One of the major reasons why civil suits fail is that the plaintiff does not file it within the period of limitation. A limitation period is the period of time within which a suit, appeal or application can be filed by an aggrieved person.
While the Executive was on its cautious approach to control the spread by imposing lockdowns, the Judiciary also played its part by ensuring protection to the litigants and lawyers across the country who faced challenges in filing proceedings in Courts and Tribunals within the limitation period prescribed under the general law of limitation or Special Laws (both Central and/or State).
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India took Suo Moto cognizance of these challenges faced by the country on account of Covid-19 pandemic, and passed an Order on March 23, 2020 in Suo Moto Writ Petition (Civil) No. 3 of 2020 extending the period of limitation in proceedings in all Courts/Tribunals throughout the Country with effect from March 15, 2020, till further orders. The rationale behind granting such extension was to obviate such difficulties faced by lawyers and litigants and to ensure that they do not have to come physically to file such proceedings in respective Courts/Tribunals during the lockdowns and in the containment, zones spread across the country.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court had exercised this power under Article 142 read with Article 141 of the Constitution of India and declared that the order is a binding order within the meaning of Article 141 on all Courts/Tribunals and authorities in the country.
Later, considering the fact that the lockdown was lifted and the country was slowly returning to normalcy and all the Courts and Tribunals started functioning either physically or virtual mode, the Hon’ble Supreme Court issued directions vide its Order dated March 08, 2021 (Suo Moto Writ (Civil) No. 3 of 2020) that its earlier Order passed on March 23, 2020, effective from March 15, 2020, has fulfilled its purpose and the extension of limitation period should come to an end.
The Supreme Court in the said Order issued the following directions:
- In computing the period of limitation for any suit, application, appeal or proceeding, the period from March 15, 2020, till March 14, 2021, shall be excluded. Consequently, the balance period of limitation remaining as on March 15, 2020, if any, shall become available with effect from March 15, 2021.
- In cases where the limitation would have expired during the period between March 15, 2020, till March 14, 2021, notwithstanding the actual balance period of limitation remaining, all persons shall have a limitation period of 90 days from March 15, 2021. In the event, the actual balance period of limitation remaining, with effect from March 15, 2021, is greater than ninety days, that longer period shall apply.
- The period from 15.03.2020 till 14.03.2021 shall also stand excluded in computing the periods prescribed under Section 23(4) and 29A of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act, 1996, Section 12A of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015 and provisos (b) and (c) of Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 and any other laws, which prescribe period(s) of limitation for instituting proceedings, outer limits (within which the Court or Tribunal can condone delay) and termination of proceedings.
- The Government of India shall amend the guidelines for containment zones, to state.
Since then, the filings and proceedings throughout the country were to adhere to the directions issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in its Order dated March 8th 2021.
However, with the outburst of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country and the surging Covid cases in the Capital city, the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association (SCAORA) filed an Interlocutory Application before the Supreme Court, highlighting the difficulties faced by litigants to institute cases in Supreme Court and other courts in Delhi and requesting restoration of the Order of the Supreme Court dated 23rd March 2020. The Hon’ble Court after hearing the applicant and considering the suggestions of the Attorney General and Solicitor General took notice of the fact that second wave of the Covid 19 pandemic has affected the whole nation and the necessity to take extraordinary measures to minimize the hardship caused to litigants and public across the country. Accordingly, the Hon’ble Supreme Court vide its Order dated 28 April 2021 (In Re Cognizance for Extension of Limitation) restored its Order of 23rd March, 2020. The Court in continuation of its Order dated 8th March, 2021 has now directed that the limitation period prescribed under any general or special laws in respect of all judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings, whether condonable or not, shall stand extended until further orders.
By Mrudula Manappatt
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