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ACT: Limitation Act, 1963: Section 5-Appeals filed by Government- Condonation of delay- ‘Sufficient cause’ – Expression to receive liberal construction so as to advance substantial justice-Lapse on part of Government Pleader- How far a ‘sufficient cause’. Constitution of India, 1950: Article 136 -Appeal to Supreme Court against order of High Court condoning delay in filing appeal-High Court meanwhile disposing the main appeal on merit-Does not bar Supreme Court of consideration of correctness of High Court order condoning delay.=This is an instance of what are called “dependent orders”. If the order excusing the delay is itself set aside in these appeals, the further exercise, made in the meanwhile, by the High Court finally disposing of the appeals, would be rendered nugatory.= G. RAMEGOWDA, MAJOR, ETC. Vs. RESPONDENT: SPECIAL LAND ACQUISITION OFFICER, BANGALORE.= 1988 ( March. Part ) http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=8397

ACT:

     Limitation Act,1963:  Section5-Appeals  filed  by

Government-  Condonation  of  delay-  ‘Sufficient  cause’  –

Expression to  receive liberal construction so as to advance

substantial justice-Lapse on part of Government Pleader- How

far a ‘sufficient cause’.

     Constitution of  India, 1950:  Article 136 –Appeal  to

Supreme Court against order of High Court condoning delay in

filing appeal-High Court meanwhile disposing the main appeal

on merit-Does  not barSupreme Court  of  consideration  of

correctness of High Court order condoning delay.=

This  is an  instance of  what are called “dependent

orders”. If the order excusing the delay is itself set aside

in  these   appeals,  the  further  exercise,  made  in the

meanwhile, by  the  High  Court finally  disposing  of the

appeals, would be rendered nugatory.

1988 ( March. Part ) http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=8397

VENKATACHALLIAH, M.N. (J)

PETITIONER:
G. RAMEGOWDA, MAJOR, ETC.

Vs.

RESPONDENT:
SPECIAL LAND ACQUISITION OFFICER, BANGALORE.

DATE OF JUDGMENT10/03/1988

BENCH:
VENKATACHALLIAH, M.N. (J)
BENCH:
VENKATACHALLIAH, M.N. (J)
NATRAJAN, S. (J)

CITATION:
1988 AIR 897 1988 SCR (3) 198
1988 SCC (2) 142 JT 1988 (1) 524
1988 SCALE (1)479
ACT:
Limitation Act, 1963: Section 5-Appeals filed by
Government- Condonation of delay- ‘Sufficient cause’ –
Expression to receive liberal construction so as to advance
substantial justice-Lapse on part of Government Pleader- How
far a ‘sufficient cause’.
Constitution of India, 1950: Article 136 -Appeal to
Supreme Court against order of High Court condoning delay in
filing appeal-High Court meanwhile disposing the main appeal
on merit-Does not bar Supreme Court of consideration of
correctness of High Court order condoning delay.

 

