In March 2020, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognizance of the prejudicial impact of the Covid-19 restrictions on compliance with limitation periods, and this led to Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No 3 of 2020. The Supreme Court's order of 23 March 2020 “extended” periods of limitation from 15 March 2020 until further orders.
The extension of limitation periods was brought to an end with effect from 15 March 2021 when it appeared that the situation in India was returning to normal and as the courts had resumed functioning, either physically or virtually. At that time, the Supreme Court gave guidance on how limitation periods were to be calculated following the end of the extension.
However, the second Covid-19 wave struck and the Supreme Court Advocate on Record Association (SCAORA) moved an application to reinstate the extension to limitation periods. The Supreme Court duly passed an order on 27 April 2021, in continuation of its order of 8 March 2021, restoring the extension from 15 March 2021 until further notice.
23 September 2021 Order
The Supreme Court said that, for now, the extension had served its purpose and should come to an end. The Supreme Court said:
- In calculating the limitation period in any suit, appeal, application or proceeding, the period between 15 March 2020 and 2 October 2021 is to be excluded, and any balance period “remaining as on 15 March 2021” will start to run from 3 October 2021.
- If the limitation period would otherwise have expired between 15 March 2020 and 2 October 2021, then a fresh limitation period of 90 days will be available from 3 October 2021. If the balance period remaining on 15 March 2020 is more than 90 days, then the longer period will be available from 3 October 2021.
- The period between 15 March 2020 and 2 October 2021 is to be excluded when calculating the limitation period under any law, including §23(4) and §29A of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 by which timelines are prescribed for the completion of pleadings before a tribunal and conclusion of the arbitration proceedings respectively, and particular provisions of the Commercial Courts Act 2015, 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”.
- The Government of India is to amend the guidelines for containment zones to allow for regulated movement for, amongst others, “legal purposes”.
With this final order in SCAORA's application, extensions to the limitation period will not be available from 3 October 2021 except as prescribed. The position may be revisited if the Covid-19 situation again deteriorates, and the Court considers it necessary to reinstate its extension orders.
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