NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has said that the relaxation granted on the limitation period for filing court cases in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic would come to an end on October 2.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana ordered that period from March 15 last year till October 2 this year shall stand excluded from computing the period of limitation.
Also, in cases where the limitation would have expired during the period between March 15, 2020 till October 2, 2021, all persons shall have a limitation period of 90 days from October 3, 2021 or the balance period originally left, whichever is longer.
Earlier, the apex court had on March 23 last year invoked its plenary power under Article 142 of the Constitution to extend the limitation period indefinitely for appeals from courts or tribunals on account of the pandemic with effect from March 15, 2020.
On March 8 this year, the top court had noted that the country is "returning to normalcy and had decided to end the extension of the limitation period which was granted in March 2020 to the litigants due to the pandemic.
However, the court had on April 27 took note of the onset of the second COVID-19 wave and again relaxed the statutory period for filing petitions, including the election petitions, under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
In its September 23 order passed in the suo motu matter 'cognisance for extension of limitation', the apex court noted, "In spite of all the uncertainties about another wave of the deadly COVID-19 virus, it is imminent that the order dated March 8, 2021 is restored as the situation is near normal."
"In computing the period of limitation for any suit, appeal, application or proceeding, the period from March 15, 2020 till October 2, 2021 shall stand excluded. Consequently, the balance period of limitation remaining as on March 15, 2021, if any, shall become available with effect from October 3, 2021," said the bench, also comprising justices L Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant.
The bench noted that it had heard submissions of Attorney General K K Venugopal, senior advocate Vikas Singh, who was appearing for the Election Commission of India, counsel appearing for the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association and other lawyers on the issue.
"There is consensus that there is no requirement for the continuance of the initial order passed by this court on March 23, 2020 and relaxation of the period of limitation need not be continued any further," the court said.
It said the order was passed on March 23 last year in view of the "extraordinary health crisis".
"On March 8, 2021, the order dated March 23, 2020 was brought to an end, permitting relaxation of the period of limitation between March 15, 2020 and March 14, 2021. While doing so, it was made clear that the period of limitation would start from March 15, 2021," it said.
The bench said as the March 8 this year order was "only a one-time measure", in view of the pandemic, it is not inclined to modify the conditions contained in that order.
"In cases where the limitation would have expired during the period between March 15, 2020 till October 2, 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," it said.
The apex court said the period from March 15 last year till October 2, 2021 shall also stand excluded in computing the periods prescribed under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, the Commercial Courts Act, the Negotiable Instruments Act and any other laws which prescribe period of limitation.
"The Government of India shall amend the guidelines for containment zones, to state. Regulated movement will be allowed for medical emergencies, provision of essential goods and services, and other necessary functions, such as, time-bound applications, including for legal purposes, and educational and job-related requirements," the bench said in its order.
While hearing the matter on September 23, the bench had taken note of the improved pandemic situation and observed that it will recall its April 27 order by which it had extended the operation of an earlier direction on limitation period.
It had observed that the suo motu extension of the limitation period will be withdrawn and after that, the usual limitation period of 90 days for filing cases in courts will come into effect once again.
During the hearing, the Attorney General had suggested that the March 8, 2021 order of the apex court, which had recalled the last year's direction extending the limitation period indefinitely, may be restored.