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Supreme Court Orders Extension of Limitation Period

The Supreme Court has extended the limitation period provided under the Arbitration Act as well as under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, from 15th of March 2020 up until any fresh orders are passed.

The Supreme Court of India had passed an order in suo moto writ petition titled “Cognizance for Extension of Limitation” on 23rd March 2020, about certain periods prescribed under different statutes. The idea is that the litigants should not face problems in filing their petitions/applications/suits/appeals/ other proceedings. After its very first order for such extension on 23rd of March 2020, the Supreme Court passed two further orders, followed by 6th of May 2020 and then on 10th of July 2020. The directions thereby passed by the Supreme Court, pertaining to the legislative provisions and the acts over which this suspension will be applicable have been enumerated below:

1) Extension of Period for Filing Appeals/Applications/Other Pleadings: The Supreme Court has recognized the impediments caused due to the coronavirus pandemic and the curb on the physical movement of all individuals due to the necessity of the lockdown which is currently still in force. Taking cognizance of this factor the court decided to take suo moto action for avoiding the resultant difficulties which may be faced by litigants across the country in filing their petitions, applications, suits, appeals, and all other proceedings within the period of limitation prescribed under the general law of limitation or under Special Laws (at both the central and state level). To remove these difficulties and make sure that all lawyers and litigants are not required to be physically present for filing such proceedings within the respective courts and tribunals in the country, the court has thus ordered that the period of limitation which is applicable in all such proceedings under normal circumstances, irrespective of the period of limitation which would be prescribed under any general law or special law, shall stand extended, effectively from 15th March 2020 till further orders are to be passed regarding the same during the subsistence of the lockdown.

2) The Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996- Sections 29A and 23(4) & Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act,1881: The Supreme Court vide its order dated 23rd March 2020 had given an extension of the limitation period given under any statute with regards to pleadings with effect from 15th March 2020 and thereafter, on 6th March 2020 it passed its decision over the extension of such limitation period over sections 29A and 23(4) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. Moreover, this extension of the limitation period is only available till the time the lockdown subsists, once the lockdown has been duly uplifted, there shall be a further grant of 15 days post the lockdown for filing of the above pleadings.

Hence, by its order dated 06.05.2020, the Supreme Court, extended the limitation period provided under the Arbitration Act as well as under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, from 15h of March 2020 up until any fresh orders are passed regarding the same. Furthermore, to make matters easier for lawyers and litigants alike, the Supreme Court has specified that this limitation period shall also include 15 days after the lockdown is lifted in such cases wherein the limitation period under the aforesaid statutes has expired after 15th March 2020. Under Section 29A of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, there is no provision for a limitation but rather a specific period within which the arbitral award is to be passed. The Supreme Court has specified that this extension shall also apply to this period prescribed under Section 29A. Similarly, there exists a 6-month period under Section 23(4) for the completion of pleadings under an arbitration proceeding which, through the Order dated 10th July 2020 has also been provided with the same extension period as with the others by the Supreme Court of India.

Furthermore, the service of notices, summons, and exchange of pleadings and documents, is a primary requirement in every legal proceeding. This service of notices, summons, pleadings, etc. has not been possible during the period of lockdown because this involves visits to post offices, courier companies, and the physical delivery of notices, summons, and pleadings. It was thus, deemed by the Supreme Court, that such services can be delivered via e-mail, FAX, commonly used instant messaging services, such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, etc. It must be noted, however, that if a party intends to effect service using such instant messaging services, the Supreme Court shall direct that the party must also affect service of the same document or documents through e-mail, simultaneously on the same date as well.

3) Period of validity for Cheques under the Banking Regulation Act, 1949: 
About the prayer, that the period of validity of a cheque is extended, the Supreme Court thought that since the said period has not been prescribed under any Statute but is, in fact, a period prescribed by the Reserve Bank of India under Section 35-A of the Banking Regulation Act,1949, it is not appropriate for the apex court to interfere with the period prescribed by the Reserve Bank of India, especially since the entire banking system functions based on the period so prescribed. Thus, it has been specified by the Supreme Court that under this situation, The Reserve Bank of India may in its discretion, alter such period as it thinks fit.

4) Section 12A of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015: 
The Supreme Court in continuation of the extension of the limitation period specified within several statutes and in consonance with its order of 23rd March 2020 passed a further order on 10th July 2020 wherein it has also extended the period provided within Section 12A of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015, in which the process of compulsory pre-litigation, mediation as well as settlement within three months which has been provided, has further been extended for two months as far as both parties consent to the same. Along with this provision the Supreme Court has also provided 45 days extension to be calculated from the day when the lockdown is lifted for further ease. Furthermore, the Court has also directed that on the expiration of such extension, no further time limit shall be excluded under the said provision whatsoever.

Conclusion

The extension of the limitation period within the above-mentioned statutes and via the orders on 23rd March 2020, 6th May 2020, and 10th July 2020 had been deemed necessary given the current chaos and confusion, and lack of public mobility caused by the lockdown instituted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Each such extension of the limitation period within the various Acts mentioned above has been carefully done keeping in mind the interest of the public and safeguarding the health and security of all concerned. However, this extension has been provided till such time the lockdown is in continuance and shall be lifted with the grace period given above as soon as the current lockdown  is lifted.

 

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