Lalita Kumari v. Govt. of U.P.
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This article is written by J.Suparna Rao from Ramaiah Institute of Legal Studies. This article discusses the circumstances for extension of limitation for filing suit under Limitation Act, 1963.

Introduction 

The legislation which governs and states the period within which a suit has to be filed is known as the Limitation Act, 1963.  The Limitation Act can also be defined as the procedural law or aggregate of the procedure. This Act deals with delay in filing the suit or application or appeal under the competent court by the aggrieved party to the suit. This Act’s main focus is to provide the aggrieved party with a remedy prescribed by the law as nobody should be denied justice if such a party has a sufficient cause for the delay in filing the suit. It is important to note that this Act does not give a party the right to file suit after the delay or after the prescribed period therein. It is basically enacted to protect the long and established person using such property in dispute and punishing the person who is ignorant of his/her rights. It ensures that the party should not get used to the delaying tactics. It is one of such legislation which values the time as time is precious and once wasted would not revisit. It fixes the lifespan for every remedy as with time the new complexity arises and brings up newer persons seeking a legal remedy. If there is no such limitation, it will lead to various complexities and consequential anarchy.    

Condonation of delay refers to providing the sufficient cause for the delay and extension of prescribed time subject to such sufficient cause. The condonation of delay deals with the applications and appeals. It does not cover suit as it is an exception covered and governed under the bar of limitation.  

Limitation Act, 1963 based on two maxims

Interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium 

Law of the Limitation Act was found on the basis of public policy and so this maxim plays an important role. This maxim states that at some point the suit must come to an end for the public good and for the interest of the public. It is for the general welfare of the public that the legal remedy for the redress of the legal injury must be put to limitation. 

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CASE:  Popat and Kotecha Property v. State Bank of India Staff 

In this case, the appellant questions the legality of the judgement given by the Division Bench, Calcutta High Court. The Calcutta High Court rejected the plaint filed by the appellant as the suit was barred by the limitation. 

The facts state that on 19th January 1983 the appellant and respondent entered into an agreement to build the property owned by the respondent. The agreement was executed to regulate and define the relationship between the parties. In the said agreement, it was stated that when the construction of the said premises is completed and the certificate of final completion has been issued by the two chartered engineers, the appellant on the notice of respondent shall appear and execute the registered sale deed in favour of the nominee. The building construction was completed on time but when the respondent was called for the execution of the sale deed, he did not appear and so no sale deed was executed. The Calcutta High Court held that the execution of the sale deed was to be done sometime in 1985 but the suit was filed in 1999, and so is barred by limitation. Herein, the learned counsel prayed to the court that the approach of the Division Bench was incorrect. The period of limitation is based on public policy, its aim is to secure justice, suppress the fraud, to quicken the proceedings. Bar of limitation should not be a barrier to provide justice. 

The court held that the bar of limitation is not to be considered and an appeal is accordingly allowed. The limitation period is not meant to destroy the rights of the parties and to deny justice. They are meant to check that parties do not use any tactics to delay justice. Hence, the law of limitation is found on public policy and it is based on the maxim ‘interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium which means it is for the general welfare of the public. 

Vigilantibus non dormientibus jura subveniunt  

This legal maxim means that the law protects those who are vigilant of their rights and not those who sleep upon it. In other words, this maxim stresses the importance of one being careful and watchful of their rights as only such people are entitled to the benefits of the law.

CASE: B.L Sreedhar & Ors. v. K.M. Munireddy & Ors. 

In this case, the plaintiff had two wives. From the two wedlocks, he had 9 sons and 4 daughters. Defendants 3 to 6 were sons from his first wife, while three sons and one daughter from the second wife were not the party to the suit. According to the father of the plaintiff, who succeeded to the hereditary office to give services to the inam lands and other properties which belonged to his father by a grant of the government. He died in 1959 and due to which the plaintiff succeeded to the office as well as to the property. The plaintiff stated that the scheduled property of 1 acre 28 guntas was under the possession of the Hindu undivided family. 

According to Section 5(3) of the Karnataka Village Offices Act, 1961 prohibits the alienation, transfer of the land except by the partition, for a period of  15years, without the previous consent of the Deputy Commissioner.  According to Section 4 of the Act, the land can be resumed, though there was a provision for a regrant of the land to the holder of the village office. Plaintiff and defendant applied for the regrant of the land. By order, the Deputy Commissioner passed an order of regrant under this Act. Plaintiff regranted the entire land in favour of defendant No.3. Later defendant No.3 sold the property to the defendant no. 7 & 9, who on the same date sold the land to defendant No. 1 & 2 with the due permission of the Assistant Deputy Commissioner. 

