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Covid-19 Order, Extending Limitation Period Applies To Delay Period Condonable By Courts: Supreme Court

[Aditya Khaitan & Ors. v/s IL and FS Financial Services Limited] 

The Supreme Court ruled that the COVID-19 Order, extending the limitation period, applied to delay periods condonable by courts.

The division bench of Justice J.K. Maheshwari and Justice K.V. Viswanathan said that “Vigilantibus non dormientibus jura subveniunt” – the law assists those who are vigilant, not those who sleep over their rights is a fundamental legal maxim on which statutes of limitations are premised. 

The court further said that when the whole world was in the grip of a devastating pandemic, it could never have been said that the parties were sleeping over their rights. It is, at this juncture, that the Court stepped in and after taking suo motu cognizance passed orders under Article 142 of the Constitution of India extending the deadlines. The extraordinary situation was dealt with rightly by extraordinary orders protecting the rights of parties by ensuring that their remedies and defences were not barred. 

It was stated by the court that the very basis of the judgment in Sagufa Ahmed that under the 23.03.2020 order, only the period of limitation has been extended and not the period up to which delay can be condoned, has been taken away by expanding the protection by excluding the period even for computing outer limits within which the court or tribunal can condone delay.

The instant appeals challenged the judgment of the High Court at Calcutta passed in General Applications. By the said judgment, the High Court had dismissed the said applications and consequently denied the applicants/defendants prayer to take on record their written statements. According to the High Court, the applications cannot be allowed as the period of 30 days to file the written statements had expired on 08.03.2020. 

The court noted that the outer limit within which the court or tribunal can condone the delay is 120 days from the date of summons. 

The Apex court observed that while summons was served on 07.02.2020, the 30 days period expired on 08.03.2020 and the outer limit of 120 days expired on 06.06.2020. The application for taking on record the written statements and the extension of time was filed on 20.01.2021. Applying the orders of 08.03.2021 and the orders made thereafter and excluding the time stipulated therein, the applications filed by the applicants on 19.01.2021 are well within time. The judgment passed by the High Court, for the reasons set out herein above, needs to be set aside. 

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