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Condonation of delay under the Limitation Act, 1963

The doctrine of Condonation of delay is covered under the Limitation Act, 1963. The Act lays down the time period within which a suit, appeal or application can be brought before the court of law. On the expiry of such time period, disables the aggrieved party, the remedy of filing the suit appeal or application.

This doctrine is an exception to this limitation period. It is mentioned in Section 5 of the Act which elaborates upon Extension of prescribed period in certain cases. In other words, if the aggrieved party is able to satisfy the Court that they had sufficient cause for causing a delay in filing of the suit which led to the expiry of the limitation period, the Court can, with discretionary jurisdiction disregard the delay or condone the delay and proceed with the case.

The Limitation Act, 1963
Section 2(j) defines period of limitation as the time prescribed by the Schedule to institute any suit, appeal or application, and prescribed period as the period of limitation determined as per the provisions of the Act.

The main objective that the Limitation Act, 1963 serves is to primarily provide a bar upon the time limit within which the aggrieved party can institute a suit, application or appeal in the court.

Sufficient Cause
The term sufficient cause has not been defined conclusively and differs from a case to case. The Court has the discretionary power in determining what establishes as sufficient cause, depending upon the facts and circumstances of each case.

In cases regarding non-appearance, adjournment or stay of execution of a decree, the cause must be just and adequate i.e. sufficient otherwise these provisions will just be a way of incessantly prolonging litigation. This principle has been advocated in furtherance of pursuance of justice but it shouldn�t deny someone of justice either.

In the case of G. Ramagowda v. Special Land Acquisition Officer, it was held that sufficient cause is to be interpreted liberally so as to pursue substantial justice.

Instances when the delay can be condoned:
  1. Subsequent changes in the law
  2. Illness of the party.
  3. Imprisonment of the party.
  4. Party is a government servant.
  5. Party being a Pardanashin Lady.
  6. Imprisonment of a party or the party is illiterate.
  7. The party belongs to a minority group who has insufficient funds.
  8. The delay is caused due to pendency of writ petition.

Condonation of Delay prima facie covers the appeals and not suits
The Condonation of delay means the extension of prescribed time in certain cases subject to sufficient cause. The concept of condoning a delay is primarily preferred to the applications and appeal and does not cover the suits. The rationale behind the doctrine not including the suit is that this doctrine is regarded as an exception to the general rule that is Bar of limitation under the legislation and hence, it does not include suit.

Supreme Court Judgments
  1. Name of the case: Oriental Aroma Chemical Industries Ltd. vs. Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation & another.
    Citation: (2010) 5 SCC 459.
    Relevant para nos.: Para 14, 15 and 16.
    14. We have considered the respective submissions. The law of limitation is founded on public policy. T legislature does not prescribe limitation with the object of destroying the rights of the parties but to ensure that they do not resort to dilatory tactics and seek remedy without delay. The idea is that every legal remedy must be kept alive for a period fixed by the legislature. To put it differently, the law of limitation prescribes a period within which legal remedy can be availed for redress of the legal injury. At the same time, the courts are bestowed with the power to condone the delay, if sufficient cause is shown for not availing the remedy within the stipulated time..

    15. The expression "sufficient cause" employed in Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963 and similar other statutes is elastic enough to enable the courts to apply the law in a meaningful manner which subserves the ends of justice. Although, no hard-and-fast rule can be laid down in dealing with the applications for condonation of delay, this Court has justifiably advocated adoption of a liberal approach in condoning the delay of short duration and a stricter approach where the delay is inordinate--Collector (L.A.) v. Katiji, N. Balakrishnan v. M. Krishnamurthy and Vedabai v. Shantaram Baburao Patil

