(1) Except as otherwise provided elsewhere in this Code, no Court shall take cognizance of an offence of the category specified in sub-section (2), after the expiry of the period of limitation.
(2) The period of limitation shall be:
(a) six months, if the offence is punishable with fine only;
(b) one year, if the offence is punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year;
(c) three years, if the offence is punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding one year but not exceeding three years.
(3) For the purposes of this Section, the period of limitation, in relation to offences which may be tried together, shall be determined with reference to the offence which is punishable with the more severe punishment or, as the case may be, the most severe punishment.
Section 468 of the Code relates to offence prima facie made out and not to offence ultimately to be found to have been committed. Any prosecution, whether by the State or a private complaint must abide by the letter of law or take the risk of the prosecution failing on the ground of limitation. The Government has no power to grant permission to institute a prosecution after the expiry of the statutory period of limitation.
The limitation period does not apply in those cases where provision has been made otherwise as Section 468 begins with the words “Except as otherwise provided’. But, Section 473 provides that the period of limitation can be extended in certain cases as it begins with the words “Notwithstanding anything contained in the foregoing provisions of this Chapter.”
Hence, a charge-sheet filed beyond period of one year from the date of alleged offence is not time barred under Section 468 if the offence does not fall within the ambit of Section 468(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The discretionary power can be exercised if the Court is satisfied that: (1) the delay has been properly explained; or (2) it is necessary to take cognizance in the interests of justice.
It is necessary to give an opportunity to the accused at the time of considering whether the delay has been explained or whether it is in the interests of justice that the cognizance be taken. Power to condone the delay can be exercised even after taking cognizance of the offence. Condonation of delay is not a pre-condition to taking cognizance. Delay, however, is not to be condoned as a matter of course. It is to be done in exercise of judicial discretion.
Delay shall be condoned prior to taking of cognizance of an offence and there is no scope for condoning the delay after taking such cognizance. The taking of cognizance beyond the period of limitation cannot be rectified by passing an order under Section 473 and making it to operate retrospectively.
It may be noted that grave offences for commission of which greater punishments are awarded are not envisaged under Section 468 of the Code.
‘Except as otherwise provided elsewhere in this Code’ indicates the provisions of Sections 84(1), 96(1), provisos to Sections 125(3), 198(6), 199(5), 378(5) and 457(2). The bar of limitation under Section 468 will not apply to cases where the Magistrate proceeds against a person under Section 319 of the Code.