'Brakes' applied on Limitation... with 'Limitations'
As the Covid- 19 Crisis continues, and Courts and Tribunals working with restrictions, can a Litigant still initiate a claim? If no, will the Litigant's claim lapse if the limitation period expires during the lockdown ? And what happens if there is a delay in filing?
These are some of the many issues which are puzzling the Litigants today. Because, Courts or Tribunals are working with several restrictions due to the Covid- 19 crisis. And even if some courts have opened their counters, the people (whether the litigants or their advocates, etc.) are apprehensive to visit the courts. And such apprehensions are not unfounded given the various instances of the Court staff and Advocates getting infected. If we talk about Delhi Courts, recently it came in news that one Public Prosecutor who was positioned at Saket District Court was tested positive for Corona Virus. Prior to that we came to know of an instance where the Court Clerk of Mr. Rajiv Nayyar (Senior Advocate) succumbed to the infection. Even one of my seniors, Mr. Rajiv Verma (Advocate), with whom I was associated several years back, got infected. So the dangers of this pandemic are real, and so are the apprehensions associated with it.
And so the question arises, as to what will happen with the 'Claims' that arise during this Crisis, or have arisen prior thereto. Because Law sets a time limit for every form of Claim to be petitioned before a Court or Tribunal, and if that is not done, the remedy available under the law dies down; meaning, that the Litigant, practically, might not be able to enforce his right or claim ever. So if a person has a right to recover a sum of Rs. 1,00,000/- from his customer or client, who defaults in paying - up, that very claim of Rs. 1,00,000/- might get defeated due to non- filing of the proper claim before the Court or Tribunal. And so, he simply loses his money, irrespective of howsoever strong his case might be. This is due to the operation of the law of Limitation. But, today, even if the Litigant or his Advocate wants to file a claim, he/ she may not be able to lodge it, either due to the lockdown, or the restrictions in Courts, or even may be because of the 'apprehension' in mind which one may be having because of the pandemic.
So..... is there a solution? Hopefully Yes! Fortunately, our Hon'ble Supreme Court took note of this problem quite swiftly, and so in a suo moto writ, bearing W.P. (C) No. 03/ 2020, it exercised its inherent power ensuring justice, and stayed the operation of the very law of Limitation, w.e.f. 15th March, 2020, until further Orders. This Order has definitely given a huge breather to the Litigants and their Advocates. This Order is still in operation, and so, even if the time limit fixed by the Limitation law might have lapsed by now, but because of the operation of this Order by Hon'ble Supreme Court, the litigant will still be entitled to lodge his/ her claim before the respective Court/ Tribunal, whenever they open up.
Now the next point is as to what will happen to the claims/ petitions/ appeals etc., which went in delay prior to 15th March, 2020 itself. For such instances, the above Order of the Hon'ble Supreme Court shall not come in aid. If there is a delay already, ie. if the time period to lodge the Claim/ Appeal, etc. had already expired prior to 15th March, 2020, then the above Order of the Supreme Court shall not be of any help, because that Order only and only restricts the running of the 'Limitation' period, and doesn't give any relaxation w.r.t. delays, or for seeking condonation of delays. Such an instance happened recently in C.A. No. 3007- 3008/ 2020: Sagufa Ahmed vs. Upper Assam Plywood Products, that arose from a petition for winding up of a Company, where the the Appellant challenged the Order of NCLAT in rejecting the application for 'condoning the delay'. The Hon'ble Court noticed that the actual period of Limitation had expired in February, 2020 itself, and so the Hon'ble Court held that its Order in W.P. (C) No. 03/ 2020 will not be of any help to such a Litigant because that Order was not to grant a concession w.r.t. delays.
So, with the above, all it means that W.P. (C) No. 03/ 2020 will help a Litigant for getting an extension of the 'Limitation' period, but not anything for getting a delay condoned. Thus, if for a Litigant's Claims/ Appeal etc., the last date for filing was 15th March, 2020, and the same wasn't filed so, then he/ she will have to pray to the concerned Court/ Tribunal for condoning his 'delay' explaining all the reasons for it, on a day to day basis (that too if permitted by the law to make such a prayer), and in that the Order of Supreme Court won't bring any additional ground. And on hearing the reasons, it will be the discretion of that Court/Tribunal to condone the delay.
So the above is the present legal position. The judgement in Upper Assam, establishes the point that Law is always in a state of 'flux'. It is more complicated than anyone can ever imagine. A minor here and there, can change the entire dynamics of the case. People lose out on their claims merely because they thought it to be logical to do one thing, but later found that the law says something else altogether.
Hope the above will be helpful to everyone, and please drop in your comments and questions, if you have any. Thanks!
D. Bhattacharya, DB Law Offices
*Readers/ viewers may also refer to the Supreme Court's website by putting in the case numbers mentioned in the post above, for better clarity. In the event anyone is unable to find the same, please drop in a message along with your email ID, and we will try helping you out with the same.
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