HEADNOTE:
%
The lands of the appellants were acquired for the
purpose of the ‘University of Agricultural Sciences’ at
Bangalore.
The Civil Judge in Land Acquisition References under
Section 18 of the Land Acquisition Act passed a common award
in the three Land Acquisition References on 17.7.1970.
Application for certified copies was made on 31.8.1971.
Copies were obtained on 5.1.1972 and appeals were lodged in
the High Court on 19.1.1972 in one appeal and on 10.4.1972
in the two other appeals. There was substantial delay in
preferring the three appeals.
The Government in support of its prayer for condonation
of delay narrated the chronological sequence of events and
the protracted correspondence between the Government-Pleader
and the Government, and the difficulties faced by the
administration in even ascertaining the correct state of
affairs owing to the negative and evasive attitude of the
Government Pleaders.
In its appeals the State contended that both the Land
Acquisition officer and the Civil Judge had steeply enhanced
the compensation for the lands of the appellants. The lands
that had been purchased by the claimant in the year 1962 for
a sum of Rs. 7,000 per acre, were acquired pursuant to the
notification dated 2.3.1963, that the Award of the Land
199
Acquisition Officer granting Rs.58,000 per acre was unduly
generous for the acquisition was just about a year after the
purchase. and that the further enhancement by the Civil
Court to Rs. 1,45,200 per acre. clearly suffered from the
vice of extreme excessiveness.
The High Court noticed that the Government Pleader who
was in office till 15.12.1970 had applied for certified
copies on 20.7.1970, but the application was allowed to be
dismissed for default and that in one case he appeared to
have taken away the certified copy even after he had ceased
to be a Government Pleader. After consideration of the
matter the Division Bench of the High Court condoned the
delay in the filing in the appeals.
In the appeals to this Court by the appellants-
claimants it was contended that the High Court fell into a
manifest error in condoning the inordinate and wholly
unjustified delay and that the explanation offered before
and accepted by the High Court cannot. in law. be held to
constitute ‘sufficient cause’ for purposes and within the
meaning of. Section 5 of the Limitation Act. 963. The State
contested the appeals. by contending that the High Court had
heard and disposed of the appeals before it on the merits.
substantially reducing the compensation and that the
appellants had already preferred Special leave Petitions
against the final order as such, and that the appeals
against the mere condonation of delay do not survive at all
and must be held to have become infructuous. It was further
contended that the Government Pleader whom the Government
had necessarily to and did trust had let down that trust,
and there was therefore sufficient ground for the
condonation of the delay so as to promote public interest
and do substantial justice.
Declining to interfere with the High Court’s order and
dismissing the Appeals,
^
HELD: 1. The fact that the main appeals are themselves,
in the meanwhile, disposed of finally on the merits by the
High Court would not by itself detract from and bar the
consideration of the correctness of the order condoning the
delays. This is an instance of what are called “dependent
orders”. If the order excusing the delay is itself set aside
in these appeals, the further exercise, made in the
meanwhile, by the High Court finally disposing of the
appeals, would be rendered nugatory. [203H; 204A-B]
2. There is no general principle saving the party from
all mistakes of its counsel. [205F]
200
3. Each case will have to be considered-on the
particularities of its own special facts. [205G]
4. If there is negligence, deliberate or gross inaction
or lack of bona fides on the part of the party or its
counsel there is no reason why the opposite side should be
exposed to a time-barred appeal. [205F-G]
5. The expression ‘sufficient cause’ in Section 5 of
the Limitation Act, 1963 must receive a liberal construction
so as to advance substantial justice and generally delays in
preferring appeals are required to be condoned in the
interest of justice where no gross negligence or deli berate
inaction or lack of bona fides is imputable to the party
seeking condonation of the delay. [205G-H]
6(i) The law of limitation is, no doubt, the same for
private citizen as for Governmental-authorities. Government,
like any other. litigant must take responsibility for the
acts or omissions of its officers. But a somewhat different
complexion is imparted to the matter where Government makes
out a case where public interest was shown to have suffered
owing to acts of fraud or bad faith on the part of its
officers or agents and where the officers were clearly at
cross purposes with it. [206D-E]
(ii) If appeals brought by Government are lost for such
default, no person is individually affected; but what, in
the ultimate analysis, suffers is public interest. [206C]
7(i). In assessing what, in a particular case,
constitutes ‘sufficient cause’. for purpose of Section 5 it
might, perhaps be somewhat unrealistic to exclude from the
considerations that go into the judicial verdict, factors
which are peculiar to and characteristic of the functioning
of the Government. Implicit in the very nature of
Governmental functioning is procedural delay incidental to
the decision making process. [206E-H]
(ii) Due recognition of these limitations on Government
functioning-within a reasonable limit-is necessary. It would
be unfair and unrealistic to put Government and private
parties on the same footing in all respects in such matters.
[206G]
8. In the opinion of the High Court, the conduct of the
law officers of the Government placed the Government in a
predicament and that it was one of those cases where the
malafides of the officers should
201
not be imputed to Government. It relied upon and trusted its
law officers. It took quite some time for the Government to
realise that the law officers failed that trust. [206H;
207A,C]
9. The criticism that the delay on the part of the
Government even after 20.1.1971 for over one year cannot be
said to be either bonafide or compelled by reasons beyond
its control is not without substance. Government could and
ought to have moved with greater diligence and dispatch
consistent with the urgency of the situation. The conduct of
the Government was perilously close to such inaction as
might, perhaps have justified rejection of its prayer for
condonation. But in the interest of keeping the stream of
justice pure and clean the awards under appeal should not be
permitted to assume finality without an examination of their
merits. [207D-F]
Shakuntala Devi Jain v. Kuntal Kumari,[1969] 1 SCR 106;
Concord of India Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Nirmala Devi & Ors.,
[1979] 3 SCR 694; Lala Mata Din v. A. Narayanan, [1970] 2
SCR 90; Collector, Land Acquisition v. Katiji, [1987] 2 SCC
107; National Bank of Wales Ltd., [1899] 2 L.R.629 at 673
and Special Land Acquisition Officer v. B.M. Krishnamurthy,
[1985] 1 SCC 469, referred to.

