Arbitration Law in India

History of Arbitration in India:

Resolution of disputes through arbitration was not unknown in India even in ancient times. Simply stated, settlement of disputes through arbitration is the alternate system of resolution of disputes whereby the parties to a dispute get the same settled through the intervention of a third party. The role of the court is limited to the extent of regulating the process. During the ancient era of Hindu Law in India, there were several machineries for settlement of disputes between the parties. These were known as Kulani (village council), Sreni (corporation) and Puga (assembly).  Likewise, commercial matters were decided by Mahajans and Chambers. The resolution of disputes through the panchayat was a different system of arbitration subordinate to the courts of law. The arbitration tribunal in ancient period would have the status of panchayat in modern India.[26] The ancient system of panchayat has been given due statutory recognition through the various Panchayat Acts subsequently followed by Panchayati Raj Act, 1994. It has now been constitutionally recognized in Article 243 of the Constitution of India.

The Early Scenario:

The first Indian Act on Arbitration law came to be passed in 1899 known as Arbitration Act, 1899. It was based on the English Arbitration Act, 1899. Then came the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. Schedule II of the Code contained the provisions relating to the law of Arbitration which were extended to the other parts of British India. Thereafter the Arbitration Act, 1940 (Act No.10 of 1940) (hereinafter referred to as the “1940 Act”) was enacted to consolidate and amend the law relating to arbitration. This Act came into force on 1st July, 1940. It is an exhaustive Code in so far as law relating to the domestic arbitration is concerned. Under this Act, Arbitration may be without the intervention of a Court or with the intervention of a Court where there is no suit pending or in a pending suit. This Act empowered the Courts to modify the Award (Section 15), remit the Award to the Arbitrators for reconsideration (Section 16) and to set aside the Award on specific grounds (Section 30). The 1940 Act was based on the English Arbitration Act, 1934. The 1934 Act was replaced by the English Arbitration Act, 1950 which was subsequently replaced by the Arbitration Act, 1975. Thereafter the 1975 Act was also replaced by the Arbitration Act, 1979. There were, however, no corresponding changes in the 1940 Act. The law of arbitration in India remained static.

The disastrous results which ensued from the abuse of the 1940 Act are noticed by this Court in the case of Guru Nanak Foundation Vs. M/s. Rattan Singh & Sons. Justice D.A. Desai speaking for the court expressed the concern and anguish of the court about the way in which the proceedings under the 1940 Act, are conducted and without an exception challenged in courts. His Lordship observed :

“Interminable, time consuming, complex and expensive court procedures impelled jurists to search for an alternative forum, less formal, more effective and speedy for resolution of disputes avoiding procedural claptrap and this led them to Arbitration Act, 1940 (“Act” for short). However, the way in which the proceedings under the Act are conducted and without an exception challenged in Courts, has made lawyers laugh and legal philosophers weep. (Emphasis supplied). Experience shows and law reports bear ample testimony that the proceedings under the Act have become highly technical accompanied by unending prolixity, at every stage providing a legal trap to the unwary. Informal forum chosen by the parties for expeditious disposal of their disputes has by the decisions of the Courts been clothed with ‘legalese’ of unforeseeable complexity. This case amply demonstrates the same.”

This was the arena of domestic arbitration and domestic award.

