|Justice Swatanter Kumar|
The Supreme Court in a recent decision, in Balwant Singh v. Jagdish Singh & Ors., had the occasion to deal with the concept of 'condonation of delay' and 'sufficient cause' as contained in the Limitation Act. The Supreme Court, while dealing with various authorities on the subject, has culled out principles, which are reproduced hereunder;
9. In the case of Mithailal Dalsangar Singh (supra), a Bench of this Court had occasion to deal with the provisions of Order 22 Rule 9, CPC and while enunciating the principles controlling the application of and exercising of discretion under these provisions, the Court reiterated the principle that the abatement is automatic and not even a specific order is required to be passed by the Court in that behalf. It would be useful to reproduce paragraph 8 of the said judgment which has a bearing on the matter in controversy before us:
“8. Inasmuch as the abatement results in denial of hearing on the merits of the case, the provision of abatement has to be construed strictly. On the other hand, the prayer for setting aside an abatement and the dismissal consequent upon an abatement, have to be considered liberally. A simple prayer for bringing the legal representatives on record without specifically praying for setting aside of an abatement may in substance be construed as a prayer for setting aside the abatement. So also a prayer for setting aside abatement as regards one of the plaintiffs can be construed as a prayer for setting aside the abatement of the suit in its entirety. Abatement of suit for failure to move an application for bringing the legal representatives on record within the prescribed period of limitation is automatic and specific order dismissing the suit as abated is not called for. Once the suit has abated as a matter of law, though there may not have been passed on record a specific order dismissing the suit as abated, yet the legal representatives proposing to be brought on record or any other applicant proposing to bring the legal representatives of the deceased party on record would seek the setting aside of an abatement. A prayer for bringing the legal representatives on record, if allowed, would have the effect of setting aside the abatement as the relief of setting aside abatement though not asked for in so many words is in effect being actually asked for and is necessarily implied. Too technical or pedantic an approach in such cases is not called for.”
10. Another Bench of this Court in a recent judgment of Katari Suryanarayana v. Koppisetti Subba Rao, (AIR 2009 SC 2907) again had an occasion to construe the ambit, scope and application of the expression ‘sufficient cause’. The application for setting aside the abatement and bringing the legal heirs of the deceased on record was filed in that case after a considerable delay. The explanation rendered regarding the delay of 2381 days in filing the application for condonation of delay and 2601 days in bringing the legal representatives on record was not found to be satisfactory. Declining the application for condonation of delay, the Court, while discussing the case of Perumon Bhagvathy Devaswom v. Bhargavi Amma (2008) 8 SCC 321 in its para 9 held as under:
“11. The words “sufficient cause for not making the application within the period of limitation” should be understood and applied in a reasonable, pragmatic, practical and liberal manner, depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case, and the type of case. The words ‘sufficient cause’ in Section 5 of Limitation Act should receive a liberal construction so as to advance substantial justice, when the delay is not on account of any dilatory tactics, want of bona fides, deliberate inaction or negligence on the part of the appellant.”
11. The Learned Counsel appearing for the applicant, while relying upon the cases of Ram Sumiran, Mithailal Dalsangar Singh and Ganeshprasad Badrinarayan Lahoti (supra), contended that the Court should adopt a very liberal approach and the delay should be condoned on the mere asking by the applicant. Firstly, none of these cases is of much help to the applicant. Secondly, in the case of Ram Sumiran (supra), the Court has not recorded any reasons or enunciated any principle of law for exercising the discretion. The Court, being satisfied with the facts averred in the application and particularly giving benefit to the applicant on account of illiteracy and ignorance, condoned the delay of six years in filing the application. This judgment cannot be treated as a precedent in the eyes of the law. In fact, it was a judgment on its own facts.
12. In the case of Ganeshprasad Badrinarayan Lahoti (supra), the High Court had rejected the application, primarily, on the ground that no separate application had been filed for substitution and for setting aside the abatement. The Court held that the principles of res judicata were not applicable and the application could be filed at a subsequent stage. Thus, the delay was condoned. We must notice here that the earlier judgments of the equi benches and even that of larger benches (three Judge Bench) in the case of Ram Charan (supra) were not brought to the notice of the Court. Resultantly, the principles of law stated by this Court in its earlier judgments were not considered by the Bench dealing with the case of Ganeshprasad Badrinarayan Lahoti (supra).
