Supreme Court also has taken the view, that, there is no inviolable rule, that, whenever there is delay the court must refuse to entertain a petition. The Court has stated that the writ court in exercise of its extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution may condone the delay in filing the petition, if the delay is satisfactorily explained.
Reference may be made at this stage to the decisions of Supreme Court in the case of Moon Mills Ltd. vs. M.R. Mehar, President, Industrial Court, AIR 1967 SC 1450 and Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation vs. Balwant Regular Motor Service, (1969) 1 SCR 808, wherein the court has approved the view expressed by the Privy Council in the case of Lindsay Petroleum Co. vs. Prosper Armstrong Hurd Abram Farewall and John Kemp (1874) 5 PC 221. The court had observed:-
“Now the doctrine of laches in Courts of Equity is not an arbitrary or a technical doctrine. Where it would be practically unjust to give a remedy, either because the party has, by his conduct, done that which might fairly be regarded as equivalent to a waiver of it, or where by his conduct and neglect he has, though perhaps not waiving that remedy, yet put the other party in a situation in which it would not be reasonable to place him if the remedy were afterwards to be asserted, in either of these cases, lapse of time and delay are most material.
But in every case, if an argument against relief, which otherwise would be just, is founded upon mere delay, that delay of course not amounting to a bar by any statute of limitations, the validity of that defence must be tried upon principles substantially equitable.
Two circumstances, always important in such cases, are, the length of the delay and the nature of the acts done during the interval, which might affect either party and cause a balance of justice or injustice in taking the one course or the other, so far as relates to the remedy.”
In State of Madhya Pradesh Vs. Nandlal Jaiswal (1986) 4 SCC 566, it was held as under:-
“There can be doubt that the petitioners were guilty of gross delay in filing the writ petitions with the result that by the time the writ petitions came to be filed. If there is inordinate delay on the part of the petitioner in filing a writ petition and such delay is not satisfactorily explained, the High Court may decline to intervene and grant relief in the exercise of its writ jurisdiction.
The evolution of this rule of laches or delay is premised upon a number of factors. Of Course, this rule of laches or delay is not a rigid rule which can be cast in a strait jacket formula, for there may be cases where despite delay and creation of third party rights the High Court may still in the exercise of its discretion interfere and grant relief to the petitioner.
But, such cases where the demand of justice is so compelling that the High Court would be inclined to interfere in spite of delay or creation of third party rights would by their very nature be few and far between. Ultimately it would be a matter within the discretion of the court; ex hypothesis every discretion must be exercised fairly and justly so as to promote justice and not to defeat it.”
In Shri Vallabh GlassWorks Ltd. Vs. Union of India (1984) 3 SCC 362, it was observed:
“While there are different periods of limitation prescribed for the institution of different kinds of suits by the Limitation Act, 1963, there is no such period prescribed by law in respect of petitions filed under Article 226 of the Constitution. Whether relief should be granted to a petitioner under Article 226 of the Constitution where the cause of action had arisen in the remote past is a matter of sound judicial discretion governed by the doctrine of laches.
Where a petitioner who could have availed of the alternative remedy by way of suit approaches the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution, it is appropriate ordinarily to construe any unexplained delay in the filing of the writ petition after the expiry of the period of limitation prescribed for filing a suit as unreasonable. This rule, however, cannot be a rigid formula.
There may be cases where even a delay of a shorter period may be considered to be sufficient to refuse relief in a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution. There may also be cases where there may be circumstances which may persuade the court to grant relief even though the petition may have been filed beyond the period of limitation prescribed for a suit.
Each case has to be judged on its own facts and circumstances touching the conduct of the parties, the change in situation, the prejudice which is likely to be caused to the opposite party or to the general public etc.”
In ‘Basanti Prasad v. Chairman Bihar School (2009)’, the court said,
“…..it has been emphasized time and again, that, where there is inordinate and unexplained delay and third party rights are created in the intervening period, the High Court would decline to interfere. However, if the delay is properly explained, and if the third party rights is not going to be effected, the High Court may entertain the petition and consider the case of the aggrieved person on merits.
….The services of the appellant’s husband was terminated only on the ground, that he was convicted by a Judicial Magistrate for certain offences under the provisions of Indian Penal Code. It is not a case where the delinquent employee was dismissed from service on the ground that he was charge sheeted by the police for certain offences under Indian Penal Code after holding a departmental enquiry.
In the later circumstances, the delinquent employee could not have been heard to say that he did not question the order within a reasonable time, since the order of conviction passed by the Judicial Magistrate has nothing to do with the order passed by disciplinary authority.
As we have already noticed, the dismissal was in view of the order of conviction passed by the Magistrate, till that order is set aside by a superior forum, the appellant’s husband or the appellant could not have questioned the same till he was acquitted by the Sessions Court.
In view of these peculiar circumstances, in our view, the High Court was not justified in rejecting the prayer of the appellant primarily on the ground of delay and laches on the part of the appellant in questioning the order of termination passed on 4.8.1992 in a petition filed in the year 2005.
In the present case, we are of the opinion that there is no such negligence or laches or acquiescence on the part of the appellant as may disentitle her for grant of a writ. Having said so, the matter requires to be remanded back to the High Court for taking a decision on the merits of the case.
But taking into consideration the pendency of the litigation between the parties from last one decade and taking also into consideration the plight of the poor widow who is fighting the litigation before various forums with limited resources, we desist from remanding the matter and we intend to decide the matter on merits here itself in order to give quietus to this litigation.”