International Scenario –

Difficulties were also being faced in the International sphere of Trade and Commerce. With the growth of International Trade and Commerce, there was an increase in disputes arising out of such transactions being adjudicated through Arbitration. One of the problems faced in such Arbitration, related to recognition and enforcement of an Arbitral Award made in one country by the Courts of other countries. This difficulty was sought to be removed through various International Conventions. The first such International Convention was the Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses, 1923, popularly referred to as “the 1923 Protocol”. It was implemented w.e.f. 28th July, 1924. This Protocol was the product of the initiative taken by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) under the auspices of the League of Nations. The 1923 Protocol sought to make arbitration agreements and arbitration clauses in particular enforceable internationally. It was also sought to ensure that Awards made pursuant to such arbitration agreements would be enforced in the territory other than the state in which they were made. The 1923 Protocol proved to be inadequate. It was followed by the Geneva Convention on the execution of Foreign Arbitrated Awards, 1927 and is popularly known as the “Geneva Convention of 1927”. This convention was made effective on 25th July, 1929. India became a signatory to both the 1923 Protocol and the 1927 Convention on 23rd October, 1937. It was to give effect to both the 1923 Protocol and 1927 Convention that the Arbitration (Protocol and Convention) Act, 1937 was enacted in India. Again a number of problems were encountered in the operation of the 1923 Protocol and the 1927 Geneva Convention. It was felt that there were limitations in relation to their fields of application. Under the 1927 Geneva Convention a party in order to enforce the Award in the Country of an origin was obliged to seek a declaration in the country where the arbitration took place to the effect that the Award was enforceable. Only then could the successful party go ahead and enforce the Award in the country of origin. This led to the problem of “double exequatur”, making the enforcement of arbitral awards much more complicated. In 1953 the International Chamber of Commerce promoted a new treaty to govern International Commercial Arbitration. The proposals of ICC were taken up by the United Nations Economic Social Council. This in turn led to the adoption of the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards at New York in 1958 (popularly known as “the New York Convention”). The New York Convention is an improvement on the Geneva Convention of 1927. It provides for a much more simple and effective method of recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards. It gives much wider effect to the validity of arbitration agreement. This convention came into force on 7th June, 1959. India became a State Signatory to this convention on 13th July, 1960. The Foreign Awards (Recognition and Enforcement) Act, 1961 was enacted to give effect to the New York Convention. Thus prior to the enactment of the Arbitration Act, 1996, the law of Arbitration in India was contained in the Protocol and Convention Act, 1937, theArbitration Act, 1940 and the Foreign Awards (Recognition and Enforcement) Act, 1961. There were no further amendments in the aforesaid three acts. Therefore, it was generally felt that the arbitration laws in India had failed to keep pace with the developments at the international level.

The Arbitration Act, 1996 The Objects and Reasons of the Act

The Statement of Objects and Reasons referred to the fact that the existing legal framework was outdated and that the economic reforms in India would not be fully effective as “the law dealing with settlement of both domestic and international commercial disputes remained out of tune with such reforms”. It then refers to the Model Law and the recognition of the general assembly of the United Nations that all countries give due consideration to the Model Laws in view of the “desirability of uniformity of the law of arbitral procedures and the specific needs of international commercial arbitration practice”. Finally, the Statement of Objects and Reasons states as follows:-

“3. Though the said UNCITRAL Model Law and Rules are intended to deal with international commercial arbitration and conciliation, they could, with appropriate modifications, serve as a model for legislation on domestic arbitration and conciliation. The present bill seeks to consolidate and amend the law relating to domestic arbitration, international commercial arbitration, enforcement of foreign arbitral awards and to define the law relating to conciliation, taking into account the said UNCITRAL Model Law and Rules.” The main objectives of the bill are as under:-

“(i) to comprehensively cover international and commercial arbitration and conciliation as also domestic arbitration and conciliation;

(ii) to make provision for an arbitral procedure which is fair, efficient and capable of meeting the needs of the specific arbitration;

(iii) to provide that the arbitral tribunal gives reasons for its arbitral award;

(iv) to ensure that the arbitral tribunal remains within the limits of its jurisdiction:

(v) to minimise the supervisory role of Courts in the arbitral process;

(vi) to permit an arbitral tribunal to use mediation, conciliation, or other procedures during the arbitral proceedings to encourage settlement of disputes;

(vii) to provide that every final arbitral award is enforced in the same manner as if it were a decree of the Court;

(viii) to provide that a settlement agreement reached by the parties as a result of conciliation proceedings will have the same status and effect as an arbitral award on agreed terms on the substance of the dispute rendered by an arbitral tribunal; and

(ix) to provide that, for purposes of enforcement of foreign awards, every arbitral award made in a country to which one of the two International Conventions relating to foreign arbitral awards to which India is a party applies, will be treated as a foreign award.” The Act is one “to consolidate and amend the law relating to domestic arbitration, international commercial arbitration and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards as also to define the law relating to conciliation and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

