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Administrative Delays Unacceptable; Concerned Govt. Officials Must Be Prosecuted For Dereliction Of Duty: Madras High Court

Akshita Saxena
9 Feb 2021 1:04 PM GMT
Administrative Delays Unacceptable; Concerned Govt. Officials Must Be Prosecuted For Dereliction Of Duty: Madras High Court
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The Madras High Court recently pulled up the Central Government for filing a civil appeal with a delay of 264 days. "There is a general trend that the public authorities are having lack of sincerity and committing dereliction on duty. These negligence and dereliction of duty are serious misconducts and therefore, the higher authorities are bound to ensure that the officials are...

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The Madras High Court recently pulled up the Central Government for filing a civil appeal with a delay of 264 days.

"There is a general trend that the public authorities are having lack of sincerity and committing dereliction on duty. These negligence and dereliction of duty are serious misconducts and therefore, the higher authorities are bound to ensure that the officials are performing their duties and responsibilities with utmost care and with devotion to duty," a Single Bench of Justice SM Subramaniam observed.

The case pertains to a Civil Miscellaneous Appeal filed by the Southern Railway Department of the Indian Railways, with an application for condonation of delay of 264 days. It was submitted that the delay occurred in view of getting the opinion for filing of appeal.

"Such a administrative delay is unacceptable," Justice Subramaniam remarked at the outset.

He noted that the Southern Railway has a dedicated establishment to look after its legal affairs. Thus, it observed that if the officials working in the legal section are not vigilant, they must be held responsible and made accountable for the lapses, dereliction of duty.

The Bench said,

"Administration of Southern Railway is bound to ensure that the establishment functions properly and in the event of any lapses, negligence and dereliction of duty in pursuing the legal cases, the officials, who are responsible, must be prosecuted under the Discipline and Appeal Rules and the financial loss is to be recovered from those officials by conducting an enquiry."

The Bench made it clear that every litigant is expected to prefer an appeal within the period of limitation stipulated in the statute.

It noted that in recent years, public authorities have frequently shown negligence and are committing dereliction of duty in respect of dealing with appeals and other cases. It added that any such lapse or dereliction of duty should be enquired into properly and all appropriate actions must to initiated to ensure initiations of appropriate disciplinary proceedings.

The Bench was further of the opinion that long administrative delays cannot be condoned in a mechanical manner— and whereas small amount of delay can be condoned by taking a lenient view, however, long delay cannot be condoned in the absence of any valid and acceptable reasons.

"Mechanical way of condoning delay is undoubtedly impermissible. The condonation of delay can never be a mechanical affair and the High Court cannot condone the delay in a routine manner.

Courts are bound to ensure that the reasons for condoning such delays are recorded, so as to set out a precedent and to avoid mechanical way of condonation of delay. When the law provides limitation for preferring an appeal and the proviso clause as contemplates the power of discretion to the Court to condone the delay, then such discretionary powers are to be exercised judiciously and by recording reasons.

It is not as if, the High Courts can condone the delay in a routine manner, so as to dilute the law of limitation as contemplated under the Statutes. Thus, in all cases, where there is an enormous delay in filing an appeal, the Courts are bound to ascertain the reasons and its genuinity and the acceptability of such reasons.

…The very purpose and object of providing discretionary powers to the Courts are to ensure that the justice is done in an appropriate manner. Because of some genuine delay, the rights of the litigants cannot be neutralized and they should not be deprived of remedy from the Court of law. Therefore, the power of discretion, which is provided with genuine intention, cannot be diluted nor be neutralized by condoning the delay in a casual manner," the order stated.

Coming to the merits of the case, the Court was of the opinion that the reasons stated in the affidavit are unacceptable and mere administrative reason or delay in getting an opinion, would not be a valid point for the purpose of condoning the long delay of 264 days in filing the appeal.

Related news

Recently, the Supreme Court slapped cost of Rs. 25,000 Costs on the Gujarat Government for its lethargy & incompetence in of filing SLPs timely. A Bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy refused to condone the delay of more than one year, caused on account of various steps required to be taken by the department at different level before taking a decision for filing an appeal.

Last week, the Madras High Court came down heavily on the Government Officials of the State of Tamil Nadu for delaying the disbursement of compensation, by 54 years, for a piece of land acquired to set up a bus depot. "It is almost 54 years now since the land was acquired. This can happen only in this country and with these Government officials.," Justice R. Subramanian sternly remarked.

Case Title: Union of India v. Kommu Sumathi & Ors.

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