Read Judgment: In Re Cognizance for Extension of Limitation

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, September  29, 2021: The Supreme Court has ruled that under Article 142 r/w Article 141 of the Constitution, it is empowered to take suo motu cognizance and issue directions to permit relaxation in period of limitation. 

The Larger Bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice L. Nageswara Rao & Justice Surya Kant disposed of the application and issued directions in computing period of limitation for any suit, appeal, application or proceeding. 

Going by the background of the case, due to outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in March, 2020, the Top Court had taken suo-motu cognizance of difficulties that litigants might have been facing in filing petitions/applications/suits/appeals/all other proceedings within period of limitation prescribed under general law of limitation or under any special laws (both Central and/or State). 

Later, on March 23, 2020, the Top Court directed extension of period of limitation in all proceedings before Courts/Tribunals including this Court w.e.f March 15, 2020 till further orders. 

Considering reduction in prevalence of COVID-19 virus and normalcy being restored, another order was passed in suo-motu proceedings on March 08, 2021. Thereafter, due to second surge in COVID-19 cases, which had a devastating and debilitating effect, order dated March 23, 2020 was restored. 

The Apex Court stated that in spite of all uncertainties about another wave of the deadly COVID-19 virus, it was imminent that order dated March 08, 2021 was restored as situation was near normal. 

Order dated March 23, 2020 was passed in view of the extraordinary health crisis. Whereas on March 8, 2021, the order dated March 23, 2020 was brought to an end, permitting relaxation of period of limitation between March 15, 2020 and Mar 14, 2021, added the Top Court. 

While doing so, it was made clear that period of limitation would start from March 15, 2021, said the Top Court. 

As the order dated March 8, 2021 was only a one-time measure, in view of the pandemic, the Apex Court Larger Bench was not inclined to modify conditions contained in the order dated March 8, 2021.

Therefore, the Bench directed that in computing the period of limitation for any suit, appeal, application or proceeding, the period from March 15, 2020 till October 02, 2021 shall stand excluded. 

Further, the Bench also directed that in cases where the limitation would have expired during the period between March 15, 2020 till October 02, 2021, notwithstanding the actual balance period of limitation remaining, all persons shall have a limitation period of 90 days from October 3, 2021. 

In the event the actual balance period of limitation remaining, with effect from October 3, 2021, is greater than 90 days, that longer period shall apply, added the Bench.

In addition, the Bench also made it clear that the period commencing from March 15, 2020 till October 2, 2021 shall stand excluded in computing the periods prescribed u/s 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 of limitation for instituting proceedings, outer limits and termination of proceedings. 

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