Suo Motu Cognizance for COVID-19 Limitation Extension In India

Kanika Malhotra

In the midst of COVID-19, Suo Motu Cognizance had been granted for the purpose of extending the limitation period three different times. The limitation period is the greatest amount of time a case can be filed within. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has restored the ruling extending the limitation period for filing lawsuits and applications in courts and tribunals in Re: Cognizance for Extension of Limitation[1]. This news comes as the number of Covid-19 cases in India continues to rise in January 2020. We’ll go through the back drop of the case and the Supreme Court’s decision in this piece.

Introduction

Since March 15, 2020, the Apex Court of our nation has been extending the statute of limitations due to the emergence of Covid-19. According to the court’s most recent order, the period from March 15, 2020, to February 28, 2022, will still not be considered against the limitation period for filing any complaint.

In other words, it is a third such extension since March 2020. The first such extension was granted in March 2020 when the COVID cases first started to rise in India. Then with the backslash of Second wave in the last week of March 2021, further extension was granted by the Court by restoring the previous judgement of the year before that time and was directed to be extended until further orders, which was up till October 2021 but with the sudden rise in the cases of COVID with the new variant another extension – the third extension – was granted

Background

Due to the global pandemic of Covid-19, the Hon’ble Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the problems that litigants may have in litigating petitions, applications, suits, appeals, as well as all other procedures within the time limits set by the general law or any particular law in March 2020 (Both central and state). The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on March 23, 2020, issued an order extending the statute of limitations in all matters before courts and tribunals, including that of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, with effect from March 15, 2020, until future orders.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court resolved on March 8, 2021, to disengage the extension on limits from 14 March 2021, citing the restoration of normalcy and reduction in the predominance of the Covid-19 virus. But to the utter shock of everyone, a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hit India in 2021, crippling the country. SCAORA, the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association, intervened in the suo motu proceedings and requested that the period of limitation be restored. In response to SCAORA’s plea, the Apex Court issued an order on April 27, 2021, restoring the term of limitation extension until further orders.

The judgement in this case, when it was first bought into the notice, said:

“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.”

The Apex Court in This matter further ruled out that ruling may very well be brought to the attention of all High Courts and conveyed to all subjugated Courts/Tribunals within their jurisdiction. A notice was also issued to all Registrars General of the High Courts across the nation, in this regard with a four-week return deadline.

Unfortunately, as soon as the second wave landed, pleadings were made trying to extend the statutes of limitations once more. The court granted the extension of the limitation period from March 2020 to April 27, 2021. As when the second wave subsided, the court extended the order until October 2, 2021.

The Election Commission of our Country filed a motion in September 2021 to modify the ruling extending the limitation on election petitions, citing the difficulty of storing EVMs i.e. Electronic Voting Machines and election documents indefinitely. On September 9, 2021, the Supreme Court said that it would revisit the suo motu verdict in all matters, not only election petitions. As a result, on September 23, 2021, the Apex Court revoked the extension of the limitation period, effective October 2, 2021. However, the Supreme Court was careful to note that perhaps the recall mandate was contingent on the outcome of the new wave or the third wave of the Covid-19 outbreak.

In January 2022, when the number of Covid-19 cases in India increased dramatically, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of our nation has ruled to reinstate the limitation extension. The time encompassing 15 March 2020 till 28 February 2022 would be excluded for the purposes of limitation, according to a ruling issued by the Supreme Court on January 10, 2022.

While deciding a miscellaneous plea submitted by the SCAORA, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India issued the following directives:

“The order dated 23.03.2020 is restored and in continuation of the subsequent orders dated 8.03.2021, 27.04.2021 and 23.09.2021, it is directed that the period from 15.03.2020 till 28.03.2022 shall stand excluded for the purposes of limitation as may be prescribed under any general or specific laws in respect of all judicial or quasi judicial proceedings.

Consequently, the balance of limitation remaining as on 03.10.2021, if any, shall become available with effect from 01.03.20222.

In cases where the limitation would have expired during the period between 15.03.2020 till 28.02.2022, notwithstanding the actual balance period of limitation remaining, all persons shall have a limitation period of 90 days from 01.03.2022. In the event the actual balance period of limitation period remaining, with effect from 01.03.2022 is greater than 90 days, that longer period shall apply.

It is further clarified that the period from 15.03.2020 till 28.02.2022 shall also stand excluded in computing the periods prescribed under Sections 23 (4) and 29A of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, Section 12 A 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 courts or tribunals can condone delay) and termination of proceedings.”

Conclusion

To wrap things up, the court has ruled that if the period of limitation for submitting a complaint expires between March 15, 2020 and February 28, 2022, petitioners will be permitted at least 90 days to file their case beginning March 1, 2022. If indeed the limitation period expired almost over 90 days following March 15, 2020, they would be allowed the same period to submit again beginning March 1, 2022. The judgement of the court applies to both general and specific legislation, as well as judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings such as tribunals.

After all is said and done, this Suo Motu Cognizance of extension of the limitation period turned out to be a great relief for the Lawyers of our nation.

Photo Source: Economic Times

About the author

Kanika Malhotra pursued her studies in B.com LLB, and recently graduated from Banasthali University in June 2022. While studying law, she also did a diploma course in Broadcast Journalism from the same University. She will pursue her career as a Corporate litigator in Delhi.

References

  1. In Re: Cognizance for Extension of Limitation, Suo Moto Writ (Civil) No. 3 of 2020 

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