Supreme Court: Limitation Act shall be applicable to suits, appeals and applications filed in courts, but does not extend to statutory authorities or tribunals June 25, 2019
Published in: Between The Lines
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Mr. Arpit Sinhal
Ms. Batul Barodawala
Mr. Mahim Sharma
Mr. Drushan Engineer
Mr. Atul Kumar Singh
The Supreme Court, in the case of Ganesan v. The Commissioner, The Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Board and Others (decided on May 3, 2019), held that Limitation Act, 1963 (“Limitation Act”) is applicable in case of suits, appeals and applications filed in courts, but is not applicable to suits, appeals or applications filed before any statutory authority or tribunals.
Mr. Ganesan (“Appellant”), to claim his ambalam right, had filed an application under Section 63 (Joint Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner to decide certain disputes and matters) of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959 (“Endowments Act”) before the Joint Commissioner of the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Board (“Board”). The Joint Commissioner after holding an enquiry, on December 21, 2010, passed an order stating that the Appellant is entitled to the ambalam right, and should also receive first respect as ambalam in the Tirupathartalu village.
Mr. P.R. Ramanathan (“Respondent 3”) filed an appeal under Section 69 (Appeal to the Commissioner) of the Endowments Act before the Commissioner of the Board (“Respondent 1”) against the order of the Joint Commissioner. He also filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court seeking a direction to decide his statutory appeal filed before the Respondent 1. The Madras High Court by an order dated March 7, 2013, directed the Respondent 1 to dispose of the appeal within 4 months from the date of order.
Subsequently, Respondent 3 on April 30, 2013, filed an application for condonation of delay of 266 days in filing the appeal before the Respondent 1 due to ill health of the Respondent 3 for over 7 months due to which he was unable to travel to Chennai to discuss with his counsel. The Appellant filed a counter affidavit pleading that Section 5 (Extension of prescribed period in certain cases) of the Limitation Act, is not applicable to the present appeal. The Respondent 1, by an order, condoned the delay of 266 days. The Appellant filed a writ petition against this order allowing condonation of delay.
A Single judge of the Madras High Court held that Section 5 of the Limitation Act fully applies to the present case and that there was sufficient cause for condonation of delay, and held the order of the Respondent 1 to be valid and correct. On an appeal to the division bench of the Madras High Court, it was held that the Endowments Act does not prevent the application of the provisions of the Limitation Act and hence, the order of the Respondent 1 was valid. Aggrieved by this decision, an appeal was filed by the Appellant before the Supreme Court.
The Appellant’s main contention was that the Respondent 1 had no authority to decide an application filed under Section 5 of the Limitation Act. He argued that the Endowments Act has clearly and distinctly defined the term “Court” under Section 6(7) and the term “Commissioner” under Section 6(6), which shows the intent of the legislature that a “Commissioner” is not a “Court” and hence, Section 5 of the Limitation Act was not applicable. He also stated that Section 115 of Endowments Act specifically provided that only Section 12(2) of the Limitation Act shall be applicable, which means that all other provisions were expressly excluded.
The Respondent 1 countered the arguments of the Appellant by saying that even though the terms “Court” and “Commissioner” have been defined separately in the Endowments Act and that a “Commissioner” is not a “Court”, as per the definition, a “Commissioner” shall be a “Court” for the purpose of Section 5 of the Limitation Act. The Respondent 1 also stated that Section 110 of Endowments Act, which provides for procedure for hearing of appeals, is similar to the procedure provided for trial of suits or hearing of appeals under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. He thus stated that a Respondent 1 has all the powers of a Court. The Respondent 1 also relied on Section 29(2) of the Limitation Act and submitted that Section 5 of the Limitation Act has not been specifically excluded and thus, was fully applicable.
