The Supreme Court upheld the High Court's decision to condone a delay of approximately 479 days in filing an appeal related to land acquisition by the Union of India. The Court emphasized that the power to condone delay is discretionary, contingent upon the sufficiency and acceptability of the explanation provided. In this case, certain affected landowners have challenged an order passed by the High Court, which allowed the Union of India's application to condone a delay of around 479 days in filing an appeal related to land acquisition. The case involved the enhancement of compensation by the Reference Court, which was challenged by the Union of India in an appeal. Due to a series of bureaucratic delays and inefficiencies, the appeal was filed late, leading to the application for condonation of delay.

A two judge Bench of Justice Bela M. Trivedi and Justice Dipankar Datta held, “we feel that the High Court’s decision to condone the delay on account of the first respondent’s inability to present the appeal within time, for the reasons assigned therein, does not suffer from any error warranting interference. As the aforementioned judgments have shown, such an exercise of discretion does, at times, call for a liberal and justice-oriented approach by the Courts, where certain leeway could be provided to the State. The hidden forces that are at work in preventing an appeal by the State being presented within the prescribed period of limitation so as not to allow a higher court to pronounce upon the legality and validity of an order of a lower court and thereby secure unholy gains, can hardly be ignored.

Senior Advocate Chinmoy Pradip Sharma appeared for the Appellants and Senior Advocate Sanjeev Sen appeared for the Respondents.

The Supreme Court had to examine the High Court's decision to condone the delay in filing an appeal by the State (first respondent). The main issue revolved around whether the delay could be condoned given the circumstances.

The Supreme Court emphasized that condonation of delay is a discretionary power available to the courts, dependent on the sufficiency of the cause shown. The Court said, “we reiterate that condonation of delay being a discretionary power available to courts, exercise of discretion must necessarily depend upon the sufficiency of the cause shown and the degree of acceptability of the explanation, the length of delay being immaterial. Sometimes, due to want of sufficient cause being shown or an acceptable explanation being proffered, delay of the shortest range may not be condoned whereas, in certain other cases, delay of long periods can be condoned if the explanation is satisfactory and acceptable.”

The Court also clarified the distinction between an 'explanation' and an 'excuse', emphasizing that mere excuses wouldn't suffice; a satisfactory and acceptable explanation was required. The Court added, “there is no formula that caters to all situations and, therefore, each case for condonation of delay based on existence or absence of sufficient cause has to be decided on its own facts. At this stage, we cannot but lament that it is only excuses, and not explanations, that are more often accepted for condonation of long delays to safeguard public interest from those hidden forces whose sole agenda is to ensure that a meritorious claim does not reach the higher courts for adjudication.”

The Supreme Court emphasized the distinction between hearing an application for condonation of delay and sitting in appeal over a discretionary order of the High Court granting such condonation. The Court added, “In the case of the former, whether to condone or not would be the only question whereas in the latter, whether there has been proper exercise of discretion in favour of grant of the prayer for condonation would be the question. Law is fairly well-settled that “a court of appeal should not ordinarily interfere with the discretion exercised by the courts below”.”

The Court examined the reasons given by the High Court for condoning the delay and found them acceptable. It stated that the High Court's decision did not suffer from any error and dismissed the appeal. The Court added, “we do not consider discretion to have been exercised by the High Court in an arbitrary manner. The order under challenge had to be a clearly wrong order so as to be liable for interference, which it is not.”

The Supreme Court upheld the High Court's decision to condone the delay in filing the appeal by the State, citing the reasons provided and the specific circumstances of the case. The appeal was dismissed, and parties were ordered to bear their own costs.

Cause Title: Sheo Raj Singh & Ors. v. Union Of India & Anr., [2023INSC885]

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