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Supreme Court: Vide order dated 23.03.2020 what was extended was only “the period of limitation” and not the period upto which delay can be condoned

The SC on September 18, 2020 {SAGUFA AHMED & ORS. vs UPPER ASSAM PLYWOOD PRODUCTS PVT. LTD. & ORS.} held that by virtue of the proviso to Section 421(3), the Appellate Tribunal was empowered to condone the delay upto a period of period of 45 days. It was held that this period of 45 days started running from 02.02.2020 and it expired even according to the appellants on 18.03.2020. It was held that the appellants did not file the appeal on or before 18.03.2020, but filed it on 20.07.2020. It was held that the lock down was imposed only on 24.03.2020 and there was no impediment for the appellants to file the appeal on or before 18.03.2020.

It was observed by the Bench, comprising of Justice S. A. Bobde, Justice A. S. Bopanna & Justice V. Ramasubramanian, that therefore, the expression “prescribed period” appearing in Section 4 cannot be construed to mean anything other than the period of limitation. It was held that any period beyond the prescribed period, during which the Court or Tribunal has the discretion to allow a person   to   institute  the   proceedings,   cannot   be   taken   to   be “prescribed period”.

In present case, challenging an order passed by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (referred to as ‘NCLAT’) dismissing an application for condonation of delay as well as an appeal as time  barred, the   appellants   have   come   up   with   the  present appeals to SC and sought to premise their claims upon Suo Motu Order dated 23.03.2020 of SC (vide which the period of limitation was extended  till further orders, which limitation period expires subsequent to 15.03.2020).

The SC held that it does not think that the appellants can take refuge under the order dated 23.03.2020. It was held that what was extended by the said order of the Court was only “the period of limitation” and not the period   upto   which   delay   can   be   condoned   in   exercise   of discretion conferred by the statute. It was held that the said order passed by this Court was intended to benefit vigilant litigants who were prevented due to the pandemic and the lockdown, from initiating proceedings within the period of limitation prescribed by general or special law.

Therefore, it was concluded that the appellants cannot claim the benefit of the order passed by this Court on 23.03.2020, for enlarging, even the period   up   to   which   delay   can   be   condoned.

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