Tag Archives: Arbitrator

Invocation of Arbitration Clause – After Final Settlement

In Nathani Steels Ltd. v. Associated Constructions, 1995 Supp (3) SCC 324, it was held as under:        

“Even otherwise we feel that once the parties have arrived at a settlement in respect of any dispute or difference arising under a contract and that dispute or the difference is amicable settled by way of a final settlement by and between the parties, unless that settlement is set aside in proper proceedings, it cannot lie in the mouth of one of the parties to the settlement to spurn it on the ground that it was a mistake and proceed to invoke the arbitration clause. If this is permitted the sanctity of contract, the settlement also being a contract, would be wholly lost and it would be open to one party to take the benefit under the settlement and then to question the same on the ground of mistake without having the settlement set aside.” WAPCOS Ltd. v. Salma Dam Joint Venture, (2020) 3 SCC 169.

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Appointment of Substitute Arbitrator

The legal consequence is well taken care of by the provisions of Section 15(1) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 read with Section 2 of the Act which provides, where the Arbitrator withdraws from office for any reason, a substitute arbitrator should be appointed according to the Rules that were applicable to the appointment of the arbitrator being replaced.        Therefore in the first place a substitute arbitrator may be appointed in view of the clear provisions of law in that regard. Second as to the procedure to be followed, again there is no doubt that it would have to remain the same as had been followed at the time of appointment of the arbitrator who has rescued himself. M/s Manish Engineering Enterprises v. Indian Farmers Fertilizers Cooperative Ltd., 2020 (138) ALR 930.

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Application under Section 36(3) of the Arbitration Act – Provisions of CPC are Not Mandatory

Sub-section (3) of Section 36 of the Arbitration Act mandates that while considering an application for stay filed along with or after filing of objection under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act, if stay is to be granted then it shall be subject to such conditions as may be deemed fit. The said sub-section clearly mandates that the grant of stay of the operation of the award is to be for reasons to be recorded in writing “subject to such conditions as it may deem fit”. The proviso makes it clear that the Court has to “have due regard to the provisions for grant of stay of a money decree under the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure”. The phrase “have due regard to” would only mean that the provisions of CPC are to be taken into consideration, and not that they are mandatory. While considering the phrase “having regard to”, this Court in Shri Sitaram Sugar Co. Ltd. v. Union of India, (1990) 3 SCC 223 has held as under :

“The words “having regard to” in sub-section are the legislative instruction for the general guidance of the Government in determining the price of sugar. They are not strictly mandatory, but in essence directory”.

 In the present context, the phrase used is “having regard to” the provisions of CPC and not “in accordance with” the provisions of CPC. In the latter case, it would have been mandatory, but in the form as mentioned in Section 36(3) of the Arbitration Act, it would only be directory or as a guiding factor. Mere reference to CPC in the said Section 36 cannot be construed in such a manner that it takes away the power conferred in the main statute (i.e. the Arbitration Act) itself. It is to be taken as a general guideline, which will not make the main provision of the Arbitration Act inapplicable. The provisions of CPC are to be followed as a guidance, whereas the provisions of the Arbitration Act are essentially to be first applied. Since, the Arbitration Act is a self-contained Act, the provisions of CPC will apply only insofar as the same are not inconsistent with the spirit and provisions of the Arbitration Act. Pam Developments (P) Ltd. v. State of W.B., (2019) 8 SCC 112

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Invalidity of the Main Agreement – May attach itself to the Arbitration Agreement

Where the contract or instrument is voidable at the option of a party (as for example under Section 19 of the Contract Act, 1872), the invalidity that attaches itself to the main agreement may also attach itself to the arbitration agreement, if the reasons which make the main agreement voidable, exist in relation to the making of the arbitration agreement also. For example, if a person is made to sign an agreement to sell his property under threat of physical harm or threat to life, and the said person repudiates the agreement on that ground not only the agreement for sale, but any arbitration agreement therein will not be binding. Garware Wall Ropes Ltd. v. Coastal Marine Constructions and Engineering Ltd., (2019) 9 SCC 209.

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Till Adjudication of Demand – Government Cannot Withhold Money of Contractor

In Gangotri Enterprises Ltd. v. Union of India, (2016) 11 SCC 720, it was held that the demand of the Government is crystallised or adjudicated upon, the Government cannot withhold the money of the contractor. This judgment is primarily based on the judgment of the Hon’ble Apex Court in Union of India v. Raman Iron Foundry, (1974) 2 SCC 231. In this case it was held that the Government had no right to appropriate the amount claimed without getting it first adjudicated. It was held as under:

            “But here the order of interim injunction does not expressly or by necessary implication, carry any direction to the appellant to pay the amounts due to the respondent under other contracts. It is not only in form but also in substance a negative injunction. It has no positive content. What is does is merely to injunct the  appellant from recovering, suo motu, the damages claimed by it from out of other amounts due to the respondent. It does not direct that the appellant shall pay such amounts to the respondent. The appellant can still refuse to pay such amounts if it thinks it has a valid defence and if the appellant does so, the only remedy open to the respondent would be to take measures in an appropriate forum for recovery of such amounts where it would be decided whether the appellant is liable to pay such amounts to the respondent or not. No breach of the order of interim injunction as such would be involved in non-payment of such amounts by the appellant to the respondent. The only thing which the appellant is interdicted from doing is to make recovery of its claim for damages by appropriating such amounts in satisfaction of the claim. That is clearly within the power of the court under Section 41(b) of the Arbitration Act, 1940 because the claim for damages forms the subject-matter of the arbitration proceedings and the court can always say that until such claim is adjudicated upon, the appellant shall be restrained from recovering it by appropriating other amounts due to the respondent.” State of Gujarat v. Amber Builders, (2020) 2 SCC 540.  

