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Delay in filing appeal is no excuse, says Supreme Court while dismissing request to condone a late appeal

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal to an earlier order by the NCLAT, saying that delays are not condonable.

The appeal had challenged an NCLAT order which too had rejected the petitioner’s appeal on two grounds. The first ground was that, as per the Companies Act any appeal becomes time barred after 45 days. The second was that even if the Supreme Court, on a suo motu move, had extended time of appeal due to the Covid pandemic, the top court order had come only on March 23, while this appeal to the NCLAT was made on March 17.

This appeal before the top court was to condone the earlier delay, giving the COVID 19 pandemic as an excuse. This was rejected.

A three judge bench of Chief Justice S. A. Bobde and Justices A. S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian pointed out:

“That the law of limitation finds its root in two Latin maxims, one of which is vigilantibus non dormientibus jura subveniunt, which means that the law will only assist those who are vigilant about their rights and not those who sleep over them.”

The court’s decision came on an appeal filed by Sagufa Ahmed & Ors., challenging the order passed by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) which had dismissed the application.

The appellants had challenged an order of the NCLT (Guwahati Bench) last year before the Appellate Tribunal. Their appeal, however, was filed after the expiration of the statutory period for filing appeal. The NCLAT had dismissed the application for condonation of delay.

Advocate Gunjan Singh on behalf of the appellants contended that the Appellate Tribunal erred in computing the period of limitation from the date of the order of the NCLT, contrary to Section 421(3) of the Companies Act, 2013.

The counsel said that the Appellate Tribunal had failed to take note of the lockdown as well as the order passed by this court on March 23, 2020 in suo motu Writ Petition (Civil) No.3 of 2020, extending the period of limitation for filing any proceeding with effect from March 15, 2020.

After considering the arguments submitted by the appellants, the Supreme Court held:

What was extended by the above order of this Court was only ‘the period of limitation’ and not the period up to which delay can be condoned in exercise of discretion conferred by the statute.

The apex court has cleared the meaning of the words “prescribed period” that appear in several sections of the Limitation Act, 1963, as these words are not defined in Section 2 of the Limitation Act, 1963, the expression is used throughout, only to denote the period of limitation.

The court ruled:

“The 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, the top court dismissed the appeal with the observation that the appellants cannot claim the benefit of the order passed by this court on March, for enlarging, even the period up to which delay can be condoned.

Read the judgment here;

Sagufa

-India Legal Bureau

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