Arbitral Tribunal – Powers Under Section 17 of the Act

 

Under Section 17, the Arbitral Tribunal has the power to order interim measures of protection, unless the parties have excluded such power by agreement. Section 17 is an important provision, which is crucial to the working of the arbitration system, since it ensures that even for the purposes of interim measures, the parties can approach the Arbitral Tribunal rather than await orders from a court. The efficacy of Section 17 is however, seriously compromised given the lack of any suitable statutory mechanism for the enforcement of such interim orders of the Arbitral Tribunal.

In Sundaram Finance Ltd. v. NEPC India Ltd. [Sundaram Finance Ltd.v. NEPC India Ltd., (1999) 2 SCC 479], the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that though Section 17 gives the Arbitral Tribunal the power to pass orders, the same cannot be enforced as orders of a court and it is for this reason only that Section 9 gives the court power to pass interim orders during the arbitration proceedings. Subsequently, in Army Welfare Housing Organisationv. Sumangal Services (P) Ltd. [Army Welfare Housing Organisation v. Sumangal Services (P) Ltd., (2004) 9 SCC 619] , the Court had held that under Section 17 of the Act no power is conferred on the Arbitral Tribunal to enforce its order nor does it provide for judicial enforcement thereof.

In the face of such categorical judicial opinion, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court attempted to find a suitable legislative basis for enforcing the orders of the Arbitral Tribunal under Section 17 in Sri Krishan v. Anand [Sri Krishan v. Anand, 2009 SCC OnLine Del 2472 : (2009) 112 DRJ 657 : (2009) 3 Arb LR 447] [followed in Indiabulls Financial Services Ltd. v. Jubilee Plots & Housing (P) Ltd. [Indiabulls Financial Services Ltd. v. Jubilee Plots & Housing (P) Ltd., 2009 SCC OnLine Del 2458] ]. The Delhi High Court held that any person failing to comply with the order of the Arbitral Tribunal under Section 17 would be deemed to be “making any other default” or “guilty of any contempt to the Arbitral Tribunal during the conduct of the proceedings” under Section 27(5) of Act. The remedy of the aggrieved party would then be to apply to the Arbitral Tribunal for making a representation to the court to mete out appropriate punishment. Once such a representation is received by the court from the Arbitral Tribunal, the court would be competent to deal with such party in default as if it is in contempt of an order of the court i.e. either under the provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act or under the provisions of Order 39 Rule 2-A of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. Alka Chandewar v. Shamshul Ishrar Khan, (2017) 16 SCC 119 

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