    16. In dealing with the applications for condonation of delay filed on behalf of the State and its agencies/instrumentalities this Court has, while emphasising that same yardstick should be applied for deciding the applications for condonation of delay filed by private individuals and the State, observed that certain amount of latitude is not impermissible in the latter case because the State represents collective cause of the community and the decisions are taken by the officers/agencies at a slow pace and encumbered process of pushing the files from table to table consumes considerable time causing delay-6. Ramegowda v. Land Acquisition Officer State of Haryana v. Chandra Mani, State of U.P. v. Harish Chandra... State of Bihar v. Ratan Lal Sahu, State of Nagaland v. Lipok AO and State (NCT of Delhi) v. Ahmed Jaan.
  2. Name of the case: Maniben Devraj Shah vs. Municipal Corporation of Brihan Mumbai.
    Citation: (2012) 5 SCC 157.
    Relevant para nos.: Para 14, 15 and 24.
    14. We have considered the respective arguments/submissions and carefully scrutinised the record. The law of limitation is founded on public policy. The Limitation Act, 1963 has not been enacted with the object of destroying the rights of the parties but to ensure that they approach the court for vindication of their rights without unreasonable delay. The idea underlying the concept of limitation is that every remedy should remain alive only till the expiry of the period fixed by the legislature. At the same time, the courts are empowered to condone the delay provided that sufficient cause is shown by the applicant for not availing the remedy within the prescribed period of limitation.

    15. The expression sufficient cause used in Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963 and other statutes is elastic enough to enable the courts to apply the law in a meaningful manner which serves the ends of justice. No hard-and-fast rule has been or can be laid down for deciding the applications for condonation of delay but over the years this Court has advocated that a liberal approach should be adopted in such matters so that substantive rights of the parties are not defeated merely because of delay.

    24. What colour the expression sufficient cause would get in the factual matrix of a given case would largely depend on bona fide nature of the explanation. If the court finds that there has been no negligence on the part of the applicant and the cause shown for the delay does not lack bona fides, then it may condone the delay. If, on the other hand, the explanation given by the applicant is found to be concocted or he is thoroughly negligent in prosecuting his cause, then it would be a legitimate exercise of discretion not to condone the delay.
  3. Name of the case: Improvement Trust, Ludhiana vs. Ujagar Singh & others.
    Citation: (2010) 6 SCC 786.
    Relevant para nos.: Para 14, 16, 17 and 19.
    14. Even though the appeal dismissed by the first appellate court on the ground of delay, stood confirmed by the High Court but even the special leave petition was delayed by 258 days, in refiling there was further delay of 90 days. No doubt it is true that this Court after considering the appellant's application was pleased to condone the delay and leave was granted. But this has been argued by Mr Vijay Hansaria to show the conduct, behaviour and attitude of the appellant in prosecuting the matter.

    16. While considering the application for condonation of delay no straitjacket 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.

    17. Even though Mr Vijay Hansaria appearing for Respondent 5 has argued the matter at length and tried his best to persuade us to come to the conclusion that no sufficient grounds are made out to interfere with the concurrent findings of facts but we are afraid, we are not satisfied with the line of arguments so adopted by the counsel for Respondent 5 and cannot subscribe to the same. After all, justice can be done only when the matter is fought on merits and in accordance with law rather than to dispose of it on such technicalities and that too at the threshold.

    19. In our opinion, the ends of justice would be met by setting aside the impugned orders and the matter is remitted to the executing court to consider and dispose of the appellant's objections filed under Order 21 Rule 90 CPC on merits and in accordance with law, at an early date. It is pertinent to point out that unless mala fides 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 out on such technicalities.
  4. Name of the case: State of Nagaland vs. Lipok ao & others
    Citation: (2005) 3 SCC 752.
    Relevant para nos.: Para 17 and 18.
    17. When the factual background is considered in the light of legal principles as noted above, the inevitable conclusion is that the delay of 57 days deserved condonation. Therefore, the order of the High Court refusing to condone the delay is set aside.

    18. In normal course, we would have required the High Court to consider the application praying for grant of leave on merits. But keeping in view the long passage of time and the points involved, we deem it proper to direct grant of leave to appeal. The appeal shall be registered and disposed of on merits. It shall not be construed that we have expressed any merits on the appeal to be adjudicated by the High Court.
  5. Name of the case: Vedabai vs.Shantaram baburao Pati & others.
    Citation: (2001) 9 SCC 106.
    Relevant para nos.: Para 5.