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Appeal u/s 37 of Arbitration & Conciliation Act – Delay Beyond 120 Days

Given the fact that an appellate proceeding is a continuation of the original proceeding as has been held in Lachmeshwar Prasad Shukul v. Keshwar Lal Chaudhuri, AIR 1941 FC 5, and repeatedly followed in various judgments, any delay beyond 120 days in the filing of an appeal under Section 37 from an application being either dismissed or allowed under Section 34 of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act, 1996 should not be allowed as it will defeat the overall statutory purpose of arbitration proceedings being decided with utmost dispatch. N.V. International v. State of Assam, (2020) 2 SCC 109. (See also Union of India v. Varindera Constructions Ltd., (2020) 2 SCC 111.)

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Non-Arbitrable Disputes

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

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Arbitral Award – Period of Limitation for Challenging

In Section 34(3) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, the commencement period for computing limitation is the date of receipt of award or the date of disposal of request under Section 33 (i.e. correction/additional award). If Section 17 of the Limitation Act were to be applied for computing the limitation period under Section 34(3) of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act, the starting period of limitation would be the date of discovery of the alleged fraud or mistake. The starting point for limitation under Section 34(3) would be different from the Limitation Act.

        In the context of Section 34(3) of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act, a party can challenge an award as soon as it receives the award. Once an award is received, a party has knowledge of the award and the limitation period commences. The objecting party is therefore precluded from invoking Section 17(1)(b) and (d) of the Limitation Act once it has knowledge of the award. Section 17(1)(a) and (c) of the Limitation Act may not even apply, if they are extended to Section 34, since they deal with a scenario where the application is “based upon” the fraud of the respondent or if the application is for “relief from the consequences of a mistake.” Section 34 application is based on the award and not on the fraud of the respondent and does not seek the relief of consequence of a mistake. P. Radha Rai v. P. Ashok Kumar, (2019) 13 SCC 445.   

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Waiver of Applicability of – Section 12(5) of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act

Section 12(5) of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act is a new provision which relates to the de jure inability of an arbitrator to act as such. Under this provision, any prior agreement to the contrary is wiped out by the non obstante clause in Section 12(5) the moment any person whose relationship with the parties or the counsel or the subject-matter of the dispute falls under the Seventh Schedule. The sub-section then declares that such person shall be “ineligible” to be appointed as arbitrator. The only way in which this ineligibility can be removed is by the proviso, which again is a special provision which states that parties may, subsequent to disputes having arisen between them, waive the applicability of Section 12(5) by an express agreement in writing. What is clear, therefore, is that where, under any agreement between the parties, a person falls within any of the categories set out in the Seventh Schedule, he is, as a matter of law, ineligible to be appointed as an arbitrator. The only way in which this ineligibility can be removed, again, in law, is that parties may after disputes have arisen between them, waive the applicability of this sub-section by an “express agreement in writing”. Obviously, the “express agreement in writing” has reference to a person who is interdicted by the Seventh Schedule, but who is stated by parties (after the disputes have arisen between them) to be a person in whom they have faith notwithstanding the fact that such person is interdicted by the eventh Schedule.

Unlike Section 4 of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act which deals with deemed waiver of the right to object by conduct, the proviso to Section 12(5) will only apply if subsequent to disputes having arisen between the parties, the parties waive the applicability of sub-section (5) of Section 12 by an express agreement in writing. For this reason, the argument based on the analogy of Section 7 of the Act must also be rejected. Section 7 deals with arbitration agreements that must be in writing, and then explains that such agreements may be contained in documents which provide a record of such agreements. On the other hand, Section 12(5) refers to an “express agreement in writing”. The expression “express agreement in writing” refers to an agreement made in words as opposed to an agreement which is to be inferred by conduct. Here, Section 9 of the Contract Act, 1872 becomes important. It states:

9. Promises, express and implied.—Insofar as the proposal or acceptance of any promise is made in words, the promise is said to be express. Insofar as such proposal or acceptance is made otherwise than in words, the promise is said to be implied.”

It is thus necessary that there be an “express” agreement in writing. Bharat Broadband Network Ltd. v. United Telecoms Ltd., (2019) 5 SCC 755.

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Arbitrator – Appointed by Government Department/Company

In Union of India v. U.P. State Bridge Corporation Ltd., (2015) 2 SCC 52, it was held as under:

        “In the case of contracts between Government Corporations/State owned companies with private parties/contractors, the terms of the agreement are usually drawn by the Government Company or public sector undertakings. Government contracts have broadly two kinds of arbitration clauses, first where a named officer is to act as sole arbitrator; and second, where a senior officer like a Managing Director, nominates a designated officer to act as the sole arbitrator. No doubt, such clauses give the Government a dominant position to constitute the Arbitral Tribunal are held to be valid. At the same time, it also casts an onerous and responsible duty upon the persona designata to appoint such persons/officers as the arbitrators who are not only able to function independently and impartially, but are in a position to devote adequate time in conducting the arbitration. If the Government has nominated those officers as arbitrators who are not able to devote time to the arbitration proceedings or become incapable of acting as arbitrators because of frequent transfers, etc., then the principle of “default procedure” at least in the cases where the Government has assumed the role of appointment of arbitrators to itself, has to be applied in the case of substitute arbitrators as well and the court will step in to appoint the arbitrator by keeping aside the procedure which is agreed to between the parties. However, it will depend upon the facts of a particular case as to whether such a course of action should be taken or not. S.P. Singla Constructions (P) Ltd. v. State of H.P., (2019) 2 SCC 488.

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