

Copyright: An important element of Intel...

Titile

The Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) has its own economic value when it puts into any market ...

The Factories Act,1948

Titile

There has been rise of large scale factory/ industry in India in the later half of nineteenth ce...

Law of Writs In Indian Constitution

Titile

Origin of Writ In common law, Writ is a formal written order issued by a body with administrati...

Lawyers Registration
Lawyers Membership - Get Clients Online


File caveat In Supreme Court Instantly