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K.B. Lal Vs. Gyanendra Pratap and Ors. (Neutral Citation: 2024 INSC 281) - (Supreme Court) (08 Apr 2024)

Discretionary power of a court to condone delay must be exercised judiciously and it is not to be exercised in cases where there is gross negligence by litigant



The Appellant before present Court has challenged the order passed by the High Court, by which the petition filed by the Appellant under Article 227 of the Constitution of India, 1950 was dismissed. Question raised before present Court is whether an application filed by the Appellant under Order IX, Rule 7 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (CPC) can be allowed, after a delay of almost 14 years.

Although the term 'sufficient cause' has not been defined in the Limitation Act, it is now well-settled through a catena of decisions that, the term has to be construed liberally and in order to meet the ends of justice. The reason for giving the term a wide and comprehensive meaning is quite simple. It is to ensure that deserving and meritorious cases are not dismissed solely on the ground of delay.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the discretionary power of a court to condone delay must be exercised judiciously and it is not to be exercised in cases where there is gross negligence and/or want of due diligence on part of the litigant. The discretion is also not supposed to be exercised in the absence of any reasonable, satisfactory or appropriate explanation for the delay. Thus, it is apparent that the words 'sufficient cause' in Section 5 of the Limitation Act can only be given a liberal construction, when no negligence, nor inaction, nor want of bona fide is imputable to the litigant

There was no satisfactory or reasonable ground given by the Appellant explaining the delay. We say this for two reasons. It is an admitted position by the Appellant himself that upon an inspection of the case file in the year 2011, he came to know about the order dated 06.09.2006, by which the Trial Court had decided to proceed ex-parte against him. What prevented the Appellant from filing the application under Order IX, Rule 7 that year itself has not been satisfactorily explained at all, as the first application was only filed in the year 2017. The explanation offered by the Appellant, which is that the advocate appointed by him did not pursue the matter diligently, and then another advocate was appointed by him who inadvertently forgot to file the application does not find support from the records. The Appellant has been grossly negligent in pursuing the matter before the trial court. Thus, the trial court, the revisional court as well as the High Court, were correct in dismissing the belated claim of the Appellant. Appeal dismissed.


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