 

JUDGMENT:
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION Civil Appeal Nos. 856 and
857 of 1974 Etc.
From the Judgment and order dated 13/14.6.1973 of the
Mysore High Court in Misc. First Appeal Nos 290 and 293 of
1973
R.B. Datar and Ravi P Wadhwani for the Appellants.
M. Veerappa for the Respondent.
The Judgment of the Court was delivered by
VENKATACHALIAH, J. These three appeals, by the
claimant-respondents in certain Land Acquisition Appeals
before the High Court, are preferred, by Special Leave,
against the common order dated 14.6 1973 of the High Court
of Mysore (Karnataka) condoning, under Section 5 of the
Limitation Act, 1963, certain delays on the part of the Land
Acquisition officer in preferring the three corresponding
appeals in M.F.A. No. 290 of 1973, M.F.A. 293 of 1973 and
M.F.A. No. 289 of 1973 respectively
202
The appeals before the High Court were directed against
the common-award made by the Civil Judge, Bangalore
District, in certain Land Acquisition References under
Section 18 of the Land Acquisition Act steeply enhancing the
compensation for the lands of the appellants acquired for
the purpose of the University of Agricultural Sciences’ at
Bangalore. The circumstances leading upto and necessitating
the prayer for the condonation of the delays before the High
Court seem somewhat unfortunate, casting, as they do, as
persions on the probity and rectitude of the conduct and
good faith of the Government Counsel entrusted with the
conduct of land acquisition cases.
2. The common award, in the three land acquisition
references was passed by the learned Civil Judge on
17.7.1970. Application for certified copies was made on
31.8.1971; copies obtained on 5.1.1972 and M.F.A. No. 289 of
1973 was lodged before the High Court on 19.1.1972 and the
other two appeals viz., M.F.A. 290 of 1973 and 293 of 1973
on 10.4.1972. There were, thus, substantial delays in
preferring the appeals.
The Land Acquisition officer, appellant before the High
Court, filed applications to have these delays excused. The
Division-Bench of the High Court was persuaded to make an
order condoning the delay.
The grievance of the State in the appeals was that the
lands which had been purchased in the year 1962 for a sum of
Rs.7,000 per acre, were acquired pursuant to the preliminary
notification dated 2.3.1963 and the award of the Land
Acquisition officer granting Rs.58,000 per acre was itself
unduly generous having regard to the fact that the
acquisition was just about an year after the purchase by the
claimants and that the further enhancement by the Civil
Court to Rs.1,45,200 per acre clearly suffered from the vice
of extreme excessiveness
3. Sri. R.B. Datar, learned counsel appearing in
support of these appeals assailed the order of the High
Court on the ground that the High Court fell into a manifest
error in condoning these inordinate and wholly unjustified
delays and that explanation offered before, and accepted by,
the High Court sarnat, in law, be held to constitute
‘sufficient cause’ for purposes and within the meaning of,
Section 5. Learned Counsel strenuously urged that the rights
vesting in the successful parties to a litigation by the
expiry of the period of limitation should not lightly be
interferred with unless it was established that the
203
appeal could not have been lodged in time despite the
exercise of reasonable diligence on the part of the
appellant. Learned counsel further contended that the fact
that the Government Pleaders had not discharged their duty
to the Government, even if true, would be wholly beside the
point as that would be a matter of internal administration.
If Government was not able to set its own house in order,
says learned counsel, the opposite party, who had the
benefit of the adjudication should not be exposed to a time
barred appeal. There cannot, says counsel, be one standard
for an ordinary litigant and another for Government.
On the merits of the cause shown, learned counsel said,
the explanation served only to aggravate the negligence;
that the explanation might, at best, amount to sufficient-
cause for the delay upto 20.1.1971 when the Civil Judge
wrote to the Government and the latter, admittedly, was put
on notice of the award and decree passed in the cases and
that the subsequent delays of over an year thereafter in
preferring the appeals cannot, even on the most liberal
construction of ‘sufficient cause’, be said to be justified.
4. Shri Veerappa, learned counsel for the State, on the
other hand, while seeking to support the order under appeal
submitted that the circumstances of the case disclosed that
the Government was put in a predicament by its own law-
officers and that where, as here, public interest had come
to suffer owing to the bad-faith and divided loyalties on
the part of the officers and advisers of Government, the
technicalities of procedure should yield to considerations
which would promote public interest and substantial justice.
Shri Veerappa submitted that in the present case the
Government-Pleaders whom Government had necessarily to and
did trust had let down that trust and this was a case of
‘salt having lost its savour’.
Shri Veerappa submitted that, during the pendency of
the present appeals, the High Court had heard and disposed
of the appeals before it on the merits substantially
