In Booz Allen & Hamilton Inc. v. SBI Home Finance Ltd. [Booz Allen & Hamilton Inc. v. SBI Home Finance Ltd., (2011) 5 SCC 532 the following has been laid down:
“ The Arbitral Tribunals are private fora chosen voluntarily by the parties to the dispute, to adjudicate their disputes in place of courts and tribunals which are public fora constituted under the laws of the country. Every civil or commercial dispute, either contractual or non-contractual, which can be decided by a court, is in principle capable of being adjudicated and resolved by arbitration unless the jurisdiction of the Arbitral Tribunals is excluded either expressly or by necessary implication. Adjudication of certain categories of proceedings are reserved by the legislature exclusively for public fora as a matter of public policy. Certain other categories of cases, though not expressly reserved for adjudication by public fora (courts and tribunals), may by necessary implication stand excluded from the purview of private fora. Consequently, where the cause/dispute is inarbitrable, the court where a suit is pending, will refuse to refer the parties to arbitration, under Section 8 of the Act, even if the parties might have agreed upon arbitration as the forum for settlement of such disputes.
The well-recognised examples of non-arbitrable disputes are: (i) disputes relating to rights and liabilities which give rise to or arise out of criminal offences; (ii) matrimonial disputes relating to divorce, judicial separation, restitution of conjugal rights, child custody; (iii) guardianship matters; (iv) insolvency and winding-up matters; (v) testamentary matters (grant of probate, letters of administration and succession certificate); and (vi) eviction or tenancy matters governed by special statutes where the tenant enjoys statutory protection against eviction and only the specified courts are conferred jurisdiction to grant eviction or decide the disputes.
It may be noticed that the cases referred to above relate to actions in rem. A right in rem is a right exercisable against the world at large, as contrasted from a right in personam which is an interest protected solely against specific individuals. Actions in personam refer to actions determining the rights and interests of the parties themselves in the subject-matter of the case, whereas actions in rem refer to actions determining the title to property and the rights of the parties, not merely among themselves but also against all persons at any time claiming an interest in that property. Correspondingly, a judgment in personam refers to a judgment against a person as distinguished from a judgment against a thing, right or status and a judgment in rem refers to a judgment that determines the status or condition of property which operates directly on the property itself.
Generally and traditionally all disputes relating to rights in personam are considered to be amenable to arbitration; and all disputes relating to rights in rem are required to be adjudicated by courts and public tribunals, being unsuited for private arbitration. This is not however a rigid or inflexible rule. Disputes relating to subordinate rights in personam arising from rights in rem have always been considered to be arbitrable.” Emaar MGF Land Ltd. v. Aftab Singh, (2019) 12 SCC 751
Sub-section (1) of Section 85 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 repealed three enactments including the Arbitration Act, 1940. Sub-section (2) stipulates, inter alia, that notwithstanding such repeal, the repealed enactment, namely, the 1940 Act would continue to apply in relation to arbitral proceedings which had commenced before the 1996 Act came into force unless the parties were to agree otherwise. The second limb of first clause of said sub-section (2) further stipulates that notwithstanding such repeal, the provisions of the 1996 Act would apply in relation to arbitral proceedings which commenced on or after the 1996 Act came into force.
As is clear from MMTC Ltd. v. Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd., (1996) 6 SCC 716, what is material for the purposes of the applicability of the 1996 Act is the agreement between the parties to refer the disputes to arbitration. If there be such an arbitration agreement which satisfies the requirements of Section 7 of the 1996 Act, and if no arbitral proceeding had commenced before the 1996 Act came into force, the matter would be completely governed by the provisions of the 1996 Act. Any reference to 1940 Act in the arbitration agreement would be of no consequence and the matter would be referred to arbitration only in terms of the 1996 Act consistent with the basic intent of the parties as discernible from the arbitration agreement to refer the disputes to arbitration.
In situations where the relevant clause made reference to the applicability of “the provisions of the Indian Arbitration Act and Rules made thereunder” as was the case in MMTC Ltd. v. Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd., (1996) 6 SCC 716, on the strength of Section 85(2)(a) the governing provisions in respect of arbitral proceedings which had not commenced before 1996 Act had come into force would be those of the 1996 Act alone. On the same reasoning even if an arbitration agreement entered into after the 1996 Act had come into force were to make a reference to the applicable provisions of those under Indian Arbitration Act or the 1940 Act, such stipulation would be of no consequence and the matter must be governed under the provisions of the 1996 Act. An incorrect reference or recital regarding applicability of the 1940 Act would not render the entire arbitration agreement invalid. Such stipulation will have to be read in the light of Section 85 of the 1996 Act and the principles governing such relationship have to be under and in tune with the 1996 Act. Purushottam v. Anil, (2018) 8 SCC 95.
A perusal of Section 42 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, reveals a clear acknowledgement by the Legislature, that the jurisdiction for raising a challenge to the same arbitration agreement, arbitration proceeding or arbitrable award, could most definitely arise in more than one court simultaneously. To remedy such a situation Section 42 of the Arbitration Act mandates, that the court wherein the first application arising out of such a challenge is filed, shall alone have the jurisdiction to adjudicate upon the dispute(s), which are filed later in point of time. The above Legislative Intent must also be understood as mandating, that disputes arising out of the same arbitration agreement, arbitral proceeding or arbitral award, would not be adjudicated upon by more than one court, even though jurisdiction to raise such disputes may legitimately lie before two or more courts. State of Maharashtra v. Atlanta Ltd., (2014) 11 SCC 619.
In State of Goa v. Praveen Enterprises, (2012) 12 SCC 581, addressing the issue pertaining to counterclaims, the Court observed as follows:
“As far as counterclaims are concerned, there is no room for ambiguity in regard to the relevant date for determining the limitation. Section 3(2)(b) of the Limitation Act, 1963 provides that in regard to a counterclaim in suits, the date on which the counterclaim is made in court shall be deemed to be the date of institution of the counterclaim. As the Limitation Act, 1963 is made applicable to arbitrations, in the case of a counterclaim by a respondent in an arbitral proceeding, the date on which the counterclaim is made before the arbitrator will be the date of institution insofar as counterclaim is concerned. There is, therefore, no need to provide a date of commencement as in the case of claims of a claimant. Section 21 of the Act is therefore not relevant for counterclaims. There is however one exception. Where the respondent against whom a claim is made, had also made a claim against the claimant and sought arbitration by serving a notice to the claimant but subsequently raises that claim as a counterclaim in the arbitration proceedings initiated by the claimant, instead of filing a separate application under Section 11 of the Act, the limitation for such counterclaim should be computed, as on the date of service of notice of such claim on the claimant and not on the date of filing of the counterclaim. Voltas Limited v. Rolta India Limited, (2014) 4 SCC 516.