Delhi Development Authority vs Tejpal 2024 INSC 456 – Condonation Of Delay – Limitation – Subsequent Change Of Law

Limitation Act, 1963; Section 5-If subsequent change of law is allowed as a valid ground for condonation of delay, it would open a Pandora’s Box where all the cases that were subsequently overruled, or the cases that had relied on the judgements that were subsequently overruled, would approach this Court and would seek a relief based on the new interpretation of law. There would be no finality to the proceedings and every time this Court would reach a different conclusion from its previous case, all such cases and the cases relying on it would be reopened. A lis will have to be decided as per the new interpretation if during its pendency, the law has been construed in a different manner by a subsequent judgement -subsequent change of law will not be attracted unless a case is pending before the competent court awaiting its final adjudicatio- If a case has already been decided, it cannot be re-opened and re-decided solely on the basis of a new interpretation given to that law (Para 22-32)- Mere good cause is not sufficient enough to turn back the clock and allow resuscitation of a claim otherwise barred by delay. The court ought to be cautious while undertaking such an exercise, being circumspect against condoning delay which is attributable to the applicant. Although the actual period of delay might be instructive, it is the explanation for the delay which would be the decisive factor – . The court must also desist from throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A justice-oriented approach must be prioritized over technicalities, as one motivation underlying such rules is to prevent parties from using dilatory tactics or abusing the judicial process. Pragmatism over pedanticism is therefore sometimes necessary – despite it appearing liberal or magnanimous. The expression ‘sufficient cause’ should be given liberal construction so as to advance substantial justice- In addition to “sufficient cause”, Section 5 also requires that such cause must be shown within the prescribed period. To satisfy the latter condition, the applicant must show sufficient cause for not filing the appeal/application on the last day of the prescribed period and explain the delay made thereafter. Causes arising after the culmination of the limitation period, despite being sufficient in substance, would not suffice for condonation given this second prong of Section 5 of the Limitation Act. However, the applicant shall not be required to prove each day’s delay till the date of filing such appeal/application. (Para 12-14) – If delay were to be condoned merely on the basis of a broad general assertion of bureaucratic indifference, without requiring demonstration of bona fide or an act of mala fide on the part of specific individuals, it would create an artificial distinction between the private parties and the government entities vis-à-vis the law of limitation. This would not be in conformity with the spirit of equality before law as guaranteed under our Constitution. Allowing such latitude would further distort incentives for the government and encourage more laxity by the bureaucracy in its general functioning, thereby undermining quality governance. (Para 39)

Res Judicata- even an erroneous decision operates as res judicata between the parties. (Para 29)

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