reducing the compensation; that appellants have already
preferred SLP Nos. 2319, 2320, 2493 of 1974 against that
Judgment and that the present appeals, preferred as they are
against the mere condonation of delay, do not survive at all
and must he held to have become infructuous.
5. We might, perhaps, deal with the latter submission
of Shri Veerappa first. The fact that the main appeals are
themselves, in the meanwhile, disposed of finally on the
merits by the High Court would
204
not by itself detract from and bar the consideration of the
correctness of the order condoning the delays. This is an
instance of what are called ‘dependant-orders’ and if the
order excusing the delays is itself set aside in these
appeals, the further exercise, made in the mean while, by
the High Court finally disposing of the appeals, would be
rendered nugatory. The submission of Shri Veerappa is,
therefore, insubstantial.
6. In support of its prayer before the High Court for
condonation of the delays, Government narrated the
chronological sequence of events and the some-what
protracted correspondence between Government-Pleader and the
Government and the difficulties faced by the administration
in even ascertaining the correct state of affairs owing to
the negative and evasive attitude of the Government-
Pleaders. These events and correspondence are referred to
and evaluated in paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 of the High Court’s
order. After a consideration of the matter, the High Court
was pursuaded to the view that in the circumstances of this
case, it could not be said that the Government was
negligent. High Court observed:
“Taking into account all the circumstances of the
case, we hold that there was not such negligence
or inaction on the part of the L.A.O., as to
induce as not to exercise our discretion under
Section 5 of the Limitation Act to condone the
delay in presenting the appeal.”
Adverting to the conduct of the Government-Pleader the
High Court observed:
“But how could the L.A.O. anticipate that the
Government Pleader or the Assistant Government
Pleader would fail to do such elementary duties
like applying for such certified copies, obtaining
them and forwarding them to the Government with
his opinion? To say the least, the conduct of the
Government Pleader and / or, the Assistant
Government Pleader appears to us to be
extraordinary.”
(emphasis supplied)
Indeed in the counter-affidavits filed on behalf of the
State Government in these appeals, the Land Acquisition
officer avers:
“I beg to submit that due to the unusual conduct
of the District Government Pleaders who were in
office during a
205
particular period Government had to face the
problem of delay in filing of appeals in hundreds
of cases. The Government was not able to know the
real state of affairs till the concerned
Government Pleaders relinquished their office. In
fact, for some time, there was utter confusion and
it became practically impossible to find out as to
which are the Land Acquisition cases which has
been disposed of and in which appeals were not
filed though appeals ought to have been filed ..
It is humbly submitted that the case of the
Government for condonation of delay was that on
account of the fraud played by the concerned
Government Pleaders delay in filing the appeals
has occurred and more than a crore of rupees would
be a loss to the Government on account of the said
fraud played by the Government Pleaders. In fact,
in innumerable cases the Hon’ble High Court has
condoned the delay in filing of the appeals,
taking into consideration the most unusual conduct
of Government Pleaders which had landed the
Government in difficulties. I beg to further
submit that almost all the appeals which had been
entertained by the Hon’ble High Court after
condoning the delay, have been allowed on
consideration of their merits …….. ”
(emphasis supplied)
7. The contours of the area of discretion of the Courts
in the matter of condonation of delays in filing appeals are
set out in a number of pronouncements of this Court. See:
Ramlal, Motilal and Chhotelal v. Rewa Coalfield Ltd., [1962]
2 SCR 762; Shakuntala Devi Jain v.Kuntal Kumari, [1969] 1
SCR 1006; Concord of India Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Nirmala
Devi and ors., [1979] 3 SCR 694; Lala Mata Din v. A.
Narayanan, [1970] 2 SCR 90 and Collector, Land Acquisition
v. Katiji, [1987] 2 SCC 107 etc. There is, it is true, no
general principle saving the party from all mistakes of its
counsel. If there is negligence, deliberate or gross
inaction or lack of bona fides on the part of the party or
its counsel there is no reason why the opposite side should
be exposed to a time-barred appeal. Each case will have to
be considered on the particularities of its own special
facts. However, the expression ‘sufficient cause’ in Section
5 must receive a liberal construction so as to advance
substantial justice and generally delays in preferring
appeals are required to be condoned in the interest of
justice where no gross negligence or deliberate inaction or
lack of bona fides is imputable to the party seeking
condonation of the delay. In Katiji’s case, (supra), this
Court said:
206
“When substantial justice and technical
considerations are A pitted against each other,
