New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday held that all summons and notices are allowed to be served through digital medium, including email, fax and instant messaging mobile applications. The decision comes in the wake of a visit to a post office not entirely possible due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a first, the order passed by a three-judge apex court bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde held that all methods are to be employed to provide a valid service to a party and it shall include service through messenger services like WhatsApp and other telephone messenger services.
This is a significant move since the top court has already been hearing cases through video conferencing since March and this is another important step towards digitalisation of the judicial procedures at the apex court.
Chief Justice Bobde said, “If the two blue ticks are there then it can be proved under Evidence Act, but if the person has turned it off, then it cannot be proven. So WhatsApp can be used (for summons).”
The bench also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and Subhash Reddy passed this order in a suo moto writ, taking cognizance of extension of the limitation period.
On 23 March, the apex court had passed a general order, in which it indefinitely extended the ‘limitation period’ for filing appeals against orders of high courts or any tribunal at the apex court. Limitation period is the period in which a party can file a case within a specific number of days from day of the dispute or an appeal to a higher judicial body against the order of a lower judicial body.
While hearing the case through video conferring on Friday, the court refused to intervene in the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) decision to extend the limitation period for validity of cheques under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act.
The court held, “Under Section 35A of the Banking Regulation Act, we don’t consider appropriate to interfere in the deadline prescribed by RBI. If RBI considers to extend, then they can do it.”
Senior Advocate V. Giri, appearing for RBI, submitted that RBI had decided not to extend the limitation period under its provision as of now.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, while stating the problems faced by Debts Recovery Tribunal (DRT), submitted in his arguments that the term “lifting of lockdown” used by the court was vague and is creating problem. He said, “There is a problem with the usage of expression like “lifting of lockdown”. There are areas which are containment zones and hence DRT filing is impacted. At times, there is no lockdown and you can file, but the area where you need to go might be a containment zone for DRT filing. This can be taken up after 45 days.”
The bench took a note of these submissions and observed that the court could define the phrase “lifting of lockdown” during the next hearing.
In the previous hearing on Monday, Attorney general K.K. Venugopal, representing the central government, told the top court that service of notices and summons should be permitted through email and fax in view of Covid-19, but not through WhatsApp given that the messaging app does not allow the government to access data even in matters concerning terrorism and pornography.
“Union government has reservations regarding WhatsApp. It does not allow (government to) access (data) in cases involving terrorism and pornography”, Venugopal told a bench headed by CJI Bobde.