The court made the observation while imposing Rs 25,000 as costs to condone a delay of 1,069 days on the part of the State’s Education Department in filing an appeal (State of Tamil Nadu and ors. v. M Ruby). The Bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and B Pugalendhi observed,
Delay in filing Government appeals has become a habit: Madras High Court notes while condoning 1,069 days’ delay
Madras High Court recently deprecated the trend of officials filing appeals belatedly, even though the government has to bear the brunt of costs imposed for delay or expenses incurred for implementing an order adverse to them.
The court made the observation while imposing Rs 25,000 as costs to condone a delay of 1,069 days on the part of the State’s Education Department in filing an appeal (State of Tamil Nadu and ors. v. M Ruby).
The Bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and B Pugalendhi observed,
The Bench added that in some cases, the court’s order is not even brought to the notice of the concerned authority until contempt petitions are filed for their implementation. As noted in its order,
“Only at the eleventh hour, if the order is brought to the notice of the concerned authorities, who are required to comply with the same, at the stage of contempt, they would eventually comply with the order, fearing order in the contempt petition, even though the order requires a re-consideration in the appeal. It is learnt that a few unscrupulous corrupt elements, in the Department itself, by deliberate design with the connivance of the litigants, get the orders implemented, which are required to be assailed in the appeal, without filing the appeal in time and bringing to the notice of the higher officials only when orders in contempt petitions are to be passed.“
The Bench proceeded to emphasise that government officials should be sensitised about the importance of filing appeals on time and in following up cases before the Court, in addition to the importance of compliance of the court orders.
Reference was also made to a recent Supreme Court order, where the Madhya Pradesh Government was pulled up for a delay of 663 days.
The High Court further pointed out that it is no longer the case that officials have to wait for a manual copy of the order. As noted in the order,
“We are moving towards Digitalization. Getting an order copy manually is a day-old day practice and the orders are being uploaded in the official website of this Court, then and there. Within a few days, orders are being uploaded and the higher officials could very well verify in the website, as to whether any orders have been passed against them, so that they can take note of it and act accordingly. All daily orders and judgments, except the cases relating to matrimonial matters (Family Court), Juvenile Justice Act, Official Secrets Act, Intelligence Agencies, Domestic violence, Sexual offences against Women and Children, etc., are uploaded in the High Court’s website. All the Departments can very well monitor the cases, through the High Court’s website about the progress of the case.”
In this regard, the Bench also highlighted that the Madras High Court itself had passed an order directing the expeditious upload of judgments and orders of the Court on the website of the High Court. Since then, a circular was also issued directing all concerned Department Heads to scrupulously follow the directions of the court in its letter and spirit.
The High Court, in this backdrop, directed that adverse action should be taken against officials who are negligent in following up on the Court’s orders. The Bench said,
“Whenever orders are passed, it should be brought to the notice of the concerned authority, immediately, who is supposed to implement the order. Any staff, who is negligent in bringing the orders to the notice of the authority, who is supposed to implement the order, should be dealt with accordingly. Then only discipline can be inculcated in the minds of the staff. Otherwise, there will not be any discipline and the Courts will be flooded with ‘n’-number of condone delay petitions and contempt petitions. To achieve such discipline and to maintain the same, this Court is of the view imposing costs as against the officers is necessary.”
The State School Education Department has now been directed to issue a circular informing that officials found negligent in such matters would have to bear the burden if any financial loss ensues on account of delay. The order reads:
“The Secretary to the Government, School Education Department, Secretariat, Chennai / the first petitioner herein is directed to issue a Circular to the officials / staff that if there is any delay caused and any cost is imposed or any financial loss is caused to the Government due to non-filing of petition(s) / appeal(s) / revision(s) / review petition(s), in time, the concerned officials shall be responsible for the cost or financial loss caused to the Government due to their negligence, apart from the appropriate departmental proceedings.”
In the present case, the State was directed to recover Rs 15,000 and Rs 10,000 from the salaries of the District Educational Officers and the Chief Educational Officers respectively to pay up the costs for condoning the 1,069 days’ delay in filing the appeal.
The court was informed that departmental action had been initiated against the two officers as they were responsible for the delay. The costs so pooled was directed to be paid to the Aishwaryam Trust, Madurai. The Bench also clarified,
” … the cost awarded by this Court is apart from the departmental proceedings already initiated by the second petitioner as against the erring officials.”
The case involved the appointment of a teacher to a Government school. A single Judge had ruled in favour of the teacher in 2016. The State has challenged the appointment, pointing out that the appointment was made without exhausting appointments from surplus teachers, towards whose salaries the State is paying a sum of Rs 31.7 crore each month.
The fact that there are concerns of substantial losses to the government exchequer involved prompted the court to condone the delay in filing the appeal, although it noted that it was not convinced by the reasons given for the delay.