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Through their judgment of the case - University of Delhi v. Union of India & Others, delivered on December 17, 2019, Justices R.Banumathi, A.S.Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, at the Supreme Court, have Ruled in no uncertain words, that while considering condoning delay ultimate consideration should be to render even-handed justice to the parties, though by and large, a liberal approach is to be taken in the matter of condoning delay.

This consideration would not depend upon status of the party namely the Government or the public bodies so as to apply a different Yardstick. Even in such cases the condonation of long delay should not be automatic since the accrued right or the adverse consequence to the opposite party is also be kept in perspective. In that background while considering condonation of delay , the routine explanation would not be enough but it should be in the nature of indicating “sufficient cause” to justify the delay which will depend on the backdrop of each case and will have to be weighed carefully by the Courts based on the fact situation.

In the decision of the case - Collector, Land Acquisition, Anantnag v. Katiji & Others – (1987) 2 SCC 107, the entire conspectus relating to condonation of delay has been kept in focus. However, What cannot also be lost sight of is that the consideration therein was in the background of dismissal of the application seeking condonation of delay in a case where there was delay of 4 days pitted against the consideration that was required to be made on merits regarding the upward revision of compensation amounting to 800 per cent.

As against the same, the delay, in this case, is of filing LPA is 916 days and as such the consideration to condone can be made only if there is reasonable explanation and the condonation cannot be merely because the appellant is public body. The entire explanation noticed above, depicts the casual approach unmindful of the law of limitation despite being aware of the position of law. That apart, where there is such a long delay and there is no proper explanation. Laches would also come into play while noticing as to the manner in which a party has proceeded before filing an appeal.

In addition, in the facts of this case, not only the delay and laches in filing the appeal is contended on behalf of the respondents seeking dismissal of this appeal but it was also contended that there was delay and laches in filing the writ petition itself at the first instance from which the present appeal had arisen. In that view, it was necessary for the Court to advert to those aspects of the matter and notice the nature of consideration made in writ petition as well as the LPA to arrive at a conclusion as to whether the HC was justified.

The entire explanation for the inordinate delay of 916 days is two-fold : the non-availability of the Vice Chancellor due to retirement and subsequent appointment of new Vice Chancellor , also that the matter was placed before the Executive Council and a decision was taken to file the appeal and the said process had caused the delay.

According to the SC, the reasons as stated, do not appear very convincing since the situation was of availing the appellate remedy and not the original proceeding requiring such deliberation when it was a mere matter of continuation of proceedings which had already been filed on behalf of the appellant hereinafter due deliberation.

Significantly, the Vice Chancellor, who was at the helm of affairs, when the writ petition was filed, prosecuted and disposed of on April 27, 2015, was available in the same office till October 28, 2015, for about six months, which was a long enough period as compared to 30 days limitation period for filing appeal. In the light of these facts, the Court found this submission on behalf of the appellant’s counsel not acceptable. Secondly, the reason sought to be put forth about the about the decision required to be taken   by the Executive Council was also not accepted by the Court, as it was just about filing the appeal.

The Supreme Court has observed that the cumulative effect of delay and laches cannot be ignored. The decisions referred to by the appellant’s counsel to the facts of this case cannot be applied , inasmuch as the consideration in this case was not merely the explanation for the delay of few days in filing the appeal. Though it was contended that the delay is required to be condoned since public interest is involved, the nature of proceedings that have taken place thus far would indicate that the matter has been examined at different stages in the earlier litigations and if the grounds on which the appellant was assailing the action of the respondents were to be examined on merits , they ought to have been more diligent in prosecuting the matter before the Court.

In the matter of condonation of delay and laches, the well-accepted position is also that the accrued right of the opposite party cannot be lightly dealt with. In that regard, rather than taking note of the hardship that would be caused tom the respondent-13, as contended by the counsel, what is necessary to be taken note of is the manner in which the respondent -11-Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has proceeded in the matter.  For property development it has received Rs 218.2 crores from the respondent-13 as far back as in the year 2008.The said amount is used for its projects providing metro rail service to the commuting public. In such circumstances, if at this stage the inordinate delay is condoned unmindful of the lackadaisical manner in which the appellant has proceeded in the matter , it would also be contrary to public interest.

Therefore, taking into consideration all these aspects of the matter, the SC has been of the opinion that not only the Single Judge of the HC was justified in holding that the writ petition was hit by delay and laches but the decision of the division bench in dismissing the LPA on the ground of delay of 916 days is also justified and the orders do not call for interference. In view of this, the Supreme Court has dismissed the appeals.

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