                     

The plaintiff filed the suit as the defendant No.1 and 2 has started dispossessing the plaintiff from the property. The defendant No.1 & 2 pleaded estoppel. The plaintiff in his written statement made an allegation that the deeds in question were the hypothetical deeds and not the sale deeds. Another contention was that the plaintiff was not aware of various proceedings though the fact states that there was a series of litigation between the defendant No.3 and defendant No. 1 & 2 shows the contrary. The plaintiff even mentioned that he was staying jointly with the defendant No.3. Although the deed was executed in 1972, there was no challenge for about 10 years.

In this case, the court held that the delay has defeated the equity. Equity  aids the vigilant and not the ones who are not watchful of their rights. The appeals were accordingly dismissed.

Condonation of delay

Section 5 of The Limitation Act, 1963  is the primary focus when we talk about the condonation of delay.

Section 5  

This section deals with the extension of the prescribed period in certain cases. This section states that any application can be accepted even after the prescribed period if the appellant or application satisfies the court that he had sufficient cause for not making the appeal within the prescribed period. There is an exception to this section. The applications made under order 21 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 cannot be accepted due to the reason of condonation of delay after the prescribed period. 

CASE: Ashok vs Rajendra Bhausaheb Mulak 

In this case, the petitioner challenged the election of the respondent through a petition. He challenged the election of the respondent not on the grounds of malpractice or indulgence in any unfair corrupt practices but on the grounds of non compliance with the breach of Conduct of The Election Rules, 1961. It has been alleged that while casting votes in the voting compartment the voters were accompanied by one another person with them to the voting compartment. At Least out of 14 votes 5 of such votes were casted. Petitioner also alleged the presiding officer did not take the necessary action and failed to mark such votes as invalid. He contented such actions as a breach of Rule 39(5) to Rule 39(8) of Election Rules. Hence, reception of such votes and also including them in the counting of total votes should be declared as illegal. The invalid vote has materially affected the result of the election as the respondent has won the election with the margin of only 4 votes. 

Merely, because the margin of votes was only 4 votes and the stand of 5 votes were argued by the petitioner cannot be considered as the sufficient cause to take action. Section 83(1)(a) of The Representation of People Act, 1951 describes the content of the petition and it requires to state in a concise manner the material facts, which the petitioner failed to put forward before the Court. The petitioner failed to disclose that the votes which were cast illegally were cast in favour of which of both candidates. Also, there was no objection raised at the time of actual pooling.  

The court held that the election can be challenged on the ground of malpractice but not on the contention of the margin of votes as it is not known that the votes in question were cast in the favour of which of the two candidates. Finally, the court stated that a bonafide mistake on the part of the counsel while pursuing the remedy itself is a valid ground for condonation of delay. 

CASE: Indian Oil Corp. Ltd & Co. v. Subrata Borah Chowlek 

In this case, the appeal was made by a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against the order passed by the division bench of the Gauhati High Court. The appellant did make an application to the High Court seeking the condonation of delay of 59 days, wherein the appeal was rejected as barred by limitation. 

The respondent herein was seeking the regularisation of their services. The writ petition was allowed and the Court directed the appellant No.2 (Assam Oil Division) to treat the petitioner as having been appointed from the date of their initial appointment and to allow them to regularise their services. Not being satisfied with the order, Appellants appealed to the Division Bench of the High Court with the letter of condonation of delay of 59 days. The cause of delay was stated as the time taken by the consultant due to the summer vacations. 

As soon as they received the copy of the judgement, they consulted the local lawyer for the advice. The same was forwarded to the General Manager, Refinery Headquarters, New Delhi. The General Manager then researched for some required documents and sent the copy of it to the Company’s legal advisor. This is where the delay was caused due to summer vacations. The legal advisor finally gave his advice to file an appeal against the order in the Division Bench of the High Court. The proposal then went for approval by the headquarters and it was approved. The appellant pleaded that the delay caused was unintentional and bonafide. 

The Court held that the appellant had a sufficient cause for the condonation of delay in filing the appeal and hence, it dismissed the order given by the division bench. 

