New Delhi [India], September 25 (ANI): The Supreme Court has recalled its earlier order by which it had extended the statutory period for filing petitions in view of the COVID-19 second wave and said that relaxation will end on October 2, 2021.
A Bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice Surya Kant in its order stated, "In computing the period of limitation for any suit, appeal, application or proceeding, the period from March 15, 2020, till October 2, 2021, shall stand excluded. Consequently, the balance period of limitation remaining as on March 15, 2021, if any, shall become available with effect from October 3, 2021."
Consequently, the limitation period will start from October 3, 2021.
March 15, 2020, was the date with effect from which extension of limitation was first given in view of COVID-19.
"In spite of all the uncertainties about another wave of the deadly COVID-19 virus, it is imminent that the order dated March 8, 2021, is restored as the situation is near normal," said the Bench.
The Bench noted that after having heard Attorney General KK Venugopal, senior advocate Vikas Singh who appeared for the Election Commission of India and advocate Shivaji M Jadhav, counsel for the SCAORA and other advocates, there is consensus that there is no requirement for the continuance of the initial order passed by the Court on March 23, 2020, and relaxation of the period of limitation need not be continued any further.
It also asked the Government of India to amend the guidelines for containment zones.
"Regulated movement will be allowed for medical emergencies, provision of essential goods and services, and other necessary functions, such as time-bound applications, including for legal purposes, and educational and job-related requirements," stated the order.
The top court on May 23, 2020, had passed an order directing that the period of limitation in all proceedings, irrespective of the limitation prescribed under the general law or special laws is extended from March 15, 2020, till further orders on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By its order on March 8, 2021, the apex court while noticing that the country was returning to normalcy, the extension of limitation was brought to an end.
However, on April 27 this year, the apex court while taking note of the onset of the second COVID-19 wave had relaxed the statutory period for filing petitions, including the election petitions, under the Representation of the People Act, 1951. It meant that anybody can still file a petition challenging the election of a returned candidate and as per procedure, the poll panel is required to preserve EVMs and VVPAT machines, having evidentiary value, to put forth its views in judicial proceedings.
During the hearing, the Attorney General had agreed to the suggestion of starting a period of limitation and said that normalcy has now returned and there are no containment zones in the country to his knowledge.
Earlier, Election Commission had approached the top court alleging that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail machines (VVPATs) machines used in the assembly elections of six states are lying unused as they are preserved due to an order extending the limitation period for filing pleas and need to be released.
It was submitted that a large number of EVMs and VVPATs are still being preserved and need to be released. It sought that a timeline be fixed for filing election petitions relating to assembly polls of Assam, Kerala, Delhi, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
Contending that these machines would be used in the upcoming elections, the poll panel has said, "We have to maintain these EVMs and VVPAT machines and hearing is necessary as elections in states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab are coming up."
"The poll panel is seeking appropriate directions from this court fixing a timeline for filing of Election Petitions in the States/Union Territories of Assam, Kerala, NCT of Delhi, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, as in absence of the same, all EVMs used in these States/Union Territories are currently stuck or unable to be used/deployed for upcoming/future elections due to the order dated April 27, 2021, passed by this court," said the plea.
It stated that all the EVMs and VVPATs belonging to the Election Commission of India that were used in the recently held assembly elections are blocked and cannot be used in future/upcoming elections and as a result of the apex court's order, the EC is unable to use a substantial number of EVMs. (ANI)