Lack of funds to pay court fee not valid ground for condonation of delay when Section 149 CPC can be availed: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday observed that insufficiency of funds to pay court fees is not a valid ground to seek condonation of delay in filing an appeal when Section 149 of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) provides an option to file such ‘defective’ appeals within time. [Ajay Dabra v. Pyare Ram and Others].

A division bench of Justices PS Narasimha and Sudhanshu Dhulia explained that Section 4 of the Court Fees Act, 1870 (which lays down that prescribed court fees must be paid before filing appeals in the High Court), has to be read along with Section 149, CPC.

Section 149, CPC confers the court discretionary powers to make up a deficiency in the payment of court fees payable for a case and which were not paid, wholly or in part, at an earlier stage of the case.

Section 149, CPC acts as an exception to the general rule under Section 4 of the Court Fees Act that an appeal cannot be filed before the High Court without paying the requisite court fee, the Supreme Court pointed out.

Relying on the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling in Mannan Lal v. Mst. Chhotaka Bibi (1970), the bench further explained:

“The above section [Section 149 CPC] … mitigates the rigour of Section 4 of the Court Fees Act and it is for the court in its discretion to allow a person who has filed a memorandum of appeal with deficient court fee to make good the deficiency and the making good of such deficiency cures the defect in the memorandum not from the time when it is made but from the time when it was first presented in court.”

The Court made these observations while dismissing an appeal challenging a Himachal Pradesh High Court order, whereby the High Court had rejected the appellant’s plea to condone a delay of 254 days.

“The only reason assigned by the appellant for the delay of 254 days in filing the First Appeal was that he was not having sufficient funds to pay the court fee!”, the Supreme Court noted.

However, the bench proceeded to point out that the appellant could have filed the appeal on time under Section 149, CPC.

“Even it is presumed for the sake of argument that the appellant was short of funds, at the relevant point of time and was not able to pay court fee, nothing barred him from filing the appeal as there is provision under the law for filing a defective appeal (referring to Section 149 CPC), i.e., an appeal which is deficient as far as court fee is concerned, provided the court fee is paid within the time given by the Court”, the Court said.

The Court further found that, in this case, the appellant appeared to have sufficient funds to pay the court fees as the appellant was an affluent businessman and a hotelier.

“We do not have a case at hand where the appellant is not capable of purchasing the court fee. He did pay the court fee ultimately, though belatedly”, the Court observed.

As such, the Supreme Court concluded that the High Court was correct in rejecting the application for condoning delay.

“Under the facts and circumstances of the case, the reasons assigned for the delay in filing the appeal cannot be a valid reason for condonation of the delay, since the appellant could have filed the appeal deficient in court fee under the provisions of law, referred above”, the Court said.

The bench commented that while it is true that courts should not be pedantic in their approach while considering whether delay should be condoned, “the fact remains that there must be a reasonable explanation for the delay.”

Since there was no such explanation found in the present case, the appeal was dismissed and the High Court’s decision upheld.

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