13. As held by this Court in the case of Mithailal Dalsangar Singh (supra), the abatement results in the denial of hearing on the merits of the case, the provision of abatement has to be construed strictly. On the other hand, the prayer for setting aside an abatement and the dismissal consequent upon an abatement, have to be construed liberally. We may state that even if the term ‘sufficient cause’ has to receive liberal construction, it must squarely fall within the concept of reasonable time and proper conduct of the concerned party. The purpose of introducing liberal construction normally is to introduce the concept of ‘reasonableness’ as it is understood in its general connotation. The law of limitation is a substantive law and has definite consequences on the right and obligation of a party to arise. These principles should be adhered to and applied appropriately depending on the facts and circumstances of a given case. Once a valuable right, as accrued in favour of one party as a result of the failure of the other party to explain the delay by showing sufficient cause and its own conduct, it will be unreasonable to take away that right on the mere asking of the applicant, particularly when the delay is directly a result of negligence, default or inaction of that party. Justice must be done to both parties equally. Then alone the ends of justice can be achieved. If a party has been thoroughly negligent in implementing its rights and remedies, it will be equally unfair to deprive the other party of a valuable right that has accrued to it in law as a result of his acting vigilantly. The application filed by the applicants lack in details. Even the averments made are not correct and ex-facie lack bona fide. The explanation has to be reasonable or plausible, so as to persuade the Court to believe that the explanation rendered is not only true, but is worthy of exercising judicial discretion in favour of the applicant. If it does not specify any of the enunciated ingredients of judicial pronouncements, then the application should be dismissed. On the other hand, if the application is bona fide and based upon true and plausible explanations, as well as reflect normal behaviour of a common prudent person on the part of the applicant, the Court would normally tilt the judicial discretion in favour of such an applicant. Liberal construction cannot be equated with doing injustice to the other party. In the case of State of Bihar v. Kameshwar Prasad Singh (2000) 9 SCC 94, this Court had taken a liberal approach for condoning the delay in cases of the Government, to do substantial justice. Facts of that case were entirely different as that was the case of fixation of seniority of 400 officers and the facts were required to be verified. But what we are impressing upon is that delay should be condoned to do substantial justice without resulting in injustice to the other party. This balance has to be kept in mind by the Court while deciding such applications. In the case of Ramlal and Others v. Rewa Coalfields Ltd., AIR 1962 SC 361 this Court took the view:
“7. In construing Section 5 it is relevant to bear in mind two important considerations. The first consideration is that the expiration of the period of limitation prescribed for making an appeal gives rise to a right in favour of the decree holder to treat the decree as binding between the parties. In other words, when the period of limitation prescribed has expired the decree-holder has obtained a benefit under the law of limitation to treat the decree as beyond challenge, and this legal right which has accrued to the decree holder by lapse of time should not be light heartedly disturbed. The other consideration which cannot be ignored is that if sufficient cause for excusing delay is shown discretion is given to the Court to condone delay and admit the appeal. This discretion has been deliberately conferred on the Court in order that judicial power and discretion in that behalf should be exercised to advance substantial justice. As has been observed by the Madras High Court in Krishna v. Chathappan, ILR 13 Mad 269. It is however, necessary to emphasize that even after sufficient cause has been shown a party is not entitled to the condonation of delay in question as a matter of right. The proof of a sufficient cause is a condition precedent for the exercise of the discretionary jurisdiction vested in the court by Section 5. If sufficient cause is not proved nothing further has to be done; the application for condoning delay has to be dismissed on that ground alone. If sufficient cause is shown then the Court has to enquire whether in its discretion it should condone the delay. This aspect of the matter naturally introduces the consideration of all relevant facts and it is at this stage that diligence of the party or its bona fides may fall for consideration;…”
14. In the case of Union of India v. Tata Yodogawa Ltd., 1988 (38) Excise Law Times 739 (SC), this Court while granting some latitude to the Government in relation to condonation of delay, still held that there must be some way or attempt to explain the cause for such delay and as there was no whisper to explain what legal problems occurred in filing the Special Leave Petition, the application for condonation of delay was dismissed. Similarly, in the case of Collector of Central Excise, Madras v. A.MD. Bilal & Co., 1999 (108) Excise Law Times 331 (SC), the Supreme Court declined to condone the delay of 502 days in filing the appeal because there was no satisfactory or reasonable explanation rendered for condonation of delay. The provisions of Order 22 Rule 9, CPC has been the subject matter of judicial scrutiny for considerable time now. Sometimes the Courts have taken a view that delay should be condoned with a liberal attitude, while on certain occasions the Courts have taken a stricter view and wherever the explanation was not satisfactory, have dismissed the application for condonation of delay. Thus, it is evident that it is difficult to state any straight-jacket formula which can uniformly be applied to all cases without reference to the peculiar facts and circumstances of a given case. It must be kept in mind that whenever a law is enacted by the legislature, it is intended to be enforced in its proper perspective. It is an equally settled principle of law that the provisions of a statute, including every word, have to be given full effect, keeping the legislative intent in mind, in order to ensure that the projected object is achieved. In other words, no provisions can be treated to have been enacted purposelessly. Furthermore, it is also a well settled canon of interpretative jurisprudence that the Court should not give such an interpretation to provisions which would render the provision ineffective or odious. Once the legislature has enacted the provisions of Order 22, with particular reference to Rule 9, and the provisions of