'Writ courts not to give indulgence to indolent litigant': SC sets aside HC's order on allocation of LPG distributorship

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Court said that in a given case, the high court may refuse to invoke its extraordinary powers if laxity on the part of the applicant to assert his right has allowed the cause of action to drift away and attempts are made subsequently to rekindle the lapsed cause of action

The Supreme Court has on April 18, 2024 said that an applicant who approaches the court belatedly or in other words sleeps over his rights for a considerable period of time, and wakes up from his deep slumber after long, ought not to be granted the extraordinary relief by the writ courts. 

"This court time and again has held that delay defeats equity. Delay or latches is one of the factors which should be born in mind by the High Court while exercising discretionary powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. In a given case, the High Court may refuse to invoke its extraordinary powers if laxity on the part of the applicant to assert his right has allowed the cause of action to drift away and attempts are made subsequently to rekindle the lapsed cause of action," a bench of Justices P S Narasimha and Aravind Kumar said.

The court pointed out that the discretion of entertaining a writ petition is to be exercised with care and caution.

"If the delay which has occasioned in approaching the writ court is explained which would appeal to the conscience of the court, in such circumstances it cannot be gainsaid by the contesting party that for all times to come the delay is not to be condoned. There may be myriad circumstances which gives rise to the invoking of the extraordinary jurisdiction and it all depends on facts and circumstances of each case, same cannot be described in a straight jacket formula with mathematical precision. The ultimate discretion to be exercised by the writ court depends upon the facts that it has to travel or the terrain in which the facts have travelled," the bench said.

The court also explained that for filing of a writ petition, there is no doubt that no fixed period of limitation is prescribed. 

However, when the extraordinary jurisdiction of the writ court is invoked, it has to be seen as to whether within a reasonable time the same has been invoked and even submitting of memorials would not revive the dead cause of action or resurrect the cause of action which has had a natural death, it said. 

"In such circumstances on the ground of delay and latches alone, the appeal ought to be dismissed or the applicant ought to be non-suited. If it is found that the writ petitioner is guilty of delay and latches, the High Court ought to dismiss the petition on that sole ground itself, in as much as the writ courts are not to indulge in permitting such indolent litigant to take advantage of his own wrong. It is true that there cannot be any waiver of fundamental right but while exercising discretionary jurisdiction under Article 226, the High Court will have to necessarily take into consideration the delay and latches on the part of the applicant in approaching a writ court," the bench said.

The court elucidated the legal principles while allowing an appeal by one Mrinmoy Maity against the Calcutta High Court's division bench order which entertained a writ petition by an unsuccessful bidder for LPG distributorship allocated to the petitioner in 2013 at Burdwan district.

After four years, the respondent filed a complaint alleging that the appellant had offered Barga land which could not be considered for the purpose. The appellant subsequently offered alternate land which was accepted by the BPCL for construction of godown and showroom.

Aggrieved by the decision, the respondent filed a writ petition which was dismissed by the single judge bench. Subsequently, a writ appeal was allowed on the ground that the land offered by the successful bidder was not unencumbered.

After hearing counsel for the parties, the bench said, "We are of the considered view that the writ petitioner ought to have been non-suited or in other words writ petition ought to have been dismissed on the ground of delay and latches itself". 

The bench found no reason to substitute the court’s view to that of the experts namely, the Corporation which had in its wisdom and had exercised its discretion and allowed the construction of showroom and godown on alternate land.

It also pointed out that the allotment of distributorship was made in favour of the appellant way back in 2014. The acceptance of the alternate land by the appellant in March, 2017 was challenged in the year 2017 and thereby the writ petitioner had allowed his right if at all if any to be drifted away or in other words acquiesced in the acts of the Corporation and as such on this short ground itself the appellant has to succeed, the bench said.