On account of the impact of the surge of Covid-19 on public health and the resulting adversities faced by litigants, the Supreme Court of India through an Order dated January 10, 2022 directed the restoration of its Order dated March 23, 2020, with respect to extension of limitation. By way of its previous order, the Supreme Court had directed an extension of the statutory limitation periods prescribed under the general laws of limitation, as well as all other special laws, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, with effect from March 15, 2020. Through subsequent Orders of the Supreme Court, this period was further extended, until the passing of an Order dated March 8, 2021, by which the Supreme Court had directed the end of such extensions, with effect from March 14, 2021.
1. Exclusion of Period from March 15, 2020 to February 28, 2022 when computing Limitation:
The period from March 15, 2020 to February 28, 2022 will stand excluded when computing the period of limitation for filing of any suit, appeal, application, or proceeding.
Illustration: In a case where the cause of action for filing of a suit takes place on January 1, 2020 and is due to expire three years later on January 1, 2023, the period from March 15, 2020 to February 28, 2022 shall be excluded when computing limitation, i.e., the three-year limitation period will be computed as follows:
(i) January 1, 2020 to March 14, 2020 (73 days); and
(ii) The balance period for the remainder of the three years (i.e. 1023 days) will be computed after February 28, 2022 onwards.
2. Cases where Limitation expires between March 15, 2020 and February 28, 2022:
In this scenario, the balance period of limitation (i.e., the remaining limitation period as on February 28, 2022), if any, shall become available with effect from March 1, 2022. In such cases, regardless of the actual balance period of limitation as on March 1, 2022, a period of 90 days shall be available from March 1, 2022 onwards.
Illustration 1: In a case where the cause of action for filing of a suit takes place on April 15, 2017 and is due to expire three years later on April 15, 2020, the period of limitation will pause on March 15, 2020. Regardless of the actual balance period being 31 days (March 15, 2020 to April 15, 2020), the limitation for filing the suit will expire 90 days from March 1, 2022, i.e., May 30, 2022.
However, in cases where the balance period of limitation is more than 90 days, that longer period will be available from March 1, 2022 onwards.
Illustration 2: In a case where the period of limitation for filing a suit is due to expire on June 23, 2021, the entire balance period of limitation remaining as on March 1, 2022 i.e., 100 days (being more than 90 days), will become available from March 1, 2022 onwards.
3. Special Acts:
The Supreme Court has also made the exclusion of the period from March 15, 2020 to February 28, 2022 (in computing limitation) applicable to the computation of periods under all special laws (other than the general law of limitation prescribed under the Limitation Act, 1963), such as the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 and the Commercial Courts Act, 2015, which prescribe periods of limitation for instituting proceedings, outer limits (within which Courts or Tribunals can condone delay), and termination of proceedings.
The Order issued by the Supreme Court is a welcome step and will provide litigants much needed relief to file suits or any legal proceedings, without being impeded by the rising third-wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.