Arbitration Clause in Trust Deed is not Enforceable.

Appointment of Arbitrator:

The existence of an arbitration agreement as defined under Section 7 of the Act is a condition precedent for exercise of power to appoint an arbitrator/Arbitral Tribunal, under Section 11 of the Act by the Chief Justice or his designate. It is not permissible to appoint an arbitrator to adjudicate the disputes between the parties, in the absence of an arbitration agreement or mutual consent.

But mere use of the word ‘arbitration’ or ‘arbitrator’ in a clause will not make it an arbitration agreement, if it requires or contemplates a further or fresh consent of the parties for reference to arbitration. For example, use of words such as “parties can, if they so desire, refer their disputes to arbitration” or “in the event of any dispute, the parties may also agree to refer the same to arbitration” or “if any disputes arise between the parties, they should consider settlement by arbitration” in a clause relating to settlement of disputes, indicate that the clause is not intended to be an arbitration agreement. Similarly, a clause which states that “if the parties so decide, the disputes shall be referred to arbitration” or “any disputes between parties, if they so agree, shall be referred to arbitration” is not an arbitration agreement. Such clauses merely indicate a desire or hope to have the disputes settled by arbitration, or a tentative arrangement to explore arbitration as a mode of settlement if and when a dispute arises. Such clauses require the parties to arrive at a further agreement to go to arbitration, as and when the disputes arise. Any agreement or clause in an agreement requiring or contemplating a further consent or consensus before a reference to arbitration, is not an arbitration agreement, but an agreement to enter into an arbitration agreement in future.

[Source: Jagdish Chander v. Ramesh Chander, (2007) 5 SCC 719]

The arbitration clause:

Clause 20 of the Trust Deed provided that every dispute or differences regarding the interpretation of any of the clauses or provisions or the contents of the Trust Deed or any dispute inter se trustees or disputes between the trustees and beneficiaries or disputes between beneficiaries inter se as and when arise, the same would be resolved in pursuance of the provisions of the Indian Arbitration Act, 1940 and the decision of arbitrator(s) shall be final and binding on the parties to the arbitration.

Scheme of Trust Act:

So far as legal remedies available to the author of the Trust/settlor, Trustees and the beneficiaries for ventilating their several grievances in respect of their rights duties, removal and obligations under the Trust Deed and the Trust Act are concerned, they are specifically provided in Sections 7, 11, 34, 36, 41, 45, 46, 49, 53, 71, 72, 73 and 74 of the Trust Act. These sections, in specific terms, confer jurisdiction on Civil Court and provides that an aggrieved person may approach the principal Civil Court of Original Jurisdiction for adjudication of his grievances. This clearly shows the intention of the legislature that the legislature intended to confer jurisdiction only on Civil Court for deciding the disputes arising under the Trust Act.

Public policy to keep dispute in public:

Adjudication of certain categories of proceedings are reserved by the legislation exclusively for public fora as a matter of public policy. Certain other categories of cases, though not expressly reserved for the adjudication by public fora (Courts and tribunals), may be necessary implication stand excluded from the purview of private fora.

Though the Trust Act do not provide any express bar in relation to applicability of other Acts for deciding the disputes arising under the Trust Act yet, in our considered view, there exists an implied bar of exclusion of applicability of the Arbitration Act for deciding the disputes relating to Trust, trustees and beneficiaries through private arbitration. In other words, when the Trust Act exhaustively deals with the Trust, Trustees and beneficiaries and provides for adequate and sufficient remedies to all aggrieved persons by giving them a right to approach the Civil Court of principal original jurisdiction for redressal of their disputes arising out of Trust Deed and the Trust Act then any such dispute pertaining to affairs of the Trust including the dispute inter se Trustee and beneficiary in relation to their right, duties, obligations, removal etc. can not decided by the arbitrator by taking recourse to the provisions of the Act. Such disputes have to be decided by the Civil Court as specified under the Trust Act.

Accordingly the arbitration clause in the trust deed was not valid and therefore did not constitute valid arbitration agreement u/s 7 of Arbitration and Conciliation Act. Consequentially the petition for appointment of Arbitration u/s 11 of the said Act was liable to be dismissed.

[Source: Vimal Kishor Shah v. Jayesh Dinesh Shah (SC)]

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