    5. In exercising discretion under Section 5 of the Limitation Act the courts should adopt a pragmatic approach. A distinction must be made between a case where the delay is inordinate and a case where the delay is of a few days. Whereas in the former case the consideration of prejudice to the other side will be a relevant factor so the case calls for a more cautious approach but in the latter case, no such consideration may arise and such a case deserves a liberal approach. No hard-and-fast rule can be laid down in this regard. The court has to exercise the discretion on the facts of each case keeping in mind that in construing the expression sufficient cause, the principle of advancing substantial justice is of prime importance.

    In our view in this case, the approach of the learned Additional District Judge is wholly erroneous and his order is unsustainable. It is evident that the discretion under Section 5 of the Limitation Act is exercised by the Additional District Judge in contravention of the law laid down by this Court, that the expression sufficient cause should receive liberal construction, in a catena of decisions (see State of W.B. v. Administrator, Howrah Municipality [(1972) 1 SCC 366] and Sandhya Rani Sarkar v. Sudha Rani Debi [(1978) 2 SCC 116] ). The High Court in exercising its jurisdiction under Section 115 CPC failed to correct the jurisdictional error of the appellate court.
  6. Name of the case: Perumon Bhagvathy Devaswom vs. Bhargavi Amma(deceased) & others.
    Citation: (2008) 8 SCC 321.
    Relevant para nos.: Para 13.

Delhi High Court Judgment:
  1. Name of the case: Rakhee Gupta vs. Pramod Bajaj.
    Citation: 2015 SCC OnLine Del 12346.
    Relevant para nos.: Para 13 and14.

    13. It is equally well-settled that procedural laws are devised for advancing the cause of justice. It is also well-settled that the Courts must follow a liberal approach by striking a balance provided that the delay has not been caused on account of negligence, inaction, carelessness or for the reasons which are not explained.

    14. While deciding application under Section 5, Limitation Act, justice oriented approach is required to be adopted. In Collector, Land Acquisition, Anantnag v. Mst Katiji, reported at AIR 1987 SC 1353 (1354), the Supreme Court held thus:
    ���..The expression �sufficient cause� employed by the legislature is adequately elastic to enable the courts to apply the law in a meaningful manner which subserves the ends of justice that being the life-purpose for the existence of the institution of Courts. It is common knowledge that this Court has been making a justifiably liberal approach in matters instituted in this Court. But the message does not appear to have percolated down to all the other Courts in the hierarchy.

    And such a liberal approach is adopted on principle as it is realized that:
    1. Ordinarily a litigant does not stand to benefit by lodging an appeal late.
    2. Refusing to condone delay can result in a meritorious matter being thrown out at the very threshold and cause of justice being defeated. As against this when delay is condoned the highest that can happen is that a cause would be decided on merits after hearing the parties.
    3. �Every day's delay must be explained� does not mean that a pedantic approach should be made. Why not every hour's delay, every second's delay? The doctrine must be applied in a rational common sense pragmatic manner.
    4. When substantial justice and technical considerations are pitted against each other, cause of substantial justice deserves to be preferred for the other side cannot claim to have vested right in injustice being done because of a non-deliberate delay.
    5. There is no presumption that delay is occasioned deliberately, or on account of culpable negligence, or on account of mala fides. A litigant does not stand to benefit by resorting to delay. In fact he runs a serious risk...

The Law of Limitation and Condonation of Delay are two effective tools for effective litigation and quick disposal of cases. The Law of Limitation ensures that the case is filed within the prescribed period so as to avoid unnecessary delays and on the other hand, Condonation of delay is the safeguard to the law of limitation and bars certain cases in which the delay in filing the suit is justifiable, i.e. can be backed by having sufficient cause.

The main purpose for which Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963 was enacted is to enable the Court to do substantial justice and that is the precise reason why very elastic expression sufficient cause is employed therein, so as to sub-serve the ends of justice.

No hard and fast rule can be laid down in dealing with the applications for condonation of delay. Hence, Condonation of delay is a remedy where a meritorious case be heard after providing a sufficient cause to the court when the prescribed period has ended.

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