Tag Archives: Arbitration and Conciliation Act

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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Determination or Order

        The word “determination” has to be contextually determined. In Ashok Leyland Ltd. v. State of T.N., (2004) 3 SCC 1, the Hon’ble Apex Court has reproduced the definition of “determination” from Law Lexicon, 2nd Edition by P. Ramanatha Iyer and Black’s Law Dictionary, 6th Edition. It reads thus:

        “Determination or order.—The expression “determination” signifies an effective expression of opinion which ends a controversy or a dispute by some authority to whom it is submitted under a valid law for disposal. The expression “order” must have also a similar meaning, except that it need not operate to end the dispute. Determination or order must be judicial or quasi – judicial. Jaswant Sugar Mills Ltd. v. Lakshmi Chand, AIR 1963 SC 677.

        A “determination” is a final judgment for purposes of appeal when the Trial Court has completed its adjudication of the rights of the parties in the action. Thomas Van Dyken Joint centure v. Van Dyken, 27 NW 2d 459.

          The said test clearly means that the expression of determination signifies an expressive opinion. Union of India v. Hardy Exploration and Production (India) Inc., 2019 (132) ALR 263.

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Appointment of Arbitrator – No Claim Certificate Obtained by Fraud, Coercion, Duress or Undue Influence

In Union of India v. Master Construction Company, (2011) 12 SCC 349, it was held as under:

            “In our opinion, there is no rule of the absolute kind. In a case where the claimant contends that a discharge voucher or no claim certificate has been obtained by fraud, coercion, duress or undue influence and the other side contests the correctness thereof, the Chief Justice/his designate must look into this aspect to find out at least, prima facie, whether or not the dispute is bona fide and genuine. Where the dispute raised by the claimant with regard to validity of the discharge voucher or no – claim certificate or settlement agreement, prima facie, appears to be lacking in credibility, there may not be a necessity to refer the dispute for arbitration at all.”

            From the proposition which has been laid down by the Hon’ble Apex Court, what reveals is that a mere plea of fraud, coercion or undue influence in itself is not enough and the party who alleged is under obligation to prima facie establish the same by placing satisfactory material on record before the Chief Justice or his Designate to exercise power under Section 11(6) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 which has been considered by the Hon’ble Supre Court in New India Assurance Co. Ltd. v. Genus Power Infrastructure Ltd., (2015) 2 SCC 424 as below:

            “It is therefore clear that a bald plea of fraud, coercion, duress or undue influence is not enough and the party who sets up a plea, must prima facie establish the same by placing material before the Chief Justice/ his Designate.”

            It is true that there cannot be a rule of its kind that mere allegation of discharge voucher or no claim certificate being obtained by fraud/coercion/undue influence practiced by other party in itself is sufficient for appointment of the arbitrator unless the claimant who alleges that execution of the discharge agreement or no claim certificate was obtained on account of fraud/coercion/undue influence practiced by the other party is able to substantiate the same, the correctness thereof may be open for the Chief Justice/his Designate to look into this aspect to find out at least prima facie whether the dispute is bona fide and genuine in taking a decision to invoke Section 11(6) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. United India Assurance Co. Ltd. v. Antique Art Exports Pvt. Ltd., (2019) 5 SCC 362.

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Arbitration – Notice Under Section 21 of the Act is Mandatory

Considering that the running theme of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act is the consent or agreement between the parties at every stage, Section 21 performs an important function of forging such consensus on several aspects viz., the scope of the disputes, the determination of which disputes remain unresolved; of which disputes are time-barred; of identification of the claims and counter claims and most importantly, on the choice of arbitrator. Thus, the inescapable conclusion on a proper interpretation of Section 21 of the Act is that in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, the notice under Section 21 of the Act by the claimant invoking the arbitration clause, preceding the reference of disputes to arbitration, is mandatory. In other words, without such notice, the arbitration proceedings that are commenced would be unsustainable in law. Alupro Building Systems Pvt. Ltd. v. Ozone Overseas Pvt. Ltd., 2017 SCC Online Del 7228.   

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Arbitral Award – Interference With

An arbitral award can be set aside if it is contrary to (a) fundamental policy of Indian law, or (b) the interest of India, or (c) justice or morality. (Renusagar Power Co. Ltd. v. General Electric Co. [Renusagar Power Co. Ltd. v. General Electric Co., 1994 Supp (1) SCC 644] ) Patent illegality was added to the above three grounds in ONGC Ltd. v. Saw Pipes Ltd., (2003) 5 SCC 705. Illegality must go to the root of the matter and in case the illegality is of trivial nature it cannot be held that the award is against the public policy. It was further observed in ONGC Ltd. v. Saw Pipes Ltd., (2003) 5 SCC 705 that an award could also be set aside if it is so unfair and unreasonable that it shocks the conscience of the Court.

In  DDA v. R.S. Sharma and Co., (2008) 13 SCC 80 it was held that an award can be interfered with by the Court under Section 34 of the Act when it is contrary to:

(a) substantive provisions of law; or

(b) provisions of the 1996 Act; or

(c) against the terms of the respective contract; or

(d) patently illegal; or

(e) prejudicial to the rights of the parties.