cause of substantial justice deserves to be
preferred for the other side cannot claim to have
vested right in injustice being done because of a
non deliberate delay.”
“It must be grasped that judiciary is respected
not on account of its power to legalise injustice
on technical grounds but because it is capable of
removing injustice and is expected to do so.”
8. In litigations to which Government is a party there
is yet another aspect which, perhaps, cannot be ignored. If
appeals brought by Government are lost for such defaults, no
person is individually affected; but what, in the ultimate
analysis, suffers is public interest. The decisions of
Government are collective and institutional decisions and do
not share the characteristics of decisions of private
individuals.
The law of limitation is, no doubt, the same for a
private citizen as for Governmental-authorities. Government,
like any other litigant must take responsibility for the
acts or omissions of its officers. But a somewhat different
complexion is imparted to the matter where Government makes
out a case where public interest was shown to have suffered
owing to acts of fraud or bad faith on the part of its
officers or agents and where the officers were clearly at
cross-purposes with it.
Therefore, in assessing what, in a particular case,
constitutes ‘sufficient cause’ for purposes of Section 5 it
might, perhaps, be some what unrealistic to exclude from the
considerations that go into the judicial verdict, these
factors which are peculiar to and characteristic of the
functioning of the Government. Governmental decisions are
proverbially slow encumbered, as they are, by a considerable
degree of procedural red-tape in the process of their
making. A certain amount of latitude is, therefore, not
impermissible. It is rightly said that those who bear
responsibility of Government must have ‘a little play at the
joints’. Due recognition of these limitations on
Governmental functioning-of course, within a reasonable
limits-is necessary if the judicial approach is not rendered
unrealistic. It would, perhaps, be unfair and unrealistic to
put Government and private parties on the same footing in
all respects in such matters. Implicit in the very nature of
Governmental functioning is procedural delay incidental to
the decision making process. In the opinion of the High
Court, the conduct of the law-officers of the Government
placed the
207
Government in a predicament and that it was one of these
cases where the mala fides of the officers should not be
imputed to Government. It relied upon and trusted its law-
officers. Lindley, M.R., in the Re: National Bank of Wales
Ltd., 1899 J 2 L.R. 629 at 673 observed, though in a
different context:
“Business cannot be carried on, upon principles of
distrust. Men in responsible positions must be
trusted by those above them, as well as by those
below them, until there is reason to distrust
them.”
In the opinion of the High Court, it took quite sometime for
the Government to realise that the law-officers failed that
trust.
While a private person can take instant decision a
“bureaucratic or democratic organ” it is said by a learned
Judge “hesitates and debates, consults and considers, speaks
through paper, moves horizontally and vertically till at
last it gravitates towards a conclusion, unmindful of time
and impersonally.” Now at the end, should we interfere with
the discretion exercised by the High Court? Shri Datar
criticised that the delay on the part of Government even
after 20.1.1971 for over an year cannot be said to be either
bonafide or compelled by reasons beyond its control. This
criticism is not without substance. Government could and
ought to have moved with greater diligence and dispatch
consistent with the urgency of the situation. The conduct of
Government was perilously close to such inaction as might,
perhaps, have justified rejection of its prayer for
condonation. But as is implicit in the reasoning of the High
Court, the unarticulated thought, perhaps was that in the
interest of keeping the stream of justice pure and clean the
awards under appeal should not be permitted to assume
finality without an examination of their merits. The High
Court noticed that the Government pleader who was in office
till 15.12.1970 had applied for certified copies on
20.7.1970, but the application was allowed to be dismissed
for default. In one case, however, he appears to have taken
away the certified copy even after he ceased to be a
Government Pleader. In a similar context where delay had
been condoned by the High Court, this Court declined to
interfere and observed:
“Having regard to the entirety of the
circumstances, the High Court thought that the
State should not be penalised for the lapses of
some of its officers and that in the particular
circumstances there were sufficient grounds
justifying
208
the condonation of delay in filing the appeals. It
was a matter for the discretion of the High Court.
We are unable to say that the discretion was
improperly exercised .. ”
(See C.A. No. 992/1971, 1127/1974 and SLP (C)
3450/1974 dated 22.1.1985)
We think in the circumstances of this case, we should also
decline to interfere. Appeals are dismissed, but without an
order as to costs.
N.V.K. Appeals dismissed.
209

 

 

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