Date: 23-03-2020

Special powers of the Supreme Court under art. 142 of the Constitution: Period of limitations (Due Dates) have been extended indefinitely w.e.f. 15-03-20

1) Article 142 in our Constitution empowers the Supreme Court to pass such “decree or order as may be necessary for doing complete justice between the parties”. Thus Article 142 supplements the powers already conferred upon the Supreme Court under the Constitution to guarantee that justice is done and in doing so the Court is not restrained by lack of jurisdiction or authority of law.

The SC did exercise this power of Art 142 in Ram Janmabhoomi Case in which, while deciding the suit in favour of the Ram Lalla, it also decided to give 5 acre of land for construction of Masjid in Ayodhya. This relief was not at all demanded by any opposition Muslim party contesting the title suit but the SC considered it Suo moto that it was necessary to pass such “decree or order as it was necessary for doing complete justice between the parties.The Supreme Court has time and again resorted to Article 142 in a variety of cases and passed orders to do “complete justice

2) Forced Recovery orders: The Supreme Court on 20-03-20 stayed Kerala and Allahabad High Court orders, which directed banks, financial institutions, income tax department and GST authorities to defer recovery proceedings or coercive measures till April 6 in the states in light of the coronavirus outbreak. These orders were stayed by the SC after recording the statement of the Government of India, that Centre is conscious of the difficulty faced by the people and would itself evolve a proper mechanism without causing any hardship to anyone.

3) Indefinite Extension of Due Dates by Supreme Court: Under different statutes different limitation periods have been prescribed for availing the benefit of the orders of the higher up judicial authorities, including the Supreme Court. If an litigant misses the limitation date then the next higher up authority (Appellate / Original) can admit the litigation by condoning the delay in filing of the litigation. For such a relief the litigant has to separately file a Miscellaneous Application for condonation of delay. The judicial authority, after considering the merits of the application may order the condonation of delay and thereafter admit the litigation. However when such delay is not condonable then the said authority does not have the power to condone the delay and the litigant may suffer.

For example, if an assessee’s appeal before the CIT(A) was disposed off on 15-01-20 then the assessee has a period of 60 days to file appeal before the ITAT. Thus the last day for filing the appeal is 15-03-20. If he could not file the appeal by that date then he would have to apply for condonation of delay even if of 1 day. Like this case of income tax appeal there are many more statutory laws in the public domain applicable to a person at any particular point of time which provide time limitation (Due Date)  either under the General limitation law or under any specific law itself.

Given the present wide prevailing pandemic called Covid-19 the whole country is either under curfew or full lockdown condition making it impossible to file appeals etc. within the prescribed time. If left as it is, the whole judiciary from Tribunal/High Court/Supreme Court would have been flooded with equal number of MA for condonation of delay as the number of appeal themselves and every such MA would have the merit of Reasonable Cause for delay.  (Provided the due date was not extended by the government by special order under the respective law itself)

This huge task of attending all the MA the Judiciary would have come under tremendous stress which could have delayed other substantial appeals.

Therefore the Hon’ble Supreme Court has taken Suo Moto cognizance of the situation arising out of the challenge faced by the country on account of Covid-19 Virus and resultant difficulties that could  be faced by litigants across the country in filing their petitions/applications/suits/ appeals/all other proceedings within the period of limitation prescribed under the general law of limitation or under Special Laws (both Central and/or State) and passed an Order under Special Powers given to it under Article 142 of the Constitution of India. Accordingly the following order was passed by it on 23-03-20 : (Extract only)

Suo MotoWrit Petition (civil) no(s). 3/2020

In re : Cognizance for Extension of Limitation

Date : 23-03-2020 This petition was taken up suo moto for hearing today.

ORDER

This Court has taken Suo Motu cognizance of the situation arising out of the challenge faced by the country on account of Covid-19 Virus and resultant difficulties that may be faced by litigants across the country in filing their petitions/applications/suits/ appeals/all other proceedings within the period of limitation prescribed under the general law of limitation or under Special Laws (both Central and/or State).

To obviate such difficulties and to ensure that lawyers/litigants do not have to come physically to file such proceedings in respective Courts/Tribunals across the country including this Court, it is hereby ordered that a period of limitation in all such proceedings, irrespective of the limitation prescribed under the general law or Special Laws whether condonable or not shall stand extended w.e.f. 15th March 2020 till further order/s to be passed by this Court in present proceedings.

We are exercising this power under Article 142 read with Article 141 of the Constitution of India and declare that this order is a binding order within the meaning of Article 141 on all Courts/Tribunals and authorities.

Conclusion :

This SC order has an overriding effect above all other laws which prescribe limitations for initiating legal proceedings before Tribunal/High Court/Supreme Court either under General Law of Limitations or Special Laws of limitation say like Income Tax Act, GST Act, Companies Act, SEBI, IBC,  etc. etc.

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