-By Ms. Kasturi Ritika (Adv.) and Mr. Shourajeet Chakravarty (Adv.).
THE STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH & ORS. V. BHERULAL**
S.L.P (C) 9217 of 2020
Coram: Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and
Justice Dinesh Maheshwari
Date of Judgment: October 15, 2020
The State of Madhya Pradesh preferred a Special Leave Petition (“SLP”) before Hon’ble the Supreme Court of India (“SC/ Hon’ble Court”), however, the said SLP was filed with a delay of 663 days. The said SLP was accompanied by an application for condonation of delay stating that the reason for such an inordinate delay was “due to unavailability of the documents and the process of arranging the documents." It was further pleaded in the application that the said delay of 663 days was because in “bureaucratic process works, it is inadvertent that delay occurs.”
Can delay in filing petitions be mechanically condoned by courts merely because the government or a wing of the government is filing such a petition?
As per the Limitation Act, 1908 (“Limitation Act”), the Government or any wing of the Government have not been differentiated from other parties and have to adhere to the prescribed statutory period of limitation within which it can approach the courts to enforce its rights. Item 33 of the Schedule provided in the Limitation Act provides that the period for filing an SLP is 90 (ninety) days. However in cases where death penalty has been awarded or cases where certificate to appeal has been denied by the High Court, the period for filing an SLP is prescribed to be 60 (sixty) days from the date of order/judgment of the High Court refusing leave to appeal. Similar provisions of limitation are prescribed in Order XXI and Order XXII of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013.
The Hon’ble Court law has to be applied to all equally and observed that till the time the statutory law exists, the Government ought to follow it. The Hon’ble Court relied on its judgment in “In Office of the Chief Post Master General & Ors. v. Living Media India Ltd. & Anr” wherein it was held by the Hon’ble Court that condonation of delay is an exception and filing within the given statutory period is a rule. Relying on the above mentioned precedent and the lack of coherent or cogent reason provided by the petitioner, the Hon’ble Court, observed and held that:
“Considering the fact that there was no proper explanation offered by the Department for the delay except mentioning of various dates, according to us, the Department has miserably failed to give any acceptable and cogent reasons sufficient to condone such a huge delay..
We are thus, constrained to send a signal and we propose to do in all matters today, where there are such inordinate delays that the Government or State authorities coming before us must pay for wastage of judicial time which has its own value. Such costs can be recovered from the officers responsible.”
Thus, the Hon’ble Court dismissed the SLP as time barred and further imposed a cost of Indian Rupees (“INR”) 25,000 (INR Twenty Five Thousand) on the Petitioner -State.
As per the Limitation Act, all suits or proceedings must be brought for enforcement within the specific period else on expiry of the said period of limitation, the right to approach the judicial forum for enforcement gets exhausted.
The Hon’ble Court aptly decided that the government should be placed at equal footing with any other person approaching the court for remedy. No special exemption or treatment should be given to the government when an existing statutory obligation is clearly applicable on them and exception is only in case of bonafide delays not otherwise.
** Case Analysis by Ms. Kasturi Ritika (Adv.) and Mr. Shourajeet Chakravarty (Adv.).  (2012) 3 SCC 563.