TIMES OF INDIA
NEW DELHI: For long, government and its departments have been getting away lightly in the judiciary as courts have been lenient in viewing the delay in filing of appeals by them. But, the Supreme Court on Friday put an end to it and decided to treat government with the same yardstick used for other litigants when it comes to filing of appeals after the statutory deadline. Dismissing an appeal filed by the chief of the Post Master General against Living Media India Ltd; after 427 days of the statutory period of limitation, a bench of Justices P Sathasivam and J Chelameswar said the apex court was no more willing to buy the stock response of government departments – delay was due to red-tape and pendency of file on a bureaucrat’s desk for long.
“The law of limitation undoubtedly binds everybody including the government,” the bench said refusing to accept the contention that delays in filing of appeals by government departments are due to impersonal machinery and inherited bureaucratic methodology of making multiple notes. “Why the delay is to be condoned mechanically merely because government or wing of the government is a party before us?” the bench asked.
“It is the right time to inform all the government bodies, their agencies and instrumentalities that unless they have reasonable and acceptable explanation for the delay and there was bona-fide effort, there is no need to accept the usual explanation that the file was kept pending for several months/years due to considerable degree of procedural red-tape,” said Justice Sathasivam, who wrote the judgment.
This could hit governments hard as they are the biggest litigant before the judiciary accounting for about 40% of total cases pending in various courts either as petitioner or respondent. The sheer volume of work and lack of enough equipped manpower often leave the decision of whether to file an appeal in a limbo till higher-ups take a view of it. Besides, the decision to reduce government litigation has not trickled down.
Justice Sathasivam said: “The government departments are under a special obligation to ensure that they perform their duties with due diligence and commitment. Condoning of delay is an exception and should not be used as an anticipated benefit for government departments.”
He said the law must weigh every litigant on the same scale and “should not be swirled for the benefit of few”. On the case at hand, the court slammed the postal department, saying “From day one the department or the persons concerned have not evinced diligence in prosecuting the matter to this court by taking appropriate steps”.
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