The Preamble to the Arbitration Act, 1996 repeats to some extent what the Statement of Objects provide, materially:-

“AND WHEREAS the said Model Law and Rules make significant contribution to the establishment of a unified legal framework for the fair and efficient settlement of disputes arising in international commercial relations;

AND WHEREAS it is expedient to make law respecting arbitration and conciliation, taking into account the aforesaid Model Law and Rules;” Scheme of the Arbitration Act, 1996 –

The Arbitration Act, 1996 is divided into four parts. Part I which is headed “Arbitration”; Part II which is headed “Enforcement of Certain Foreign Awards”; Part III which is headed “Conciliation” and Part IV being “Supplementary Provisions”. We may notice here that it is only Parts I and II which have relevance in the present proceedings.

The 1961 Foreign Awards Act was enacted specifically to give effect to the New York Convention. The preamble of the 1961 Act is as follows :

“An Act to enable effect to be given to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, done at New York on the 10th day of June, 1958, to which India is a party and for purposes connected therewith.”

In the 1961 Act, there is no provision for challenging the Foreign Award on merits similar or identical to the provisions contained in Sections 16 and 30 of the 1940 Act, which gave power to remit the award to the arbitrators or umpire for reconsideration under Section 30 which provided the grounds for setting aside an award. In other words, the 1961 Act dealt only with the enforcement of foreign awards. The Indian Law has remained as such from 1961 onwards. There was no intermingling of matters covered under the 1940 Act, with the matters covered by the 1961 Act.

Internationally, the Arbitration Law developed in different countries to cater for the felt needs of a particular country. This necessarily led to considerable disparity in the National Laws on arbitration. Therefore, a need was felt for improvement and harmonization as National Laws which were, often, particularly inappropriate for resolving international commercial arbitration disputes. The explanatory note by the UNCITRAL Secretariat refers to the recurring inadequacies to be found in outdated National Laws, which included provisions that equate the arbitral process with Court litigation and fragmentary provisions that failed to address all relevant substantive law issues. It was also noticed that “even most of those laws that appear to be up-to-date and comprehensive were drafted with domestic arbitration primarily, if not exclusively, in mind”. It further mentions that “while this approach is understandable in view of the fact that even today the bulk of cases governed by arbitration law would be of purely domestic nature, the unfortunate consequence is that traditional local concepts are imposed on international cases and the needs of modern practice are often not met.” There was also unexpected and undesired restrictions found in National Laws, which would prevent the parties, for example, from submitting future disputes to arbitration. The Model Law was intended to reduce the risk of such possible frustration, difficulties or surprise. Problems also stemmed from inadequate arbitration laws or from the absence of specific legislation governing arbitration which were aggravated by the fact that National Laws differ widely. These differences were frequent source of concern in international arbitration, where at-least one of the parties is, and often both parties are, confronted with foreign and unfamiliar provisions and procedures. It was found that obtaining a full and precise account of the law applicable to the arbitration is, in such circumstances, often expensive, impractical or impossible.

With these objects in view, the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Arbitration (“the Model Law”) was adopted by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) on 21st June, 1985 at the end of the 18th Session of the Commission. The General Assembly in its Resolution 40 of 1972 on 11th December, 1985 recommended that “all States give due consideration to the Model Law on international commercial arbitration, in view of the desirability of uniformity of the law of arbitral procedures and the specific needs of international commercial arbitration practice”.

The aim and the objective of the Arbitration Act, 1996 is to give effect to the UNCITRAL Model Laws.

