The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting Government imposed nationwide lockdown led to severe distress in the society. The administration of justice could not remain unaffected as the functioning of all the legal authorities, courts, or tribunals was critically hindered. The litigants across the country found themselves incapacitated in filing petitions, applications, suits, appeals, or other legal proceedings within the period of limitation prescribed under the laws of limitation.
The Supreme Court of India took suo motu cognizance of these issues in Re: Cognizance for Extension of Limitation (SUO MOTU WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) No(s).3/2020). In its order dated 23-03-2020, the Court used its inherent powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to obviate the difficulties arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure that lawyers/litigants do not have to come physically to file or attend proceedings in respective Courts/Tribunals. The aforementioned order stated that the period of limitation in all proceedings, irrespective of the limitation prescribed under the laws, shall stand extended with effect from 15th March 2020 till further orders are passed by the Court. The order was binding order within the meaning of Article 141 on all Courts/Tribunals and authorities.
The order dated 15.03.2020 was extended from time to time. However, in its order dated 08-03-2021, the Court acknowledged that though the pandemic is not over, there is considerable improvement after the lockdown has been lifted and the country is returning to normalcy. It further noted that almost all the Courts and Tribunals are functioning either physically or in virtual mode. Based on these facts and circumstances, the Court opined that the order dated 15.03.2020 has served its purpose and the extension of limitation should come to an end.
The order dated 08-03-2021 stated as follows:
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 of 15.03.2020, if any, shall become available with effect from 15.03.2021.
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 15.03.2021, is greater than 90 days, that longer period shall apply.
For example, if the balance period of limitation remaining as of 15.03.2020 was only 30 days, the party will get a relaxed limitation period of 90 days starting from 15.03.2021. However, if the balance period of limitation remaining as of 15.03.2020 was more than 90 days, the party will the same period starting from 15.03.2021.
- The period from 15.03.2020 till 14.03.2021 shall also stand excluded in computing the periods prescribed under any law which prescribe period(s) of limitation for instituting proceedings, outer limits (within which the court or tribunal can condone delay), and termination of proceedings.
Therefore, the lawyers, litigants, and the authorities must take note of the Supreme Court order dated 08-03-2021 and should adhere to the limitation period prescribed under various laws read along with the said order.
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