[Miss. Application No. 665/2021 in Suo motu Writ Petition (Civil) No. 3 of 2020, In Re: Cognizance for Extension of Limitation] 

The Hon’ble Supreme Court on 27th March, 2021 decided to extend the period of limitation of filing cases in various legal fora with effect from 14.03.2021 until further orders in view of hardships faced by litigants due to the alarming Covid-19 situation. A bench comprising Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and AS Bopanna passed the order in the suo moto case In Re Cognizance for Extension of Limitation.  The period from 14.03.2021 will stand excluded from computing the limitation period under all special and general laws.

Last year, the Hon’ble Supreme 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 could be faced by the litigants across the country. Consequently, it was directed vide order dated 23rd March, 2020 that the period of limitation in filing petitions/ applications/ suits/ appeals/ all other proceedings, irrespective of the period of limitation prescribed under the general or special laws, shall stand extended with effect from 15th March, 2020 till further orders.

Thereafter, on 8th March, 2021 it was noticed that the country is returning to normalcy and since all the Courts and Tribunals have started functioning either physically or by virtual mode, extension of limitation was regulated and brought to an end. Finally, in computing the period of limitation for any suit, appeal, application or proceeding irrespective of the limitation prescribed under the General law or Special Laws, whether condonable or not, the period from 15.03.2020 to 14.03.2021 shall stand excluded.

Now, the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 27th March, 2021 has restored the order dated 23rd March, 2020 and in continuation of the order dated 8th March, 2021 direct that the period(s) of limitation, as prescribed under any general or special laws in respect of all judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings, whether condonable or not, shall stand extended till further orders.

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Understanding Limitation Period

Limitation Act, 1963 defines ‘Period of limitation’ under Section 2 (j). It means a period of limitation prescribed for any suit, appeal or application under the schedule to the Limitation Act, which covers a range of prescribed for any suit, appeal or application under the schedule to the Limitation Act, which covers a range of claims and their timelines.

Expiry of prescribed period when court is closed

As per Section 4 of the Limitation Act, where the prescribed period for any suit, appeal or application expires on a day when the court is closed, the suit, appeal or application may be instituted, preferred or made on the day when the court re-opens. Further elaborate through explanation that a court shall be deemed to be closed on any day within the meaning of this section if during any part of its normal working hours it remains closed on that day.

Issue of Limitation Period due to Covid-19

Due to Covid-19 virus, the difficulties may be faced 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, therefore, the issue of limitation become necessary to address immediately.

The issue of limitation was first addressed by the High Court of Delhi in the office order dated March 23, 2020 wherein the following directions were passed:

 “Lockdown/Suspension of work of Court shall be treated as “Closure” within the meaning of Explanation appended to Section 4 of the Limitation Act, 1963 and other enabling provisions of the Act and other Statutes, as may be applied to court proceedings. Thus, the limitation of any court proceedings shall not run w.e.f. 23.03.2020 to 04.04.2020 subject to further orders.” 

Supreme Court extends period of limitation till further notice

Keeping in view the difficulties faced by lawyers and litigants across the country in filing petitions/applications/appeals etc due to the lockdown, the Supreme Court, on the very same day, in exercise of its powers under Article 142 read with Article 141 of the Constitution of India, passed an order in Suo motu Writ Petition(Civil) No. 3 of 2020 (in Re-Cognizance for Extension of Limitation)  that the 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. 15 March 2020 till further order/s are made by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in this regard. It was also declared that the said order is a binding order within the meaning of Article 141 on all courts/tribunals and authorities.

The Apex Court passed an order in Suo motu Writ Petition (Civil) No. 3 of 2020 (in Re-Cognizance for Extension of Limitation) on the issue of law of limitation by observing as follows: 

“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 le 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. 15 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. 

This order may be brought to the notice of all High Courts for being communicated to all subordinate Courts/Tribunals within their respective jurisdiction.”

Applicability of the Supreme Court’s Order

The Apex Court of the country has specified that the extension would apply to all such proceedings for example filing of petitions/applications/suits/ appeals/all other proceedings irrespective of the limitation prescribed under the General law or Special Laws, whether condonable or not.

IA NO. 48411/2020 – FOR DIRECTIONS- IN WRIT PETITION(CIVIL) NO. 3 OF 2020 (IN RE-COGNIZANCE FOR EXTENSION OF LIMITATION)

An application was filed in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 3/2020 with the following prayer: 

“To issue appropriate directions qua (i) arbitration proceedings in relation to section 29A of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 and (ii) initiation of proceedings under section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881;”

The Hon’ble Supreme Court further modified its earlier order (dated 23.03.2020) on 06.05.2020 directing that all periods of limitation prescribed under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 and under section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act 1881 shall be extended with effect from 15.03.2020 till further orders.

The Hon’ble Court further clarified that in case the limitation expires after 15.03.2020, then the period from 15.03.2020 till the date on which the lockdown is lifted in the jurisdictional area where the dispute lies or where the cause of action arises, shall be extended for a period of 15 days after the lifting of lockdown.

Thereafter, the Supreme Court on 08th March, 2021 decided to end the extended limitation period granted to litigants for filing appeals. A Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde, on March 23 last year, invoked its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to extend the limitation period of appeals from courts or tribunals due to the pandemic. The limitation period was extended with effect from March 15, 2020. Now, the Supreme Court issued the following directions-

1. In computing the period of limitation for any suit, appeal, application or proceeding, the period from 15.03.2020 till 14.03.2021 shall stand excluded. Consequently, the balance period of limitation remaining as on 15.03.2020, if any, shall become available with effect from 15.03.2021. 

2. In cases where the limitation would have expired during the period between 15.03.2020 till 14.03.2021, notwithstanding the actual balance period of limitation remaining, all persons shall have a limitation period of 90 days from 15.03.2021. In the event the actual balance period of limitation remaining, with effect from 15.032021, is greater than 90 days, that longer period shall apply. 

3. The period from 15.03.2020 till 14.03.2021 shall also stand excluded in computing the periods prescribed under Sections 23 (4) and 29A of the Arbitration and 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.

Now, the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 27th March, 2021 has taken the judicial notice of the fact that the steep rise in COVID-19 Virus cases is not limited to Delhi alone but it has engulfed the entire nation. The extraordinary situation caused by the sudden and second outburst of COVID-19 Virus, thus, requires extraordinary measures to minimize the hardship of litigant–public in all the states. The Court, therefore, restore the order dated 23rd March, 2020 and in continuation of the order dated 8th March, 2021 direct that the period(s) of limitation, as prescribed under any general or special laws in respect of all judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings, whether condonable or not, shall stand extended till further orders. 

It is further clarified by the Court that the period from 14th March, 2021 till further orders shall also stand excluded in computing the periods prescribed under Sections 23 (4) and 29A of the Arbitration and 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.

Conclusion: In computing the period of limitation for any suit, appeal, application or proceeding irrespective of the limitation prescribed under the General law or Special Laws, whether condonable or not, the period from 15.03.2020 to till further order shall stand excluded.

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Disclaimer: Nothing contained in this document is to be construed as a legal opinion or view of either of the authors whatsoever and the content is to be used strictly for educative purposes only. 

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