CASE: Shakuntala Devi Jain v. Kuntal Kumari And Ors

In this case, the respondent filed an appeal for executing the final decree of a partition suit. The objection was filed under Section 47 of the Civil Procedure Code. The court dismissed the objections by the order dated January 20, 1967. On March 17, 1967, the appellant filed an appeal against the above-mentioned order. Along with the memorandum of appeal she filed a plain copy of the order with it and application pleading that appeal to be entertained without a certified copy of the order. She did apply for the certified copy but the same was not ready and so she couldn’t manage to attach it with the memorandum. She added that she will file the certified copy as soon as she receives it. The appellant stated that she seeks urgent interim relief and if waited for the certified copy, it will not do justice to her. On the same date, the High Court Bench admitted the appeal and granted a stay order. The court attention was not drawn to the fact that she did not attach the certified copy of the order. Eventually, on October 25, 1967, respondents raised an objection stating the certified copy of the order has not been attached and so the appeal is incompetent. The appellant on November 3 filed an application of condonation of delay under Section 5 of The Limitation Act, 1963. She obtained the certified copy and filed it in the Court on the same day i.e. November 6. On December 22, 1967, the High Court held that the appeal is incompetent and there is no genuine cause for condonation of delay. So, she challenged this decision of the High Court. 

The Supreme Court held that the appellant was bonafide in her intentions as when facts said she did not receive the certified copy of the order on time even after multiple applications.  The court granted her the protection of Section 5 of The Limitation Act, 1963 as she was not found to be negligent or inaction or malafide so as to deprive her of the protection granted by Section 5 of the said Act. In the result, the Court allowed the appeal and set aside the decision of the High Court. 

CASE: Radha Krishna Rai v. Allahabad Bank & Ors. 

In this case, there was a delay of 1418 days, which is after the expiry of the limitation period. The appellant pleaded that he was acting under a wrong impression that the appeal is filed and is pending before the High Court. Later, it was found that no such appeal was filed by his counsel. 

The Court held that though the delay was prolonged for a long time, it has sufficient cause as the appellant had no intentions to cause a  delay. The application made under Section 5 of the Limitation Act,1963 was accepted. 

CASE: Ramlal, Motilal And Chhotelal v. Rewa Coalfields Ltd

In this case, Ramlal, Motilal and Chhotelal were the partners of the appellant firm. The appellant firm is Chaurasia Limestone Company. The appellant company was dealing in limestone at Satna and Maihar. For their use in daily production, they purchased coal from the respondent company. The appellant purchased from the respondent firm 3,307 tons of coal at the rate Rs.14-9-0 per ton in  January 1952 and March 1953. The appellant did not pay the balance amount. The respondent filed the case for recovery of payment with interest until the date of the suit.  On the subsequent date of hearing, the appellant did not appear so the court proceeded with ex-parte orders. The court ordered the appellant to pay interest of 6% per annum till the date of the suit. Against the decree passed by the learned trial judge, the appellant appeared in the court of Judicial Commissioner, Rewa. 

Later along with the appeal against the orders passed, the appellant filed an application of condonation of delay under Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963 for a delay of one day in filing an appeal. The appellant stated that delay was caused as Ramlal, one of the partners who was in charge of the limitation fell ill. The respondent argued that the appellant intentionally caused the delay by putting off the filling of the appeal until the last date of the prescribed period of limitation. On the contrary, the appellant pleaded to the court that he has the right to file an appeal even on the last day and the situation because of which the delay was caused was unforeseeable. The Court accepted the contention of the respondent and rejected the application for condonation of delay.

CASE: Dineshbhai Rameshbhai Minama v. State of Gujarat 

In this case, the application was made under Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963. The condonation of delay of 350 days was caused in filing the appeal. The court emphasised and elaborated the word ‘Sufficient Cause’. The single judge Bench, S.H. Vora, J. accepted the appeal as there was a sufficient cause to satisfy the Court and there was nothing on record to deprive substantial justice.

The court stated that ‘Sufficient Cause’ for not filing an appeal should be applied reasonably and in a manner that it serves justice. It should not be misplaced. The facts and circumstances should be kept in light of ‘sufficient cause’. The substantial justice shall be given when the delay has not been caused by the negligence or deliberate action on the part of the applicant. The major point put forward by the learned judge was it is not the length of delay that matters but the sufficiency and satisfactory explanation. 

CASE: New India Ass. Co. Ltd. v. Sh. Balbir Singh

In this case, the appellant filed an appeal against the judgement of the Commissioner. The commissioner allowed the petition filed by the respondent and also allowed the condonation of delay of about 20 years in filing the petition. 

The appellant argued that there was no sufficient cause shown for the delay of 20 years in filing the petition. They also stated that the material facts were not enough to condone such a long delay. It was further contended that Section 10(1) of the Limitation Act, 1963 prescribes a period of 2 years for filing of the claim petition after the accident. The delay of 20 years that too condoned without the satisfactory explanation of the sufficient cause will act as a bad precedent for future cases. The respondent was a truck driver. The truck met with an accident on 15.9.1982 at the highway in Jaipur. The petitioner filed two claim petitions one under The Employees Compensation Act and another under The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 before the State Commissioner in 1993. The petition seeking compensation was dismissed by the State commissioner on 18.12.1994. Even then the petitioner filed a petition under Motors Vehicles Act, 1988 on 27.5.2003 but withdrew the petition on 16.12.2004. MACT allowed the petitioner to withdraw the petition by granting him permission to file the petition within the Employees Compensation Act on 16.12.2004. Also, no facts have been stated by the petitioner 1984 to 2004 except the MACT period facts. Even if the respondent time spent before the Motor Accident Claim Tribunal is not considered as delay, there is still 18 years delay which cannot be justified. 