In Bhatia International, the appellant entered into a contract with the 1st respondent on 9th May, 1997. This contract contained an arbitration clause, which provided that arbitration was to be as per the rules of the International Chamber of Commerce (for short “ICC”). On 23rd October, 1997, the 1st respondent filed a request for arbitration with ICC. Parties agreed that the arbitration be held in Paris, France. ICC appointed a sole arbitrator. The 1st respondent filed an application under Section 9 of the Arbitration Act, 1996 before the IIIrd Additional District Judge, Indore, M.P. against the appellant and the 2nd respondent. One of the interim reliefs sought was an order of injunction restraining these parties from alienating, transferring and/or creating third-party rights, disposing of, dealing with and/or selling their business assets and properties. The appellant raised the plea of maintainability of such an application. The appellant contended that Part I of the Arbitration Act, 1996 would not apply to arbitrations where the place of arbitration is not in India. This application was dismissed by the IIIrd Additional District Judge on 1st February, 2000. It was held that the Court at Indore had jurisdiction and the application was maintainable. The appellant filed a writ petition before the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, Indore Bench. The said writ petition was dismissed by the judgment dated 10th October, 2000, which was impugned in the appeal before this Court. On behalf of the appellants, it was submitted that Part I of the Arbitration Act, 1996 only applies to arbitrations where the place of arbitration is in India. It was also submitted that if the place of arbitration is not in India then Part II of the Arbitration Act, 1996 would apply. Reliance was also placed on Section 2(1)(f). With regard to Section 2(4) and (5), it was submitted that the aforesaid provisions would only apply to arbitrations which take place in India. It was submitted that if it is held that Part I applies to all arbitrations, i.e., even to arbitrations whose place of arbitration is not in India, then sub-section (2) of Section 2 would become redundant and/or otiose. It was also pointed out that since Section 9 and Section 17 fall in Part I, the same would not have any application in cases where the place of arbitration is not in India. It was emphasised that the legislature had deliberately not provided any provision similar to Section 9 and Section 17 in Part II. It was also submitted that a plain reading of Section 9 makes it clear that it would not apply to arbitrations which take place outside India. It was further submitted that Section 9 provides that an application for interim measures must be made before the award is enforced in accordance with Section 36, which deals with enforcement of domestic awards only. On the other hand, provisions for enforcement of foreign awards are contained in Part II. It was submitted that Section 9 does not talk of enforcement of the award in accordance with Part II. It was further submitted that there should be minimum intervention by the Courts in view of the underlying principle in Section 5 of the Arbitration Act, 1996. On the other hand, the respondents therein had made the submissions, which are reiterated before us. In Paragraph 14 of the Judgment, it is held as follows:-

“14. At first blush the arguments of Mr Sen appear very attractive. Undoubtedly sub-section (2) of Section 2 states that Part I is to apply where the place of arbitration is in India. Undoubtedly, Part II applies to foreign awards. Whilst the submissions of Mr Sen are attractive, one has to keep in mind the consequence which would follow if they are accepted. The result would:

(a) Amount to holding that the legislature has left a lacuna in the said Act. There would be a lacuna as neither Part I or II would apply to arbitrations held in a country which is not a signatory to the New York Convention or the Geneva Convention (hereinafter called “a non-convention country”). It would mean that there is no law, in India, governing such arbitrations.

(b) Lead to an anomalous situation, inasmuch as Part I would apply to Jammu and Kashmir in all international commercial arbitrations but Part I would not apply to the rest of India if the arbitration takes place out of India.

(c) Lead to a conflict between sub-section (2) of Section 2 on one hand and sub-sections (4) and (5) of Section 2 on the other. Further, sub-section (2) of Section 2 would also be in conflict with Section 1 which provides that the Act extends to the whole of India.

(d) Leave a party remediless inasmuch as in international commercial arbitrations which take place out of India the party would not be able to apply for interim relief in India even though the properties and assets are in India. Thus a party may not be able to get any interim relief at all.”

It is held that the definition of international commercial arbitration under Section 2(1)(f) makes no distinction between international commercial arbitrations held in India or outside India.

