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Ruling on fixing timeframe

Staff Reporter

MADURAI: Courts cannot fix timeframe for Government officials to perform their statutory functions unless the relevant statute contains a specific provision on time limit, the Madras High Court has ruled.

Nevertheless, the officials should perform such functions in a reasonable time without sitting over it indefinitely, a Full Bench comprising Justices F.M. Ibrahim Kalifulla, N. Paul Vasanthakumar and S. Palanivelu held.

The judgement was passed in a batch of cases relating to undervaluation of properties to evade stamp duty. The Indian Stamp Act empowers a registering officer to refer any matter to the Special Deputy Collector (Stamps) if the former suspects undervaluation. But the enactment does not specify a time limit for such reference.

A single judge of the High Court in 1999 held that such reference should be made within three weeks from the date of registering the document. On appeal, a Division Bench too concurred with his view in 2002.

However, when similar writ petitions came up for hearing before Justice K. Chandru in September this year, he disagreed with the earlier judgements and ordered to place the matter before a Division Bench which in turn placed it before the Full Bench.

Speaking for the Full Bench, Mr. Justice Palanivelu said: “There is no basis for the court to make a departure from the general rule in view of the cautious attitude of the legislature in not prescribing the time limit for the legal obligation of the registering officer to refer the instrument to the Collector. As such, it is not warranted for this court to supplement or suffix any suggestion to the already existing provision.”

Nonetheless, such reference should be made within a reasonable time and “it can be very well stated that the conscience of the registering officer itself shall indicate that the time consumed by him would be an unreasonable one… No guideline, in this regard, shall be introduced by the court,” he added.

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