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SC rejects govt’s bid to revive 43-yr-old civil suit in Maha

By, New Delhi
Apr 04, 2024 06:20 AM IST

The judgment, authored by justice Pardiwala, highlighted that the litigation over the recovery of the possession of the suit property and arrears of rent started in 1981

The Union government cannot be given special treatment when there is egregious delay in prosecuting cases, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday, drawing the curtain on a 43-year-old civil suit and rejecting the Centre’s plea to reopen proceedings against an order for the evacuation of a property within the Pune cantonment limits.

The top court lamented that the tenor of the ministry suggests that it wants to fix its own period of limitation for instituting the proceedings for which law has prescribed a period of limitation (HT)

“It hardly matters whether a litigant is a private party or a state or Union of India when it comes to condoning the gross delay of more than 12 years. If the litigant chooses to approach the court long after the lapse of the time prescribed under the relevant provisions of the law, then he cannot turn around and say that no prejudice would be caused to either side by the delay being condoned,” held a bench of justices Aniruddha Bose and JB Pardiwala.

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The judgment, authored by justice Pardiwala, highlighted that the litigation over the recovery of the possession of the suit property and arrears of rent started in 1981. “We are in 2024. Almost 43 years have elapsed. However, till date, the respondent (property owner) has not been able to reap the fruits of his decree. It would be a mockery of justice if we condone the delay of 12 years and 158 days and once again ask the respondent to undergo the rigmarole of the legal proceedings,” said the bench.

The top court also took umbrage at the defence ministry’s rigid stance over handing over the possession of the suit property to its owner as a precondition to remit the matter back to the high court for deciding the case on merits. Attorney general (AG) R Venkataramani, representing the Centre, expressed his inability to persuade the ministry to give back the possession of the property to its owner even as he argued that the super structure alone belongs to him while the land in the cantonment area belongs to the government.

However, Sudhanshu Chaudhari, senior counsel appearing for the property owner who leased the bungalow to the ministry in 1951, asserted that there was no error in the 2019 high court judgment. He added the judgment categorically recorded “there is no explanation worth the name as to why the department did not follow up the matter” while refusing to condone “the unpardonable delay” of 12 years and 158 days in moving the high court for the restoration of the appeal against the orders of the subordinate courts in favour of the property owner. Chaudhari further underlined that the suit was decreed in favour of his client in 1987 but the possession is still to be given.

The top court lamented that the tenor of the ministry suggests that it wants to fix its own period of limitation for instituting the proceedings for which law has prescribed a period of limitation. “Once it is held that a party has lost his right to have the matter considered on merits because of his own inaction for a long, it cannot be presumed to be non-deliberate delay and in such circumstances of the case, he cannot be heard to plead that the substantial justice deserves to be preferred as against the technical considerations,” said the bench.

According to the court, the rules of limitation are not just a matter of technicalities but are based on the principles of sound public policy and principles of equity. “We should not keep the ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over the head of the respondent for an indefinite period of time, to be determined at the whims and fancies of the appellants...Rendering substantial justice is not to cause prejudice to the opposite party,” it held.

The bench then went on to dismiss the ministry’s plea for condonation of delay and letting it revive the appeal against the order of delivering the possession of the suit property to its owner, noting, “The appellants have failed to prove that they were reasonably diligent in prosecuting the matter and this vital test for condoning the delay is not satisfied in this case.”

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