Further it is also held that the Arbitration Act, 1996 no where provides that its provisions are not to apply to international commercial arbitrations which take place in a non-convention country. Hence, the conclusion at Paragraph 14(a). On the basis of the discussion in Paragraph 17, this Court reached the conclusion recorded at Paragraph 14(b). The conclusions at Paragraph 14(c) is recorded on the basis of the reasons stated in Paragraphs 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23. Upon consideration of the provision contained in Sections 2(7), 28, 45 and 54, it is held that Section 2(2) is only an inclusive and clarificatory provision. The provision contained in Section 9 is considered in Paragraphs 28, 29, 30 and 31. It is concluded in Paragraph 32 as follows:-

“32. To conclude, I hold that the provisions of Part I would apply to all arbitrations and to all proceedings relating thereto. Where such arbitration is held in India the provisions of Part I would compulsorily apply and parties are free to deviate only to the extent permitted by the derogable provisions of Part I. In cases of international commercial arbitrations held out of India provisions of Part I would apply unless the parties by agreement, express or implied, exclude all or any of its provisions. In that case the laws or rules chosen by the parties would prevail. Any provision, in Part I, which is contrary to or excluded by that law or rules will not apply.”

In Venture Global Engineering (supra), this Court relied on Paragraphs 14, 17, 21, 26, 32 and 35. It is concluded in Paragraph 37 as follows:-

“37. In view of the legal position derived from Bhatia International we are unable to accept Mr. Nariman’s argument. It is relevant to point out that in this proceeding we are not deciding the merits of the claim of both parties, particularly, the stand taken in the suit filed by the appellant herein for setting aside the award. It is for the court concerned to decide the issue on merits and we are not expressing anything on the same. The present conclusion is only with regard to the main issue whether the aggrieved party is entitled to challenge the foreign award which was passed outside India in terms of Sections 9/34 of the Act. Inasmuch as the three-Judge Bench decision is an answer to the main issue raised, we are unable to accept the contra view taken in various decisions relied on by Mr. Nariman. Though in Bhatia International the issue relates to filing a petition under Section 9 of the Act for interim orders the ultimate conclusion that Part I would apply even for foreign awards is an answer to the main issue raised in this case.”

The old view of applicability of Part I reversed:

Since the consolidated Arbitration Act, 1996 deals with domestic, commercial and international commercial arbitrators, it was necessary to remove the uncertainty that the Arbitration Act, 1996 could also apply to arbitrations which do not take place in India. Therefore, Section 2(2) merely reinforces the limits of operation of the Arbitration Act, 1996 to India.

Part I of the Arbitration Act, 1996 applies not only to purely domestic arbitrations, i.e., where none of the parties are in any way “foreign” but also to “international commercial arbitrations” covered within Section 2(1)(f)held in India. The term “domestic award” can be used in two senses: one to distinguish it from “international award”, and the other to distinguish it from a “foreign award”. It must also be remembered that “foreign award” may well be a domestic award in the country in which it is rendered. As the whole of the Arbitration Act, 1996 is designed to give different treatments to the awards made in India and those made outside India, the distinction is necessarily to be made between the terms “domestic awards” and “foreign awards”. The Scheme of the Arbitration Act, 1996 provides that Part I shall apply to both “international arbitrations” which take place in India as well as “domestic arbitrations” which would normally take place in India. This is clear from a number of provisions contained in the Arbitration Act, 1996 viz. the Preamble of the said Act; proviso and the explanation to Section 1(2); Sections 2(1)(f); 11(9), 11(12); 28(1)(a) and 28(1)(b). All the aforesaid provisions, which incorporate the term “international”, deal with pre-award situation. The term “international award” does not occur in Part I at all. Therefore, it would appear that the term “domestic award” means an award made in India whether in a purely domestic context, i.e., domestically rendered award in a domestic arbitration or in the international context, i.e., domestically rendered award in an international arbitration. Both the types of awards are liable to be challenged under Section 34 and are enforceable under Section 36 of the Arbitration Act, 1996. Therefore, it seems clear that the object of Section 2(7) is to distinguish the domestic award covered under Part I of the Arbitration Act, 1996 from the “foreign award” covered under Part II of the aforesaid Act; and not to distinguish the “domestic award” from an “international award” rendered in India. In other words, the provision highlights, if any thing, a clear distinction between Part I and Part II as being applicable in completely different fields and with no overlapping provisions.

Source: Bharat Aluminium Co vs Kaiser Aluminium Technical [SC] (FB)


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