The Supreme Court today said that it will lift its earlier order that had indefinitely extended the limitation period within which one can file petitions, in view of the COVID-19 second wave. The court indicated that regular limitation periods can now resume from October 1, 2021.
A Bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice Surya Kant observed that since COVID-19 cases have reduced, a buffer period of 90 days will be given with effect from October 1.
The Bench told Attorney General of India KK Venugopal, "I think we can lift the order now. We can now say that period of extension will be upto October 1."
The Supreme 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.
Noticing that the country was returning to normalcy, the Supreme Court brought the extension of limitation to an end with its March 8, 2021 order.
However, on April 27 this year, the Supreme Court took note of the onset of the second COVID-19 wave, and relaxed the statutory period for filing petitions, including election petitions, under the Representation of the People Act, 1951. This means 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 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail machines (VVPATs) having evidentiary value, to put forth its views in judicial proceedings.
During the hearing, the Attorney General 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.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the Election Commission of India, contended that only 45 days should be given for election petitions after the lifting of the limitation extension, as it is the period prescribed under the Representation of Peoples Act.
Earlier, the Election Commission had approached the Supreme Court alleging that Electronic Voting Machines and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail 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 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 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," the plea said.
It stated all the EVMs and VVPATs belonging to the Election Commission of India that were used in recently held assembly elections are blocked and cannot be used in future/upcoming elections, and as a result of the Supreme Court's order, the Election Commission is unable to use a substantial number of EVMs.