NEW DELHI: Exasperated by the chronicity of long delays plaguing the filing of appeals by governments and its agencies, the
asked - are the governments and their machineries so inefficient and incapable to move the highest court of land within the three month limitation period?
The SC cannot be a place for the governments to walk in as and when they choose, said a bench of Justices
Sanjay Kishan Kaul
and Dinesh Maheshwari last week while penalising Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai,
and Haryana for their long delayed appeals.
What could spur the officials of the litigation departments to be more diligent in future, the bench ordered the governments to recover the cost imposed by it in each of the three cases to be recovered from the officials responsible for the delay in filing of appeals. It warned the Municipal Commissioner and the Chief Secretaries that they would be liable for contempt of court proceedings if the fine amounts were not recovered from delinquent officials.
The Mumbai civic body had filed the appeal with a delay of 663 days. The bench said, "...it appears that all our counseling to Government and Government authorities have fallen on deaf ears, that is the Supreme Court of India cannot be a place for the Governments to walk in when they choose ignoring the period of limitation prescribed."
"We have raised the issue that if the Government machinery is so inefficient and incapable of filing appeals/petitions in time, the solution may lie in requesting the Legislature to expand the time period for filing limitations (90 days) for Government authorities because of their gross incompetence. That is not so. Till the Statute subsists, the appeals/petitions have to be filed as per the Statues prescribed," said Justice Kaul-led bench.
While imposing a cost of Rs 10,000 on the Mumbai civic body, the bench said, "This Court is not here to protect the administrative inefficiencies and incompetence in being able avail of legal remedies by the State Governments. The petitioners must be made to pay for the judicial time they have consumed...The cost (must) be recovered from the officer who took such a decision to come to this Court without taking any action against the officers and that too belatedly or responsible for the delay. We make it clear that non-compliance of the aforesaid order will be under the pain of contempt for the Commissioner/petitioner."
In case of the 438 day-delayed appeal filed by Haryana, the bench was severe. It agreed to entertain the appeal, given the prima facie merit found in it, but made it subject to payment of Rs 1 lakh cost.
Quoting its 2012 judgment in Chief Post Master General case, the bench said, "It is not in dispute that the person(s) concerned were well aware or conversant with the issues involved including the prescribed period of limitation for taking up the matter by way of filing a special leave petition in this Court. They cannot claim that they have a separate period of limitation when the Department was possessed with competent persons familiar with court proceedings."
"The claim on account of impersonal machinery and inherited bureaucratic methodology of making several notes cannot be accepted in view of the modern technologies being used and available. The law of limitation undoubtedly binds everybody including the Government," the SC had said in 2012. Referring to the past judgment, Justice Kaul-led bench said, "Eight years hence the judgment is still unheeded!"
In the Madhya Pradesh case, the counsel blurted the common excuse - when the bureaucratic process works, it is inadvertent that delay occurs. The state aggravated it by arguing that when there is merit in the case for filing of appeal, the period of delay should be condoned.
Clarifying that in appropriate cases the court may condone delay, the bench said in most of the delayed appeals, "the object appears to be to obtain a certificate of dismissal from the SC to put a quietus to the issue and thus, say that nothing could be done because the highest court has dismissed the appeal. It is to complete this formality and save the skin of officers who may be at default that such a process is followed."
"We have on earlier occasions also strongly deprecated such a practice and process. There seems to be no improvement. The purpose of coming to this Court is not to obtain such certificates and if the Government suffers losses, it is time when the concerned officer responsible for the same bears the consequences," it said.
"The irony is that in none of the cases any action is taken against the officers, who sit on the files and do nothing. It is presumed that this Court will condone the delay and even in making submissions, straight away counsels appear to address on merits without referring even to the aspect of limitation as happened in this case till we pointed out to the counsel that he must first address us on the question of limitation," the bench said.
Refusing to accept the casual approach of the governments in filing of appeals and imposing a cost of Rs 25,000 on MP, Justices Kaul and Maheshwari said, "We are thus constrained to send a signal and we propose to do it in all matters today, where there are such inordinate delays that the Government or State authorities coming before us must pay for wastage of judicial time which has its own value. Such costs can be recovered from the officers responsible." It told the state chief secretary to recover the cost amount from officers responsible or be ready to face contempt proceedings.