In a civil suit, the defendant has to file a written statement within a specified time period. The limitation for filing a written statement has undergone several changes since the CPC came into force. This article endeavours to examine the limitation of filing the written statement and judicial pronouncements on the same.
I. Limitation to File Written Statement under CPC
A written statement is a document filed by a defendant to a suit against the plaint filed by the plaintiff. According to the basic procedure, after the plaintiff has filed the plaint, s/he is supposed to issue summons upon the defendant to allow him/her to file the written statement.
According to Order VIII, Rule 1, a written statement must be filed within 30 days from the date of receipt of the summons by the defendant. It has to be noted that the time of limitation does not commence with the date of issue of summons but from the date of receipt of summons. Further, this period can be extended by the court at its discretion and for reasons which the court must provide in writing. However, the period cannot be extended beyond 90 days.
Now, this provision and the limitation to file written statement has been a matter of debate for a very long time and has also been subjected to several amendments. Before 1999, it was observed by courts that the defendants do not file their written statements for more than 120 days or even sometimes for 6 months and the courts kept extending the time limit in the absence of any strict provision to curtail the same. This resulted in injustice to the plaintiff, delay in proceedings and piling up of a huge number of cases before the courts.
Hence, in 1999, an amendment was brought to the Civil Procedure Code and Rule 1 was amended. After the amendment of 1999, the statute required the defendants to file written statements within a period of 30 days from the receipt of summons. Though the provision was the need of the hour, it was not very successful because of the extremely stern requirement. There were genuine reasons for defendants to not be able to file a written statement within 30 days, so the courts were helpless.
In 2000, a major amendment was brought to the Code and the present provision was enacted as it stands today. Through the amendment of 2000, the period of 30 days was left unchanged but the courts were provided discretion to increase the time for a maximum period of 90 days and also record the reasons for doing the same. This enabled sufficient time to defendants who genuinely require more time.
II. Limitation for Commercial Disputes
Rule 1 provides the time period of 30 days to file a written statement which can be extended to 90 days by the courts in any civil dispute. However, this provision does not apply in commercial disputes and several changes have been made in this regard. According to the proviso annexed to Rule 1, in case of a commercial dispute, the period of 30 days can be extended by the courts for a maximum of 120 days instead of 90 days as required in other civil disputes.
Further, if the defendant, in a commercial dispute, does not file the written statement within the prescribed 30 days, the court can also levy cost upon the defendant at its discretion. Moreover, if the defendant fails to file the written statement within 120 days, the court may prohibit the defendant from filing it any later stages. It means that the right to file a written statement will be forfeited and the defendant will have no documents on record.
III. Delay in Filing Written Statement
The question that arises is whether the defendant can file an application of condonation of delay in case s/he has not filed the written statement within the extended period as well. With respect to this question, in Ramesh Chandra v. Punjab National Bank, there was a delay in filing of the written statement.
The court observed that the defendant deliberately attempted to delay the disposal of suit and the reasons assigned for the delay is not at all satisfactory. Therefore, the court held that such actions should be prevented and hence, the court levied a cost of Rs. 2,00,000 upon the defendant subject to the payment of which, he could file a written statement and the delay will be condoned.
In Shaikh Salim Haji Abdul Khavimsab v. Kumar, the apex court held that the Court has the necessary authority and carte blanche power to condone the delay and allow the filing of the written statement even beyond the prescribed time of 90 days.
The provision though negatively worded is procedural and procedural laws require liberal interpretation. It does not deal with the power of Court or provide consequences of non-extension. It can, therefore, be read as a directory. However, the court noted that such extension beyond 90 days should be made a regular practice and can be given in only exceptional circumstances if the defendant shows reasonable cause for the delay.
In its recent judgment in Sandeep Thapar v. SME Technologies, the Supreme Court adjudged that the time limit under O. VIII R. 1, has to be observed, but in exceptional circumstances. In order to ensure that injustice is not done, the time can be extended by the courts with satisfactory reasons to be mentioned in writing. When the delay is occasioned by reasons beyond the control of the defendant, then the court ought to permit the party to file a written statement beyond the period prescribed in O VIII, R. 1 of the Code.
IV. Limitation of Filing Written Statement under the Limitation Act
The Limitation Act, 1963 (‘the Act of 1963’) contains the periods of limitation that applies in different kinds of proceedings, the method of computing the prescribed period and the consequences adjoining breach of such period. Section 2(j) of the Act of 1963 defines the period of limitation as the period prescribed in the annexed Schedule.
The limitation applies in respect of all applications, which include petitions as well 1 filed by all applicants which include –
- a petitioner;
- any person from or through whom an applicant derives his right to apply;
- any person whose estate is represented by the applicant as executor, administrator or other representatives;
Section 3 of the Act of 1963 imposes a blanket ban on accepting any suit, appeal or application after the prescribed time, computed with respect to Sections 4 to 24 of the Act, is over. However, no legal consequences apart from dismissal are listed herein. This ban is not absolute and is saved by Section 5 which allows any court to condone such delay in filing an appeal or an application if ‘sufficient cause’ may be shown by the applicant. Various judgments have held that this discretion is not to be exercised in a passing manner and a satisfactorily explained cause of delay is a sine qua non for the same.
Several exclusions, extensions and methods of computations exist with respect to the period of limitation of filing a written statement in a suit. A brief list of the same may be such –
- The period of disability of an applicant before the commencement of the period of limitation halts the computation and the period begins after such disability(ies) have passed. This disability includes being a minor. The death of an applicant transfers the right to file the statement to the legal representatives within such time as was available to the person if he had not died.
- The reasonable time for obtaining a copy of the decree, order, judgment or award of any court which is pertinent to the subsequent filing of a statement is excluded from computation.
- The time undergone in proceedings held bona fide before a court which by reason of procedural incapacity or irregularity cannot entertain proceedings on such application is excluded.
V. Limitation under Special laws How Affected
As per Section 29(2), when any period of limitation different from one prescribed under this act is given under any special or local law, the provisions from Section 3 shall still apply as if the period was prescribed under this act itself. The provisions for computation shall also apply to the extent they are not expressly excluded by the special or local law.
- P. Jain, The Code of Civil Procedure and Limitation Act, 5th ed. 2020.
- Mulla, The Code of Civil Procedure, 18th 2017.
- Sarkar, Code of Civil Procedure, Vol. 1 (12th 2016).
 AIR 1990 SC 1147
 AIR 2006 SC 396
 Salem Advocate Bar Assn. v UOI, AIR 2005 SC 3353; Rani Kusum v Kanchan Devi, AIR 2005 SC 3304 and Tukaram Shuke v Prakash Kallappa Awade, AIR 2006 Bom 55
 C Abdul Shukoor Saheb v Arji Papa Rao, AIR 1963 SC 1150
 Sandeep Thapar v SME Technologies Pvt Ltd, AIR 2014 SC 897
 Section 2(b), Limitation Act, 1963
 Section 8, Limitation Act, 1963
 Section 12, Limitation Act, 1963