the Limitation Act are applied to the entertainment of such an application, all these provisions have to be given their true and correct meaning and must be applied wherever called for. If we accept the contention of the Learned Counsel appearing for the applicant that the Court should take a very liberal approach and interpret these provisions (Order 22 Rule 9 of the CPC and Section 5 of the Limitation Act) in such a manner and so liberally, irrespective of the period of delay, it would amount to practically rendering all these provisions redundant and inoperative. Such approach or interpretation would hardly be permissible in law. Liberal construction of the expression ‘sufficient cause’ is intended to advance substantial justice which itself presupposes no negligence or inaction on the part of the applicant, to whom want of bona fide is imputable. There can be instances where the Court should condone the delay; equally there would be cases where the Court must exercise its discretion against the applicant for want of any of these ingredients or where it does not reflect ‘sufficient cause’ as understood in law. [Advanced Law Lexicon, P. Ramanatha Aiyar, 2nd Edition, 1997]
The expression ‘sufficient cause’ implies the presence of legal and adequate reasons. The word ‘sufficient’ means adequate enough, as much as may be necessary to answer the purpose intended. It embraces no more than that which provides a plentitude which, when done, suffices to accomplish the purpose intended in the light of existing circumstances and when viewed from the reasonable standard of practical and cautious men. The sufficient cause should be such as it would persuade the Court, in exercise of its judicial discretion, to treat the delay as an excusable one. These provisions give the Courts enough power and discretion to apply a law in a meaningful manner, while assuring that the purpose of enacting such a law does not stand frustrated. We find it unnecessary to discuss the instances which would fall under either of these classes of cases. The party should show that besides acting bona fide, it had taken all possible steps within its power and control and had approached the Court without any unnecessary delay. The test is whether or not a cause is sufficient to see whether it could have been avoided by the party by the exercise of due care and attention. [Advanced Law Lexicon, P. Ramanatha Aiyar, 3rd Edition, 2005]
15. We feel that it would be useful to make a reference to the judgment of this Court in Perumon Bhagvathy Devaswom (supra). In this case, the Court, after discussing a number of judgments of this Court as well as that of the High Courts, enunciated the principles which need to be kept in mind while dealing with applications filed under the provisions of Order 22, CPC along with an application under Section 5, Limitation Act for condonation of delay in filing the application for bringing the legal representatives on record. In paragraph 13 of the judgment, the Court held as under:-
“13 (i) The words “sufficient cause for not making the application within the period of limitation” should be understood and applied in a reasonable, pragmatic, practical and liberal manner, depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case, and the type of case. The words ‘sufficient cause’ in Section 5 of the Limitation Act should receive a liberal construction so as to advance substantial justice, when the delay is not on account of any dilatory tactics, want of bona fides, deliberate inaction or negligence on the part of the appellant.”
(ii) In considering the reasons for condonation of delay, the courts are more liberal with reference to applications for setting aside abatement, than other cases. While the court will have to keep in view that a valuable right accrues to the legal representatives of the deceased respondent when the appeal abates, it will not punish an appellant with foreclosure of the appeal, for unintended lapses. The courts tend to set aside abatement and decided the matter on merits. The courts tend to set aside abatement and decide the matter on merits, rather than terminate the appeal on the ground of abatement.
(iii) The decisive factor in condonation of delay, is not the length of delay, but sufficiency of a satisfactory explanation.
(iv) The extent or degree of leniency to be shown by a court depends on the nature of application and facts and circumstances of the case. For example, courts view delays in making applications in a pending appeal more leniently than delays in the institution of an appeal. The courts view applications relating to lawyer’s lapses more leniently than applications relating to litigant’s lapses. The classic example is the difference in approach of courts to applications for condonation of delay in filing an appeal and applications for condonation of delay in re-filing the appeal after rectification of defects.
(v) Want of “diligence” or “inaction” can be attributed to an appellant only when something required to be done by him, is not done. When nothing is required to be done, courts do not expect the appellant to be diligent. Where an appeal is admitted by the High Court and is not expected to be listed for final hearing for a few years, an appellant is not expected to visit the court or his lawyer every few weeks to ascertain the position nor keep checking whether the contesting respondent is alive. He merely awaits the call or information from his counsel about the listing of the appeal.
We may also notice here that this judgment had been followed with approval by an equi-bench of this Court in the case of Katari Suryanarayana (supra)
16. Above are the principles which should control the exercise of judicial discretion vested in the Court under these provisions. The explained delay should be clearly understood in contradistinction to inordinate unexplained delay. Delay is just one of the ingredients which has to be considered by the Court. In addition to this, the Court must also take into account the conduct of the parties, bona fide reasons for condonation of delay and whether such delay could easily be avoided by the applicant acting with normal care and caution. The statutory provisions mandate that applications for condonation of delay and applications belatedly filed beyond the prescribed period of limitation for bringing the legal representatives on record, should be rejected unless sufficient cause is shown for condonation of delay. The larger benches as well as equi-benches of this Court have consistently followed these principles and have either allowed or declined to condone the delay in filing such applications. Thus, it is the requirement of law that these applications cannot be allowed as a matter of right and even in a routine manner. An applicant must essentially satisfy the above stated ingredients; then alone the Court would be inclined to condone the delay in the filing of such applications.