Supreme Court Stresses Timeliness in Writ Petitions Under Article 226

Supreme Court overturns High Court ruling, emphasizing timeliness in writ petitions under Article 226. Case: Mrinmoy Maity v. Chhanda Koley & Ors.

The Supreme Court, in a recent ruling, emphasized the significance of timely action when seeking relief under Article 226 of the Constitution. The court highlighted the principle that delay and inaction on the part of a petitioner could undermine their claim to extraordinary relief.

The case, titled "Mrinmoy Maity versus Chhanda Koley & Ors.", involved a dispute over the allocation of distributorship rights by the Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL). The appellant, Mrinmoy Maity, a successful LPG distributor, challenged a decision by the High Court's Division Bench that favored the respondent, Chhanda Koley, an unsuccessful bidder. The High Court had allowed Koley's petition, despite a significant delay in filing it.

The Supreme Court bench, comprising Justices P.S. Narasimha and Aravind Kumar, overturned the High Court's decision, stressing the importance of considering delay and inaction when exercising discretionary powers under Article 226.

In the judgment, authored by Justice Aravind Kumar, the court reiterated the principle that delay defeats equity. It emphasized that the High Court should refuse to invoke its extraordinary powers when there is a substantial delay in asserting one's rights, leading to the drifting away of the cause of action.

The appellant argued that the High Court's acceptance of Koley's petition without considering the delay was improper. On the other hand, Koley defended the decision, citing violations of guidelines by BPCL as a fundamental issue that warranted intervention.

The Supreme Court observed that Koley had been aware of the developments, including the appellant's distributorship allocation in 2014, but chose to challenge it only in 2017, after the appellant was offered alternate land by BPCL. The court noted that this delay amounted to acquiescence or passive acceptance of the situation, which undermined Koley's claim.

Furthermore, the court emphasized that the invocation of the writ court's jurisdiction must occur within a reasonable time. Merely submitting memorials or documents would not revive a cause of action that has naturally lapsed.

The judgment reiterated that writ courts should not entertain petitions from litigants who exhibit indolence or laziness in asserting their rights. While fundamental rights cannot be waived, the court underscored that delay and inaction must be taken into account when exercising discretionary powers under Article 226.

The Supreme Court upheld the appellant's plea, affirming the order of the Learned Single Judge and dismissing Koley's writ petition due to delay and inaction. Consequently, the appellant's appeal was allowed, and the High Court's division bench's decision was set aside.