OBSERVATIONS OF THE SUPREME COURT
Issue 1: The Supreme Court looked at the definition of “Commissioner” and “Court” given under Section 6(6) and Section 6(7) of the Endowments Act. The Supreme Court also looked into the provisions under Section 8 of the Endowments Act, which provides for authorities under the Endowments Act, and Section 9 which provides for appointment of a Commissioner. The Supreme Court observed that the definition of “Court” as provided under Section 6(7) of the Endowments Act refers to a civil court that is established in a state. The Endowments Act clearly provides that a “Commissioner” is an authority who shall be appointed by the government and is empowered to perform certain functions under the Endowments Act, which includes hearing of appeals under Section 69 of the Endowment Act. Section 70 of the Endowments Act, clearly provides that any person who is aggrieved by the order of a Commissioner can file a suit with the Court.
Thus, the Supreme Court observed that where an appeal against order of Commissioner lies with the Court, the Commissioner cannot be treated as Court under the Endowments Act. The Supreme Court also relied on its earlier judgment in case of The Commissioner of Sales Tax, U.P. Lucknow v. M/s Parsons Tools and Plants, Kanpur [(1975) 4 SCC 22], where it was held that “Appellate Authorities” and “Judges (Revisions)” Sales tax, do not fall under definition of “Courts” and hence Section 14 of the Limitation Act was not applicable. Thus, the Supreme Court held that Respondent 1 is not a Court while hearing appeal under Section 69 of the Endowments Act.
Issue 2 and 3: The Supreme Court answered the two questions jointly by relying on the provisions of the Limitation Act as well as various other judgements. The Supreme Court looked at two sets of cases wherein in the first set of cases, it was held that provisions of the Limitation Act, shall only apply to suits, appeals and applications made in Court unless there is a specific provision for the same in special or local law, and in the second set of cases it was held that provisions of the Limitation Act, shall also apply to suits, appeals and applications filed in tribunals or statutory authorities. The Supreme Court also referred to the judgments which held that provisions of the Limitation Act are only applicable to suits, appeals or applications filed in Court and not before other authorities, however, Section 14 of the Limitation Act shall apply. After referring to and interpreting all earlier judgements, the Supreme Court in the present case observed that Section 29(2) of the Limitation Act is with respect to different period of limitations for suits, appeals and applications filed in a Court and cannot be applied to suits, appeals and applications filed under any special or local law before any statutory authority or tribunal. Hence, the Respondent 1 cannot, by applying Section 5 of the Limitation Act, condone a delay while hearing appeal under Section 69 of the Endowments Act.
Issue 4: The Supreme Court observed that any special or local law may either expressly include or exclude the applicability of sections under the Limitation Act. The Supreme Court looked into the provisions of the Endowments Act, including Section 110 which provides for procedure and powers for inquiries, Section 115 which deals with limitation and Section 69 (supra). After such perusal, the Supreme Court held that it was never the intention of the legislature to expressly include the application of Section 5 of the Limitation Act in case of condonation of delay in filing appeal under Section 69 of the Endowments Act.
DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT
After answering the above questions, the Supreme Court laid down the following principles:
Relying on the aforesaid principles, the Supreme Court set aside the judgement of the Madras High Court and also the order of the Respondent 1.
Vaish Associates Advocates View
The Supreme Court has, by this decision, finally given clarity to an issue over which there were various contradictory judgements. However, this decision shall have certain implications adversely affecting bona fide applicants seeking benefit of the Limitation Act. In other words, restricting the application of Limitation Act to just suits or appeals or applications filed in Courts shall affect those who seek to take benefit of provisions under Limitation Act while filing any appeal or application under any special or local law before any statutory authority or tribunal. Even if any person was unable to file any application or appeal in any tribunal due to a genuine, bona fide reason, they cannot take benefit of Section 5 of the Limitation Act.
This judgment, while clearing the air on the application of the Limitation Act before any tribunal or statutory authority, has left a void on the litigant’s remedy to seek condonation in case of statutes where the Limitation Act’s application has not been specifically extended by an explicit legislation.
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