This is the longest curfew that our generation has faced! Very few who witnessed the second World War are with us today to share the stories of the trying times of those days.
For our generation, the pandemic COVID-19 is nothing short of a world war. It has not only taken human lives but has largely brought the world economy to a standstill.
The World has been commending the decision taken by our country to enforce a lock-down during early stages of the pandemic, with the intention of curbing the spread of the contagion. We are already in the second month of the lock-down, with no immediate sign of relief.
Given the situation, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has in Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No. 3 of 2020 by its Order dated March 23, 2020 taken cognizance of the challenges and difficulties faced by litigants across the Country in filing petitions/applications/suits/appeals/proceedings within the period of limitation prescribed under the general law of limitation or under special laws (Central and State), and directed that the period of limitation shall stand extended with effect from March 15, 2020 till further orders.
By its Order dated May 6, 2020, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the same Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No. 3 of 2020 extended the periods of limitation under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 and Section 138 of the Negotiation Instruments Act, 1881.
Yet another legal challenge needs to be addressed. The Registration Act, 1908 (“Registration Act”) provides for the timelines within which any registrable document is to be registered.
Sections 23 to 26 of the Registration Act provide as follows:
“23. Subject to the provisions contained in sections 24, 25 and 26, no document other than a will shall be accepted for registration unless presented for that purpose to the proper officer within four months from the date of its execution:
PROVIDED that a copy of a decree or order may be presented within four months from the date on which the decree or order was made or, where it is appealable, within four months from the day on which it becomes final.”
“24. Where there are several persons executing a document at different times, such document may be presented for registration and re-registration within four months from the date of each execution.”
“25. (1) If, owing to urgent necessity or unavoidable accident, any document executed, or copy of a decree or order made, in India is not presented for registration till after the expiration of the time hereinbefore prescribed in that behalf, the Registrar, in cases where the delay in presentation does not exceed four months, may direct that, on payment of a fine not exceeding ten times the amount of the proper registration-fee, such document shall be accepted for registration.
(2) Any application for such direction may be lodged with Sub-Registrar, who shall forthwith forward it to the Registrar to whom he is subordinate.”
“26. When a document purporting to have been executed by all or any of the parties out of India is not presented for registration till after the expiration of the time hereinbefore prescribed in that behalf, the registering officer, if satisfied-
(a) that the instrument was so executed, and
(b) that it has been presented for registration within four months after its arrival in India
may, on payment of the proper registration-fee, accept such document for registration.”
Thus, a document can be registered only within a period of 4 months from the date of its execution, or a further 4 months thereafter, provided the Registrar is satisfied that the document could not be presented for registered within the first 4 months due to urgent necessity or unavoidable accident subject to payment of a penalty. As an illustration.
If a registrable document was executed on December 1, 2019, the same should be registered anytime upto April 1, 2020. The document could be registered even after April 1, 2020 but before August 1, 2020, if the Registrar is satisfied that the document could not be registered by April 1, 2020 due to urgent necessity or unavoidable accident, provided that the parties presenting such document pay the requisite penalty.
It is also worthwhile to study the provisions of Sub-section (1) of Section 10 of the General Clauses Act, 1897, which provides as follows:
“Where, by any Central Act or Regulation made after the commencement of this Act, any act or proceeding is directed or allowed to be done or taken in any Court or office on a certain day or within a prescribed period, then, if the Court or office is closed on that day or the last day of the prescribed period, the act or proceeding shall be considered as done or taken in due time if it is done or taken on the next day afterwards on which the Court or office is open:
Provided that nothing in this section shall apply to any act or proceeding to which the Indian Limitation Act, 1877 (15 of 1877), applies.”
A similar provision is to be found in Section 11 of the Maharashtra General Clauses Act, 1904, which provides as follows:
“Where, by any Bombay Act or Maharashtra Act made after the commencement of this Act, any act or proceeding is directed or allowed to be done or taken in any Court or office on a certain day or within a prescribed period, then, if the Court or office is closed on that day or the last day of the prescribed period, the act or proceeding shall be considered as done or taken in due time if it is done or taken on the next day afterwards on which the Court or office is open;
Provided that nothing in this section shall apply to any act or proceeding to which the Indian Limitation Act, 1877, applies.”
Relying on the aforesaid provisions contained in the General Clauses Act, 1897 and the Maharashtra General Clauses Act, 1904, the Inspector General of Registration and Controller of Stamps, Maharashtra has by Circular dated April 27, 2020 issued certain guidelines for payment of stamp duty on documents executed by banks in their financial operations and registration of notice of intimation of mortgages. The Circular records that as per Section 89B of the Registration Act, upon creation of an equitable mortgage i.e. mortgage by deposit of title deeds, a Notice of Intimation has to be registered within a period of 30 days with the office of the Sub-registrar from the date of creation of such mortgage. However, in light of the lock-down situation in the State, relaxation has been provided for registration of such Notices of Intimation by extending the time for registration to the 1st day after the offices of the Sub-registrar resumes office.
Certain registration offices in Mumbai and Pune have resumed functioning from May 18, 2020. However, the functioning of these offices would be regulated in accordance with the SOP laid down vide Circular dated April 19, 2020 issued by the Inspector General of Registration and Controller of Stamps, Maharashtra. Vide letter dated May 19, 2020, the Inspector General of Registration and Controller of Stamps, Maharashtra has recommended registration of all types of documents provided necessary precautions for preventing the spread of the virus is taken.
In light of the steps taken by the Inspector General of Registration and Controller of Stamps, Maharashtra in providing relaxation to registration of Notices of Intimation with respect to creation of equitable mortgages, it is incumbent for the State in the interest of public policy that the time for registration of all documents under the Registration Act be extended. The resumption in the functioning of certain registration offices in Mumbai and Pune from May 18, 2020 does not resolve the issue where time for registration under Section 23 of the Registration Act has already expired.
Whilst it cannot be denied that any delay in presenting a document during these times will be construed as urgent necessity or unavoidable accident under Section 25 of the Registration Act, availing the benefit under the aforesaid Section requires the party seeking registration of such document after the initial period of 4 months to pay a penalty.
It is therefore exigent that the State Government issues necessary orders extending the time for registration of documents under the Registration Act, or we are likely to witness a myriad of writ petitions filed before the Hon’ble Bombay High Court on this issue.
This Article has been authored by Mr. Sagar Kadam, Partner, DSK Legal. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of DSK Legal.