The Supreme Court in N.Balakrishnan v. M.Krishnamurthy [1998(7) SCC 123], observed that the superior Court would be free to consider the cause shown for the delay afresh and to come to its own finding.
“9. It is axiomatic that condonation of delay is a matter of discretion of the court. Section 5 of the Limitation Act does not say that such discretion can be exercised only if the delay is within a certain limit. Length of delay is no matter, acceptability of the explanation is the only criterion. Sometimes delay of the shortest range may be uncontainable due to want of acceptable explanation whereas in certain other cases delay of very long range can be condoned as the explanation thereof is satisfactory. Once the court accepts the explanation as sufficient it is the result of positive exercise of discretion and normally the superior court should not disturb such finding, much less in regional jurisdiction, unless the exercise of discretion was on wholly untenable grounds or arbitrary or perverse. But it is a different matter when the first court refuses to condone the delay. In such cases, the superior court would be free to consider the cause shown for the delay afresh and it is open to such superior court to come to its own finding even untrammeled by the conclusion of the lower court.”
The Supreme Court in M.K.Prasad v. P.Arumugam [2001(6) SCC 176], while considering the question regarding delay in applying for setting aside the exparte decree, observed that the Court ought to keep in mind the judgment impugned in the matter, the extent of property involved and the stake of the parties, while deciding an application to set aside the exparte decree.
The Supreme Court in Ram Nath Sao v. Gobardhan Sao [2002(3) SCC 195], explained the expression “sufficient cause” within the meaning of Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963. The Supreme Court very clearly observed that explanation for the delay should not be rejected when stakes are high and/or arguable points of facts and law are involved in the case. The Supreme Court said:
“12. Thus it becomes plain that the expression “sufficient cause” within the meaning of Section 5 of the Act or Order 22 Rule 9 of the code or any other similar provision should receive a liberal construction so as to advance substantial justice when no negligence or inaction or want of bona fide is imputable to a party. In a particular case whether explanation furnished would constitute “sufficient cause” or not will be dependant upon facts of each case. There cannot be a straitjacket formula for accepting or rejecting explanation furnished for the delay caused in taking steps. But one thing is clear that the courts should not proceed with the tendency of finding fault with the cause shown and reject the petition by a slipshod order in over jubilation of disposal drive. Acceptance of explanation furnished should be the rule and refusal an exception more so when no negligence or inaction or want of bone fide can be imputed to the defaulting party. On the other hand, while considering the matter the courts should not lose sight of the fact that by not taking steps within the time prescribed a valuable right has accrued to the other party which should not be lightly defeated by condoning delay in a routine like manner. However, by taking a pedantic and hyper technical view of the matter the explanation furnished should not be rejected when stakes are high and/or arguable points of facts and law are involved in the case, causing enormous loss and irreparable injury to the party against whom the list terminates either by default or inaction and defeating valuable right of such a party to have the decision on merit. While considering the matter, courts have to strike a balance between resultant effect of the order it is going to pass upon the parties either way.”
In GMG Eng. Industries vs. ISSA Green Power Solution [2015(6) Scale 551], the Supreme Court observed that the term “sufficient cause” must receive liberal construction.
“8. It is well settled that the expression ‘sufficient cause’ is to receive liberal construction so as to advance substantial justice. When there is no negligence, inaction or want of bonafide is imputable to the Appellants, the delay has to be condoned. The discretion is to be exercised like any other judicial discretion with vigilance and circumspection. The discretion is not to be exercised in any arbitrary, vague or fanciful manner. The true test is to see whether the applicant has acted with due diligence.”
In Executive Officer, Antiyur Town Panchayat vs. G.Arumugam, [2015(3) SCC 569], the Hon’ble Supreme Court considered a similar case involving delay.
In G.Arumugam’s case, the suit land was classified as Natham Poromboke and possession and records of title are in the name of appellant Town Panchayat. The Trial Court dismissed the suit filed by the respondent for declaration of title and possession. The first Appellate Court allowed the appeal and suit was decreed. The Executive Officer, Antiyur Town Panchayat, Erode District, Tamil Nadu, who took charge when the execution petition was filed, initiated action to file second appeal. He filed an application to condone the delay of 1373 days in filing the second appeal. The High Court dismissed the application and refused to condone the delay. While allowing the appeal filed by the Panchayat, the Supreme Court narrated the facts and observed thus:
“2. It appears, no steps were taken by the Executive Officer of the Panchayat at the relevant time. When the Executive Officer, at the time of filing the second appeal, came to know of the proceedings when steps for eviction were taken in execution, he immediately took steps and filed an application on 26.10.2004 for certified copy of the judgment and decree. The same were issued on 15.12.2004, and after obtaining the necessary sanction and on completing the other procedural formalities, the second appeal was filed on 05.01.2005 along with application for condonation of delay. By the impugned order, the High Court declined to condone the delay. According to the High Court, the delay is not properly explained. It is also observed in the impugned order that though the certified copies were issued on 15.12.2004, the second appeal is filed only on 05.01.2005 and that there is no explanation even for that delay.
