Subsequent change in law not valid for condoning delay: Supreme Court

In a landmark judgment delivered on June 5, 2024, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Surya Kant, Dipankar Datta and Ujjal Bhuyan ruled that a subsequent change in the law cannot be a valid reason for approving delays in filing appeals . or applications. The court was hearing a batch of appeals and review petitions filed by various government agencies, including the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (DMRC). , among other things.

Background:

The case arose out of a land acquisition proceeding initiated by the GNCTD under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, for various development projects in Delhi. However, after the enactment of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (RFCTLARR Act), several land owners approached the Delhi High Court, seeking a declaration that the acquisition proceedings had been dropped for failure to -payment. of compensation or failure to take possession within the prescribed time frame under Article 24(2) of the new Act.


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The Supreme Court, relying on the Supreme Court’s earlier judgments in the cases of Pune Municipal Corporation v. Harak Chand Mistrimal Solanki and Sree Balaji Nagar Residential Association v. State of Tamil Nadu, allowed the claims of the land owners and declared the acquisition proceedings as time-barred. The government authorities appealed these orders and filed review petitions, but many were rejected due to the legal situation at the time.

However, subsequent judgments of the Supreme Court in the cases of Indore Development Authority v. Shailendra and Indore Development Authority v. Manoharlal overruled the earlier decisions and settled the interpretation of Section 24(2) of the RFCTLARR Act. The government authorities subsequently filed new appeals and review requests, citing the change in law as a reason for condoning delay.

Important legal issues:

1. Whether a subsequent change in the law can be a valid reason for tolerating delays in submitting appeals or applications.

2. Whether the Shailendra and Manoharlal judgments can be applied retroactively to reopen cases decided on the basis of the previous legal position.

Important comments:

1. The court noted that if subsequent changes in the law were allowed as a legitimate ground for condonation of delay, no proceedings would ever become final, as cases could be reopened whenever a question of law is interpreted differently.

2. Referring to its earlier judgments in Neelima Srivastava v. State of UP and Natural Resources Allocation, the court held in connection with Special Reference 1 of 2012 that the dismissal of cases involving Pune Municipal Corporation and Sree Balaji Nagar Residential Association only their precedent and did not reopen the loop between the parties in those cases.

3. Judge Surya Kant, who wrote the judgment, stated: “If it were allowed as a legitimate ground for condonation of delay, no proceedings would ever be finally concluded because cases could be reopened whenever a question of law would be interpreted. otherwise.”

4. The court emphasizes that Shailendra and Manoharlal cannot be applied retroactively because they have not expressly indicated that they apply retroactively.

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Decision:

The Supreme Court rejected the government authorities’ plea to condone the delay, based on the subsequent change in law resulting from the Shailendra and Manoharlal judgments. The court ruled that a change in the law cannot be a valid reason to condone delays in filing appeals or requests, as this would undermine the finality of the procedure and lead to endless reopening of cases.

The appellants were represented by Attorney General for India, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati and senior advocates Rachna Srivastava, Sanjay Poddar, Sanjib Sen and Kailash Vasdev.

The respondent landowners were represented by Senior Advocates Dhruv Mehta, Gopal Sankaranarayanan, Jayant Bhushan, Jayant Mehta, Vibha Datta Makhija, Vikas Singh and Advocate Bansuri Swaraj.


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