The fundamental policy of India was explained in  ONGC Ltd. v. Western Geco International Ltd., (2014) 9 SCC 263 as including all such fundamental principles as providing a basis for administration of justice and enforcement of law in this country. It was held inter alia, that a duty is cast on every tribunal or authority exercising powers that affect the rights or obligations of the parties to show a “judicial approach”. It was further held that judicial approach ensures that an authority acts bona fide and deals with the subject in a fair, reasonable and objective manner and its decision is not actuated by any extraneous considerations. It was also held that the requirement of application of mind on the part of the adjudicatory authority is so deeply embedded in our jurisprudence that it can be described as a fundamental policy of Indian law. The Court further observed that the award of the Arbitral Tribunal is open to challenge when the arbitrators fail to draw an inference which ought to be drawn or if they had drawn an inference which on the face of it is untenable resulting in miscarriage of justice. The Court has the power to modify the offending part of the award in case it is severable from the rest, according to the said judgment ONGC Ltd. v. Western Geco International Ltd., (2014) 9 SCC 263.

The limit of exercise of power by courts under Section 34 of the Act has been comprehensively dealt in  Associate Builders v. DDA, (2015) 3 SCC 49. Lack of judicial approach, violation of principles of natural justice, perversity and patent illegality have been identified as grounds for interference with an award of the arbitrator. The restrictions placed on the exercise of power of a court under Section 34 of the Act have been analysed and enumerated in  Associate Builders v. DDA, (2015) 3 SCC 49 which are as follows:

(a) The court under Section 34(2) of the Act, does not act as a court of appeal while applying the ground of “public policy” to an arbitral award and consequently errors of fact cannot be corrected.

(b) A possible view by the arbitrator on facts has necessarily to pass muster as the arbitrator is the sole judge of the quantity and quality of the evidence.

(c) Insufficiency of evidence cannot be a ground for interference by the court. Re-examination of the facts to find out whether a different decision can be arrived at is impermissible under Section 34(2) of the Act.

(d) An award can be set aside only if it shocks the conscience of the court.

(e) Illegality must go to the root of the matter and cannot be of a trivial nature for interference by a court. A reasonable construction of the terms of the contract by the arbitrator cannot be interfered with by the court. Error of construction is within the jurisdiction of the arbitrator. Hence, no interference is warranted.

(f) If there are two possible interpretations of the terms of the contract, the arbitrator’s interpretation has to be accepted and the court under Section 34 cannot substitute its opinion over the arbitrator’s view. M.P. Power Generation Co. Ltd. v. ANSALDO Energia SPA, (2018) 16 SCC 661.

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Arbitration – Non-signatory Affiliates

In Chloro Controls India (P) Ltd. v. Severn Trent Water Purification Inc., (2013) 1 SCC 641, it was observed that ordinarily, an arbitration takes place between persons who have been parties to both the arbitration agreement and the substantive contract underlying it. English Law has evolved the “group of companies doctrine” under which an arbitration agreement entered into by a company within a group of corporate entities can in certain circumstances bind non-signatory affiliates. The test as formulated, is as follows:

       “Though the scope of an arbitration agreement is limited to the parties who entered into it and those claiming under or through them, the courts under the English Law have, in certain cases, also applied the “group of companies doctrine”. This doctrine has developed in the international context, whereby an arbitration agreement entered into by a company, being one within a group of companies, can bind its non-signatory affiliates or sister or parent concerns, if the circumstances demonstrate that the mutual intention of all the parties was to bind both the signatories and the non-signatory affiliates. This theory has been applied in a number of arbitrations so as to justify a tribunal taking jurisdiction over a party who is not a signatory to the contract containing the arbitration agreement.

       This evolves the principle that a non-signatory party could be subjected to arbitration provided these transactions were with group of companies and there was a clear intention of the parties to bind both, the signatory as well as the non-signatory parties. In other words, “intention of the parties” is a very significant feature which must be established before the scope of arbitration can be said to include the signatory as well as the non-signatory parties.”

       The court held that it would examine the facts of the case on the touchstone of the existence of a direct relationship with a party which is a signatory to the arbitration agreement, a ‘direct commonality’ of the subject matter and on whether the agreement between the parties is a part of a composite transaction:

       “A non-signatory or third party could be subjected to arbitration without their prior consent, but this would only be in exceptional cases. The court will examine these exceptions from the touchstone of direct relationship to the party signatory to the arbitration agreement, direct commonality of the subject matter and the agreement between the parties being a composite transaction. The transaction should be of a composite nature where performance of the mother agreement may not be feasible without aid, execution and performance of the supplementary or ancillary agreements, for achieving the common object and collectively having bearing on the dispute. Besides all this, the Court would have to examine whether a composite reference of such parties would serve the ends of justice. Once this exercise is completed and the court answers the same in the affirmative, the reference of even non-signatory parties would fall within the exception afore discussed.

       Explaining the legal basis that may be applied to bind a non-signatory to an arbitration agreement, it was held thus:

       “The first theory is that of implied consent, third party beneficiaries, guarantors, assignment and other transfer mechanisms of contractual rights. This theory relies on the discernible intentions of the parties and, to a large extent, on good faith principle. They apply to private as well as public legal entities.

       The second theory includes the legal doctrines of agent-principal relations, apparent authority, piercing of veil (also called “the alter ego”), joint venture relations, succession and estoppels. They do not rely on the parties’ intention but rather on the force of the applicable law.” Cheran Properties Ltd.v. Kasturi and Sons Ltd., (2018) 6 SCC 413.

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