Object of passing orders of interim relief pending the final disposal of the main case

The High Court can grant relief of the stay of hearing of the main proceedings on being satisfied that a prima facie case is made out and that the failure to stay the proceedings before the concerned Court in all probability may render the remedy adopted infructuous. Though interim orders of stay of proceedings cannot be routinely passed as a matter of course, it cannot be said that such orders can be passed only in exceptional cases.

Nevertheless, the High Courts, while passing orders of stay in serious cases like offences against women and children, must be more cautious and circumspect.

An occasion for passing an order of stay of proceeding arises as it is not possible for the High Court to take up the case for final hearing immediately. While entertaining a challenge to an order passed in a pending case, if the pending case is not stayed, the trial or the appellate Court may decide the pending case, rendering the remedy before the High Court ineffective. Such a situation often leads to the passing of an order of remand.

In our legal system, which is facing a docket explosion, an order of remand should be made only as a last resort. The orders of remand not only result in more delays but also increase the cost of litigation. Therefore, to avoid the possibility of passing an order of remand, the grant of stay of proceedings is called for in many cases.

High Court’s power to vacate or modify interim relief

When a High Court grants a stay of the proceedings while issuing notice without giving an opportunity of being heard to the contesting parties, it is not an interim order, but it is an ad-interim order of stay.

It can be converted into an interim order of stay only after an opportunity of being heard is granted on the prayer for interim relief to all the parties to the proceedings. Ad-interim orders, by their very nature, should be of a limited duration. Therefore, such orders do not pose any problem.

The High Courts are always empowered to vacate or modify an order of interim relief passed after hearing the parties on the following, amongst other grounds: –

(a)If a litigant, after getting an order of stay, deliberately prolongs the proceedings either by seeking adjournments on unwarranted grounds or by remaining absent when the main case in which interim relief is granted is called out for hearing before the High Court with the object of taking undue advantage of the order of stay;

(b)The High Court finds that the order of interim relief is granted as a result of either suppression or misrepresentation of material facts by the party in whose favour the interim order of stay has been made; and

(c) The High Court finds that there is a material change in circumstances requiring interference with the interim order passed earlier.

In a given case, a long passage of time may bring about a material change in circumstances. These grounds are not exhaustive. There can be other valid grounds for vacating an order of stay.

Whether an Interim Order can come to an end automatically only due to the lapse of time

Interim order of stay can come to an end: –

(a) By disposal of the main case by the High Court, in which the interim order has been passed. The disposal can be either on merits or for default or other reasons such as the abatement of the case; or

(b) by a judicial order vacating interim relief, passed after hearing the contesting parties on the available grounds.

Elementary principles of natural justice, which are well recognised in our jurisprudence, mandate that an order of vacating interim relief or modification of the interim relief is passed only after hearing all the affected parties. An order of vacating interim relief passed without hearing the beneficiary of the order is against the basic tenets of justice. Application of mind is an essential part of any decision-making process.

Therefore, without application of mind, an order of interim stay cannot be vacated only on the ground of lapse of time when the litigant is not responsible for the delay. An interim order lawfully passed by a Court after hearing all contesting parties is not rendered illegal only due to the long passage of time.

If a High Court concludes after hearing all the concerned parties that a case was made out for the grant of stay of proceedings of a civil or criminal case, the order of stay cannot stand automatically set aside on expiry of the period of six months only on the ground that the High Court could not hear the main case. If such an approach is adopted, it will be completely contrary to the concept of fairness.

If an interim order is automatically vacated without any fault on the part of the litigant only because the High Court cannot hear the main case, the maxim “actus curiae neminem gravabit” will apply. No litigant should be allowed to suffer due to the fault of the Court. If that happens, it is the bounden duty of the Court to rectify its mistake.

All interim orders of stay passed by all High Courts cannot be set at naught by a stroke of pen only on the ground of lapse of time.

Therefore, even if the legislature were to come out with such a provision for automatic vacation of stay, the same may not stand judicial scrutiny as it may suffer from manifest arbitrariness.

The legislature attempted to provide for an automatic vacation of stay granted by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal by introducing the third proviso to Section 254 (2A) of the IT Act. It provided that if an appeal in which the stay was granted was not heard within a period of 365 days, it would amount to the automatic vacation of stay.

In the case of Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax & Anr. v. Pepsi Foods Limited(2021), Supreme Court held that a provision automatically vacating a stay was manifestly arbitrary and, therefore, violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. Paragraphs 20 and 22 of the said decision read thus:

“20. Judged by both these parameters, there can be no doubt that the third proviso to Section 254(2-A) of the Income Tax Act, introduced by the Finance Act, 2008, would be both arbitrary and discriminatory and, therefore, liable to be struck down as offending Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

First and foremost, as has correctly been held in the impugned judgment, unequals are treated equally in that no differentiation is made by the third proviso between the assessees who are responsible for delaying the proceedings and assessees who are not so responsible. This is a little peculiar in that the legislature itself has made the aforesaid differentiation in the second proviso to Section 254(2-A) of the Income Tax Act, making it clear that a stay order may be extended up to a period of 365 days upon satisfaction that the delay in disposing of the appeal is not attributable to the assessee.

22. Since the object of the third proviso to Section 254(2-A) of the Income Tax Act is the automatic vacation of a stay that has been granted on the completion of 365 days, whether or not the assessee is responsible for the delay caused in hearing the appeal, such object being itself discriminatory, in the sense pointed out above, is liable to be struck down as violating Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

Also, the said proviso would result in the automatic vacation of a stay upon the expiry of 365 days even if the Appellate Tribunal could not take up the appeal in time for no fault of the assessee.

Further, the vacation of stay in favour of the Revenue would ensue even if the Revenue is itself responsible for the delay in hearing the appeal. In this sense, the said proviso is also manifestly arbitrary being a provision which is capricious, irrational and disproportionate so far as the assessee is concerned.”

Therefore, even if the legislature were to come out with such a provision for automatic vacation of stay, the same may not stand judicial scrutiny as it may suffer from manifest arbitrariness.


As decided by Supreme Court in High Court Bar Association, Allahabad v. State of UP (2024)