'SC takes strong note of delay by Centre in filing appeals

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New Delhi, Feb 4 (PTI) The Supreme Court Thursday took strong note of delay in filing appeals by the Centre and said its counselling through orders to the government departments to set their house in order appears to be “falling on deaf ears” despite fines being imposed in several such cases.

Referring to the delay of 6616 days in filing an appeal from the date of original order passed by the Delhi High Court, the top court said, “The approach of the Union of India in the manner it has filed the present special leave petition exasperates us as all earlier counsel appears to have been thrown in the dustbin!”.

“We have repeatedly being counselling through our orders various Government departments, State Governments and other public authorities that they must learn to file appeals in time and set their house in order so far as the legal department is concerned, more so as technology assists them.

“This appears to be falling on deaf ears despite costs having been imposed in number of matters with the direction to recover it from the officers responsible for the delay as we are of the view that these officers must be made accountable. It has not had any salutary effect and that the present matter should have been brought up, really takes the cake!,” said the bench of Justices S K Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy.

The six-page order deprecated the practice of filing appeals belatedly by the government just to obtain a quietus from the apex court on the ground that nothing could be done because the highest court has dismissed the appeal and termed such cases as “certificate cases”.

“The objective is to complete a mere formality and save the skin of the officers who may be in default in following the due process or may have done it deliberately,” it said.

“We have deprecated such practice and process and we do so again. We refuse to grant such certificates and if the Government/public authorities suffer losses, it is time when concerned officers responsible for the same, bear the consequences. The irony, emphasized by us repeatedly, is that no action is ever taken against the officers and if the Court pushes it, some mild warning is all that happens,” it said.

The leeway which was given to the government and public authorities on account of “innate inefficiencies” was the result of certain orders of this court which came at a time when technology had not advanced and thus, greater indulgence was shown, it noted.

Terming the present appeal as “time barred”, the bench dismissed the appeal of the Centre against the 2002 order of the High Court allowing the plea for parity in the pay-scale of the employees of the Central Tibetan School Administration and imposed a cost of Rs one lakh with a direction that the amount be recovered from the officers responsible for the delay.

“Looking to the gross negligence and the impunity with which the Union of India had approached this Court in a matter like this, we consider it appropriate to impose special costs of Rs.1 lakh in this case to be recovered from the concerned officer(s), to be deposited with the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Welfare Fund within four weeks.

“A copy of this order be placed before the Law Secretary, Government of India and Secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Development to look into the matter personally not only making them accountable for compliance but also to ensure that we are not faced with such matters in future,” the bench said.

Dealing with the facts of the instant case in which it passed the order, it said a petition was filed in 2000 in the high court raising a question of parity in the pay-scale of the employees of the Central Tibetan School Administration and it was allowed by a single judge bench on May 07, 2002.

The Centre aggrieved by the said order preferred an intra-court appeal before a division bench of the high court which was dismissed for “non-prosecution” on December 15, 2008.

“The Union of India decided to wake up and preferred an application seeking restoration of the LPA in the year 2016 seeking condonation of delay of 2590 days,” it said.

Observing that the Centre was not an “illiterate litigant”, the high court had dismissed the restoration plea in which the government had taken the stand that it was not aware of the “peculiar circumstance” that its counsel has been elevated as a Judge of the High Court.

The present appeal has been preferred also after delay of 532 days and 6616 days from the original order, the top court noted.

“We have heard Additional Solicitor General for some time and must note that the only error which seems to have occurred in the impugned order is of noticing that it is not an illiterate litigant because the manner in which the Government is prosecuting its appeal reflects nothing better! The mighty Government of India is manned with a large legal department having numerous officers and Advocates. The excuse given for the delay is, to say the least, preposterous,” it said.

Referring to submissions, it said they showed the casual manner in which the Centre has approached this court without any cogent or plausible ground for condonation of delay.

“In fact, other than the lethargy and incompetence of the petitioner, there is nothing which has been put on record. We have repeatedly discouraged State Governments and public authorities from adopting an approach that they can walk in to the Supreme Court as and when they please ignoring the period of limitation prescribed by the Statutes, as if the Limitation statute does not apply to them…,” it said. PTI SJK RKS RKS