In Irrigation Department v. G.C. Roy, (1992) 1 SCC 508, the Hon’ble Apex Court thoroughly considered the question of power of the arbitrator to award interest pendente lite and held that when the agreement between the parties does not prohibit grant of interest and where the party claims interest and that dispute has been referred to an arbitrator does have the power to award interest pendente lite.
Subsequently in Port of Calcutta v. Engineers-De-Space-Age, (1996) 1 SCC 516 and Madnani Construction Corporation (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, (2010) 1 SCC 549 held that according to the view taken in Irrigation Department v. G.C.Roy, (1992) 1 SCC 508, the arbitrator does have the power to award interest pendente lite. The Court observed that it essentially depends upon the ouster in each clause, which means that unless there is an express bar that provides that the arbitrator cannot award interest pendente lite, the grant of interest pendente lite will predominantly be based on the arbitrator’s discretion to award the same.
In Sayeed Ahmed and Co. v. State of U.P., (2009) 12 SCC 26, the Hon’ble Apex Court referred to the decision in Superintending Engineer v. B.Subba Reddy, (1999) 4 SCC 423 and observed thus:
“Two more decisions dealing with cases arising under the Arbitration Act, 1940 require to be noticed. In Superintending Engineer v. B.Subba Reddy, (1999) 4 SCC 423 the Hon’ble Apex Court held that interest for pre-reference period can be awarded only if there was an agreement to that effect or if it was allowable under the Interest Act, 1978. Therefore, claim for interest for pre-reference period, which is barred as per the agreement or under the Interest Act, 1978 could not be allowed. The Court however held that the arbitrator can award interest pendente lite and future interest.”
A three Judge Bench of the Hon’ble Apex Court in Union of India v. Ambica Contsruction, (2016) 6 SCC 36, held that the power of an arbitrator to grant pendente lite interest will depend upon several factors such as; phraseology used in the agreement clauses conferring power relating to arbitration, nature of claim and dispute referred to arbitrator, and on what items power to award interest has been taken away and for which period. It was observed:
“Thus, our answer to the reference is that if the contract expressly bars the award of interest pendente lite, the same cannot be awarded by the arbitrator. We also make it clear that the bar to award interest on delayed payment by itself will not be readily inferred as express bar to award interest pendente lite by the arbitral Tribunal, as ouster of power of the arbitrator has to be considered on various relevant aspects referred to in the decisions of this Court, it would be for the Division Bench to consider the case on merits.”
Further, the Hon’ble Apex Court considered an identical clause in the contract in Ambica Construction v. Union of India, (2017) 14 SCC 323, wherein it observed that the clause of GCC did not bar the arbitrator from awarding interest pendente lite and affirmed the award passed by the arbitrator. The three Judge Bench of the Court held that the contention raised by the Union of India based on the clause of GCC that the arbitrator could not award interest pendente lite was not a valid contention and the arbitrator was completely justified in granting interest pendente lite. Relying on the three Judge Bench judgment in Union of India v. Ambica Contsruction, (2016) 6 SCC 36 and Irrigation Department v. G.C.Roy, (1992) 1 SCC 508, the Court held that the bar to award interest on the amounts payable under the contract would not be sufficient to deny the payment of interest pendente lite. Raveechee and Company v. Union of India, (2018) 7 SCC 664.