|Justice RM Lodha|
Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court in Assam Urban Water Supply & Sew. Board Vs. Subash Projects & Marketing Ltd. was faced with the question whether the appellants were entitled to extension of time under Section 4 of the Limitation Act Act. While answering the question in negative, the Supreme Court has recapitulated the law relating to limitation for filing objections to an award under Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. We have dealt with a similar post earlier where Justice Aftab Alam has dealt with the law relating to limitation in filing objections under Section 34 of the Act.
7. Section 34(3) of the 1996 Act provides that an application for setting aside an award may be made within three months of the receipt of the arbitral award. The proviso that follows sub- section (3) of Section 34 provides that on sufficient cause being shown, the court may entertain the application for setting aside the award after the period of three months and within a further period of 30 days but not thereafter.
8. In Popular Construction Co. (supra), this Court has held that an application for setting aside an award filed beyond the period mentioned in Section 34(3) would not be an application "in accordance with sub-section (3) as required under Section 34(1) of the 1996 Act" and Section 5 of the 1963 Act has no application to such application. In para 12 of the report, it was held in Popular Construction Co. (supra) thus:-
"12. As far as the language of Section 34 of the 1996 Act is concerned, the crucial words are "but not thereafter" used in the proviso to sub-section (3). In our opinion, this phrase would amount to an express exclusion within the meaning of Section 29(2) of the Limitation Act, and would therefore bar the application of Section 5 of the Act. Parliament did not need to go further. To hold that the court could entertain an application to set aside the award beyond the extended period under the proviso, would render the phrase "but not thereafter" wholly otiose. No principle of interpretation would justify such a result".
9. Recently, in the State of Maharashtra Vs. Hindustan Construction Company Limited, (2010) 4 SCC 518, a two Judge Bench of this Court speaking through one of us (R.M. Lodha, J.) emphasised the mandatory nature of the limit to the extension of the period provided in proviso to Section 34(3) and held that an application for setting aside arbitral award under Section 34 of the 1996 Act has to be made within the time prescribed under sub-section (3) of Section 34, i.e., within three months and a further period of 30 days on sufficient cause being shown and not thereafter.
10. Section 43(1) of the 1996 Act provides that the 1963 Act shall apply to arbitrations as it applies to proceedings in court. The 1963 Act is thus applicable to the matters of arbitration covered by the 1996 Act save and except to the extent its applicability has been excluded by virtue of the express provision contained in Section 34(3) of the 1996 Act.
11. The facts in the present case are peculiar. The arbitral awards were received by the appellants on August 26, 2003. No application for setting aside the arbitral awards was made by the appellants before elapse of three months from the receipt thereof. As a matter of fact, three months from the date of the receipt of the arbitral award by the appellants expired on November 26, 2003. The District Court had Christmas vacation for the period from December 25, 2003 to January 1, 2004. On reopening of the court, i.e., on January 2, 2004, admittedly, the appellants made applications for setting aside those awards under Section 34 of the 1996 Act. If the period during which the District Court, Kamrup, Guwahati, remained closed during Christmas vacation, 2003 is extended and the appellants get benefit of that period over and above the cap of thirty days as provided in Section 34(3), then the view of the High Court and the District Judge cannot be sustained. But this would depend on the applicability of Section 4 of the 1963 Act. The question, therefore, that falls for our determination is - whether the appellants are entitled to extension of time under Section 4 of the 1963 Act in the above facts.
12. Section 4 of the 1963 Act reads as under :-
"4. Expiry of prescribed period when court is closed.-Where the prescribed period for any suit, appeal or application expires on a day when the court is closed, the suit, appeal or application may be instituted, preferred or made on the day when the court reopens. Explanation.-A court shall be deemed to be closed on any day within the meaning of this section if during any part of its normal working hours it remains closed on that day."
13. The above Section enables a party to institute a suit, prefer an appeal or make an application on the day court reopens where the prescribed period for any suit, appeal or application expires on the day when the court is closed. The crucial words in Section 4 of the 1963 Act are 'prescribed period'. What is the meaning of these words? Section 2(j) of the 1963 Act defines 'period of limitation' which means the period of limitation prescribed for any suit, appeal or application by the Schedule, and 'prescribed period' means the period of limitation computed in accordance with the provisions of this Act. Section 2(j) of the 1963 Act when read in the context of Section 34(3) of the 1996 Act, it becomes amply clear that the prescribed period for making an application for setting aside arbitral award is three months. The period of 30 days mentioned in proviso that follows sub-section (3) of Section 34 of the 1996 Act is not the 'period of limitation' and, therefore, not 'prescribed period' for the purposes of making the application for setting aside the arbitral award. The period of 30 days beyond three months which the court may extend on sufficient cause being shown under the proviso appended to sub-section (3) of Section 34 of the 1996 Act being not the 'period of limitation' or, in other words, 'prescribed period', in our opinion, Section 4 of the 1963 Act is not, at all, attracted to the facts of the present case.
14. Seen thus, the applications made by the appellants on January 2, 2004, for setting aside the arbitral award dated August 26, 2003 were liable to be dismissed and have rightly been dismissed by the District Judge, Kamrup, Guwahati, as time barred.
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