Improvement Trust vs. Ujagar Singh (Supreme Court)

DATE: (Date of pronouncement)
DATE: August 11, 2010 (Date of publication)

Click here to download the judgement (improvement_trust_delay_condonation.pdf)

Unless mala fides are writ large, delay should be condoned. Matters should be disposed of on merits and not technicalities

The Appellant, a local authority, acquired land belonging to one of the Respondents for a development scheme in 1988. As the Appellant did not pay the compensation amount despite notice, the property was auctioned and sale confirmed in favour of the highest bidder in 1992. The bidder deposited the sale proceeds. The Appellant then “woke up from its slumber” and filed objections before the Single Judge for setting aside the auction sale. Even in these proceedings, the Appellant did not appear and the same were dismissed for non-appearance. The sale deed was executed in favour of the highest bidder. The Appellant then filed an appeal before the District Judge which was barred by limitation by a couple of months. This appeal was dismissed on the ground that there was not sufficient ground for condonation of delay. On mistaken advice, the Appellant filed a second appeal to the High Court which was thereafter treated by the Court as a revision application. This was also dismissed. The Appellant then filed a review petition which was also dismissed. Against that the Appellant filed a SLP which was also delayed. The delay in filing the SLP was condoned and the question before the Supreme Court was whether the District Judge was justified in dismissing the first appeal on the ground of delay. HELD allowing the appeal:

(i) While considering an application for condonation of delay no strait-jacket formula is prescribed to come to the conclusion if sufficient and good grounds have been made out or not. Each case has to be weighed from its facts and the circumstances in which the party acts and behaves. From the conduct, behaviour and attitude of the appellant it cannot be said that it had been absolutely callous and negligent in prosecuting the matter;

(ii) Justice can be done only when the matter is fought on merits and in accordance with law rather than to dispose it of on such technicalities and that too at the threshold;

(iii) Unless malafides are writ large on the conduct of the party, generally as a normal rule, delay should be condoned. In the legal arena, an attempt should always be made to allow the matter to be contested on merits rather than to throw it on such technicalities. Apart from the above, the appellant would not have gained in any manner whatsoever, by not filing the appeal within the period of limitation. It is also worth noticing that delay was also not that huge, which could not have been condoned, without putting the respondents to harm or prejudice. It is the duty of the Court to see to it that justice should be done between the parties;

(iv) Also observed that as the auction purchaser had been put to “inconvenience and harassment” and had not got any fruits for the sale proceeds paid in 1992, it should be paid costs of Rs. 50,000.

Note: In All India Primary Teachers vs. DIT 93 TTJ 155 (Del), delay of 43 years in making a s. 12A application was condoned on the ground that school teachers could not be expected to know the nuances of income-tax law!