The Supreme court held that only lip service was done with regard to the sufficient cause to condone the delay. Therefore, the court held there was no sufficient cause to condone the delay of a long period of time which is 20 years. The appeal was allowed and the judgement of the commissioner was set aside.

CASE: Mariambai And Anr. v. Hanifabai And Anr

In this case, due to the mistake of the legal practitioner, the appeal was filed in the District Court which was to be filed in the High Court. There was a delay in filing the appeal before the High Court as the withdrawal of the application from District Court took time. There was a mistake on the part of the council and it was contended that the mistake was of bonafide nature. 

The court rejected the application stating that the reasonable care could have been taken and it is not a sufficient cause of delay. It laid down the three threshold tests for reasonable care:

  1. The person from whom the advice is taken must be a competent legal practitioner;
  2. The counsel must exercise reasonable care while giving the service and advice;
  3. The advice given by counsel must be acceptable and must be given by any competent legal practitioner in such circumstances. 

General principles laid down by the Court for Condonation of Delay

The Court laid down the general principles to be followed by the Court while deciding the cases of Condonation of Delay in the following case-

CASE: Collector Land Acquisition v. Mst.katiji & Ors. 

The following points were stated by the court in the case mentioned above:

  1. The litigant should not be getting a benefit from filing an appeal after the prescribed limitation period.
  2. When the delay is condoned, there is the possibility of meritorious matters being thrown aside. So, the rule of Audi Alteram Partem must be followed. The decision must be given only after giving both the party an opportunity of being heard. 
  3. The rule that ‘Every delay must be explained’ does mean that a delay of a minute or a second can be questioned. It should be applied in a reasonable manner. 
  4. When there is a choice between the substantial justice and technical complications, substantial justice must be chosen over the other. 
  5. It also stated that the judiciary is respected not on account of its power to give the legal identity to any injustice on technical grounds but because of his capability to remove injustice. 
  6. The court must not presume that the delay was caused due to negligence or malafide intentions or deliberately. 

Circumstances under which delay can be condoned

The Limitation Act, 1963 prescribes a period to file an appeal before the Court. It prescribes a 90 days period to file an appeal in the High Court and in any other court appeal can be filed within 30 days. The Limitation Act is applied to the cases which are already pending in the Court. For the condonation of delay, Rule 3-A has been inserted successfully by the Amendment Act, 1976. Earlier, when the amendment was not made, the general rule of opinion on limitation was followed. Rule 3-A implies that whenever an application is made in the court after the prescribed period, it must be accompanied by the application of condonation of delay stating the ‘sufficient reason’ to the court for the delay caused. 

CASE: State Of M.P. And Anr vs Pradeep Kumar

In this case, the Supreme Court explained the above rule into two folds- 

  1. Firstly, the appellant has to be informed that appeal will not be accepted after the prescribed period unless it is accompanied by the application for condonation of delay. 
  2. Secondly, it should be informed to the respondent that he is proceeding forward to do so on the merits mentioned in the application. 

It was held that the above two mentioned provisions are mandatory not a directory. 

                   

The following can be the circumstances for filing an application of Delay Condonation-

  1. Mislead by rulings;
  2. Mistake of counsel;
  3. Mistake of law;
  4. Mistake of court;
  5. Delay in getting certified copy;
  6. Illness;
  7. Inability; 
  8. The party is Government servant;
  9. Poverty;
  10. The party is illiterate; 
  11. The delay is caused due to pendency of writ petition. 

Conclusion 

The term condonation of delay is characterised in Section 5 of The Limitation Act, 1963. The said section gives the discretionary power to the Courts to accept the application even after the expiry of the prescribed period. The Limitation Act prescribes a limited time period to file an application or appeal in the court if that has been expired the appellant can file an appeal in the court by attaching the application of condonation of delay stating the sufficient cause. The immense power which the Court holds in this matter cannot be restricted. There is no straight-jacket formula for the ‘Sufficient Cause’. It depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case. The main objective of condonation of delay is to ensure that justice is not denied. Hence, it acts as a remedy to the aggrieved party of the meritorious case where an appellant could not file an appeal within the time frame due to certain satisfactory sufficient cause. 

References 


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