Order 8, Rule 1 of The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 II

The Commercial Courts Act, 2015 through Section 16 has amended The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 in its application to commercial disputes. Whereas commercial disputes [as defined under Section 2(c) of The Commercial Courts Act, 2015] are governed by CPC as amended by Section 16 of the said Act, all other non-­commercial disputes fall within the ambit of the unamended [or original] provisions of CPC.

The ratio of SCG Contracts India Pvt. Ltd. v. KS Chamankar Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd., AIR 2019 SC 2691 concerning the mandatory nature of the timeline prescribed for filing of written statement and the lack of discretion with Courts to condone any delay is applicable only to commercial disputes, as the Judgment was undoubtedly rendered in the context of a commercial dispute qua the amended Order 8, Rule 1. As regard the timeline for filing of written statement in a non­-commercial dispute, the observations of this Court in a catena of decisions, most recently in Atcom Technologies Ltd. v. Y.A. Chunawala and Co., (2018) 6 SCC 639 holds the field; unamended Order 8, Rule I continues to be directory and does not do away with the inherent discretion of Courts to condone certain delays.

However, it would be gainsaid that although the unamended Order 8, Rule 1 is directory, it cannot be interpreted to bestow a free hand to any litigant or lawyer to file written statement at their own sweet-­will and/or to prolong the lis. The legislative objective behind prescription of timelines must be given due weightage so that the disputes are resolved in a time-­bound manner; inherent discretion of Courts, like the ability to condone delays under Order 8, Rule 1 is a fairly defined concept and its contours have been shaped through judicial decisions over the ages. Illustratively, extreme hardship or delays occurring due to factors beyond control of parties despite proactive diligence, may be just and equitable instances for condonation of delay.

Desh Raj v. Balkishan, [Civil Appeal No. 433 of 2020].