3. In the additional affidavit filed on behalf of the Appellant on 12.12.2006, it is brought to the notice of this Court that Shri K.G. Ramasamy, who was working as Executive Officer of the Panchayat at the relevant time was suspended from service w.e.f. 12.07.2002 on allegations of corruption. Be that as it may, after going through the records and after hearing the counsel on both sides, we are satisfied that the delay occasioned only on account of the deliberate lapses on the part of the Executive Officer of the Panchayat at the relevant time. Who else are involved in the process, is not quite clear.
4. As held by this Court in State of Nagaland v. Lipok Ao and Ors. MANU/SC/0250/2005 : (2005) 3 SCC 752, the court must always take a justice- oriented approach while considering an application for condonation of delay. If the court is convinced that there had been an attempt on the part of the government officials or public servants to defeat justice by causing delay, the court, in view of the larger public interest, should take a lenient view in such situations, condone the delay, howsoever huge may be the delay, and have the matter decided on merits.
9. “Sufficient Cause” is an expression which has been used in large number of Statutes. The meaning of the word “sufficient” is “adequate” or “enough”, in as much as may be necessary to answer the purpose intended. Therefore, word “sufficient” embraces no more than that which provides a platitude which when the act done suffices to accomplish the purpose intended in the facts and circumstances existing in a case and duly examined from the view point of a reasonable standard of a cautious man. In this context, “sufficient cause” means that party had not acted in a negligent manner or there was a want of bona fide on its part in view of the facts and circumstances of a case or the party cannot be alleged to have been “not acting diligently” or “remaining inactive”. However, the facts and circumstances of each case must afford sufficient ground to enable the Court concerned to exercise discretion for the reason that whenever the court exercises discretion, it has to be exercised judiciously. (Vide: Ramlal and Ors. v. Rewa Coalfields Ltd., AIR 1962 SC 361; Sarpanch, Lonand Grampanchayat v. Ramgiri Gosavi and Anr., AIR 1968 SC 222; Surinder Singh Sibia v. Vijay Kumar Sood, AIR 1992 SC 1540; and Oriental Aroma Chemical Industries Limited v. Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation and Anr., (2010) 5 SCC 459
10. In Arjun Singh v. Mohindra Kumar and Ors., AIR 1964 SC 993, this Court observed that every good cause is a sufficient cause and must offer an explanation for non-appearance. The only difference between a “good cause” and “sufficient cause” is that the requirement of a good cause is complied with on a lesser degree of proof than that of a “sufficient cause”. (See also: Brij Indar Singh v. Lala Kanshi Ram and Ors. AIR 1917 P.C. 156; Manindra Land and Building Corporation Ltd. v. Bhutnath Banerjee and Ors., AIR 1964 SC 1336; and Mata Din v. A. Narayanan, AIR 1970 SC 1953.
11. While deciding whether there is a sufficient cause or not, the court must bear in mind the object of doing substantial justice to all the parties concerned and that the technicalities of the law should not prevent the court from doing substantial justice and doing away the illegality perpetuated on the basis of the judgment impugned before it. (Vide: State of Bihar and Ors. v. Kameshwar Prasad Singh and Anr., AIR 2000 SC 2306; Madanlal v. Shyamlal, AIR 2002 SC 100; Davinder Pal Sehgal and Anr. v. Partap Steel Rolling Mills (P) Ltd. and Ors., AIR 2002 SC 451; Ram Nath Sao alias Ram Nath Sao and Ors. v. Gobardhan Sao and Ors. AIR 2002 SC 1201; Kaushalya Devi v. Prem Chand and Anr. (2005) 10 SCC 127; Srei International Finance Ltd., v. Fair growth Financial Services Ltd. and Anr. (2005) 13 SCC 95; and Reena Sadh v. Anjana Enterprises, AIR 2008 SC 2054).[(2011) 2 SCALE 302 : (2011) 3 SCC 545 : AIR 2011 SC 1150 : (2011) 2 SCR 648]