While stating that the petitioner, being a government agency, should act in a timely manner and justify the reasons for an inordinate delay, if any, the Delhi High Court refused to condone the inordinate delay of 691 days in filing the application seeking restoration of the petition.

The High Court held so after finding that the applicant/petitioner has failed to satisfy that there exists sufficient cause for delay in filing the application seeking restoration, a condition necessary for condonation of delay under Section 5 of the Limitation Act.

A Single Judge Bench of Justice Chandra Dhari Singh observed that “It is a well-known fact that the red-tape in Government agencies sometimes leads to delays in filing applications, however, at the same time, the delay of 691 days without plausible justification cannot be permissible, as it also has the potential to open the floodgates for similar applications on such grounds”.

Advocate Sujeet K. appeared for the Petitioner, whereas Advocate Anuj Aggarwal appeared for the Respondent.

The brief facts of the case were that the respondent was appointed in Delhi Development Authority, New Delhi on a temporary post of Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) for a period of three months. In 1973, the dispensaries which were run by the D.D.A. were taken over by the petitioner, and the staff working in the said dispensaries was also transferred to the petitioner department, the same day. Later, the non-applicant/respondent was appointed on regular basis and the terms and conditions laid down by the petitioner were duly accepted by the respondent and the other workers. However, due to an internal arrangement, the respondent was directed to temporarily look after the work of the Staff Nurse, OPD and thereafter of the physiotherapy department as a time gap arrangement in place of the staff delegated to the said departments. In 1995, the respondent filed a case for promotion/appointment as a ‘A’ grade staff nurse and Physiotherapist before the Labour Court. The Labour Court however held that the respondent was not entitled to get appointed as 'A' grade staff nurse or a Physiotherapist, but was entitled to salaries for the duration she worked in those capacities. Thereafter, the applicant/petitioner filed a petition challenging the order of the Labour Court, which was dismissed in default due to non-appearance of the advocates on behalf of the petitioner. Therefore, the petitioner filed the present application seeking condonation of delay of 691 days in filing the application seeking restoration of the petition.

After considering the submission, the Bench observed that Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963 provides for extension of prescribed period for filing an application under any provision except Order XXI of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 thereby giving powers to the Court to admit the application by condoning the delay after the prescribed period of limitation.

The Bench therefore noted that the phrase ‘sufficient cause’ is a necessary condition for the extension of the prescribed period under the Act, and therefore, the petitioner/applicant needs to satisfy the Court that there arose ‘sufficient cause’ for delay in not preferring the petition/application within the prescribed time.

In the instant application, the petitioner has urged the grounds of frequent changes in the panel advocates which led to the dismissal of the matter due to non-prosecution as well as considerable delay in filing the application seeking restoration. The petitioner though a State Department having numerous resources at its disposal, has still been unable to file the application of restoration in a timely manner”, added the Bench.

While expressing its displeasure for such a state of affairs in the petitioner department, the High Court found that in spite of the knowledge of the dismissal of the said petition due to non-appearance, the petitioner failed to file the application seeking restoration on time and chose to do so only after two years and as per its own convenience.

The High Court therefore concluded that the Government is under a special obligation to perform duties with diligence and commitment, and the condonation of delay is an exception which should not be used as per convenience of the Government Departments.

Cause Title: Department of Health v. Kamla Mehndiratta and Ors.

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