If Last Day Of Limitation For Appeal To NGT Falls On A Holiday, Can Appeal Be Filed On Next Working Day? Supreme Court To Consider
The Supreme Court on Friday(January 27) deliberated upon the interpretation of Section 16 of the NGT Act insofar as the period of limitation in filing an appeal was concerned. The question that arose before the bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Dipankar Datta was that if the last date of limitation for filing an appeal in NGT was a public holiday, what would happen.
The question came up in a matter concerning orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The petitioners were non-suited in two cases. In the first case, they were nonsuited because they filed an appeal one day after the end of limitation period as the last day to file the appeal was a Sunday. In the second case, due to an intervention caused by the vacations, appeal was filed on the first day of reopening, which was again after the expiration of the limitation period.
As per Section 16 of the NGT Act, an appeal can be preferred to the Tribunal within 30 days of an order. It adds further–
"Provided that the Tribunal may, if it is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal within the said period, allow it to be filed under this section within a further period not exceeding sixty days."
After hearing the provision, Justice Dipankar Datta enquired–
"If it is filed by the 60th day, should it be taken? Yes. But if the 60th day is a holiday, what will be done? You take away the right of a party to file an appeal?"
ASG KM Nataraj responded that the limitation period was of 60 days and that could not be extended.
CJI DY Chandrachud remarked–
"If the 60th day was not a holiday, they could have filed it on the 60th day. But by virtue of the fact that the 60th day is a holiday, in that case, the appeal has to be necessarily filed only within 59 days. So therefore, in that sense, are we not reducing the period which the legislature has envisaged for the filing of an appeal?"
ASG KM Nataraj continued defending his stance and stated that regardless of the interpretation, limitation could not be extended. CJI DY Chandrachud replied that the said limitation could not be curtailed either. CJI also said–
"The consequence that the 60th day falls on a holiday– the necessary consequence is that though the statute says that it cannot allow for the period exceeding 60 days, this will have to be read as a further period not exceeding 59 days if the 60th day was a holiday...Suppose a day long national mourning is declared at 11 PM the previous day; a person who was otherwise all ready to file an appeal, he is nonsuited".
"The only answer to this is to have e-filing which I am a strong proponent of", CJI added in a lighter vein.
The petitioner’s counsel Senior Advocate Anitha Shenoy argued that a scenario where the last day of limitation was a public holiday, constituted an impossibility for filing the appeal and that could not be used against the litigant. She added that the reason why the limitation period was extended from 30 to 60 days under Section 16 of the NGT act was to accommodate scenarios where the litigants could not file appeals owing to situations such as vacations. Thus, she stated that similar logic should be adopted to allow litigants to file appeals after limitation period was over in case the last date of the limitation period was a public holiday.
It was also highlighted that as per Section 4 of the Limitation Act, where the prescribed period expires on a day when the court is closed, the case could be filed on the day when the court reopens.
The decision in the case Sagufa Ahmed And Ors. v. Upper Assam Plywood Products Pvt Limited And Ors. (2021) 2 SCC 317, which held that the suo motu orders extending limitation on account of COVID did not the period upto which delay can be condoned in exercise of discretion conferred by the statute, was also discussed during the brief hearing.
The matter will now be heard on 1st February 2023.
Case Title: SAMATA v. UNION OF INDIA AND ORS. | C.A. No. 3415-3416/2020 XVII