Supreme Court Rejects Union of India's Bid to Excuse 12-Year Delay

Supreme Court denies Union of India's plea to excuse 12-year delay in restoration suit, citing risk of injustice.

The Supreme Court, in a recent decision on April 3, refused to excuse a significant delay of over 12 years in the Union of India's restoration suit. Justices Aniruddha Bose and JB Pardiwala expressed strong displeasure with the Union's approach, stating that condoning the delay would undermine the integrity of the justice system. They remarked, "It appears that the appellants want to set their own period of limitation, which goes against the prescribed legal framework. Once a party loses its right due to inaction, the delay cannot be assumed to be unintentional."

Despite the Union's plea for condonation, the High Court's decision to reject the delay was upheld. Justice JB Pardiwala emphasized that condonation of delay should only be considered if the reasons provided by the litigant are substantial and balanced against opposition. He noted, "Delay should not prejudice either party, and the merits of the case cannot outweigh procedural fairness."

Reflecting on the prolonged litigation process spanning over 43 years since 1981, the Court expressed concern over the plight of the respondent, who had not yet enjoyed the benefits of the decree. Refusing to condone the delay of 12 years and 158 days, the Court remarked, "It would be unjust to subject the respondent to further legal proceedings after such a prolonged delay."

The Court clarified that regardless of whether the litigant is a private party or the Union of India, condoning a gross delay of over 12 years sets a dangerous precedent. They emphasized the importance of adhering to legal timeframes grounded in principles of equity and fairness. "The rules of limitation are not mere technicalities but are based on sound public policy. We cannot allow the Sword of Damocles to hang over the respondent indefinitely," the Court observed.

The case originated from a property dispute dating back to 1981, highlighting the critical need for timely pursuit of justice. The property in question was leased to the Union by a private individual, leading to a civil suit for recovery of possession due to breaches in terms and conditions. Despite unsuccessful appeals to the First Appellate Court and a dismissed writ petition in 2006, the Union filed an application for restoration in 2019, which was also dismissed by the High Court due to gross delay.

In its final decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court's ruling, stating, "The High Court was well within its supervisory jurisdiction under Article 227 of the Constitution. Delay cannot be excused as a matter of generosity, and the Union failed to demonstrate reasonable diligence in prosecuting the matter."