Applicability of Arbitration Act, 1996.
What is material for the purposes of the applicability of 1996 Act is the agreement between the parties to refer the disputes to arbitration. If there be such an arbitration agreement which satisfies the requirements of Section 7 of 1996 Act, and if no arbitral proceeding had commenced before 1996 Act came into force, the matter would be completely governed by the provisions of 1996 Act. Any reference to 1940 Act in the arbitration agreement would be of no consequence and the matter would be referred to arbitration only in terms of 1996 Act consistent with the basic intent of the parties as discernible from the arbitration agreement to refer the disputes to arbitration.
Validity of arbitration agreement referring to Act of 1940.
Viewed thus, the High Court was not right in observing that there could be no arbitration at all in the present case. In situations where the relevant clause made reference to the applicability of “the provisions of the Indian Arbitration Act and Rules made thereunder” as was the case in MMTC Ltd. (Supra), on the strength of Section 85(2)(a) the governing provisions in respect of arbitral proceedings which had not commenced before 1996 had came into force would be those of 1996 Act alone. On the same reasoning even if an arbitration agreement entered into after 1996 Act had come into force were to make a reference to the applicable provisions of those under Indian Arbitration Act or 1940 Act, such stipulation would be of no consequence and the matter must be governed under provisions of 1996 Act. An incorrect reference or recital regarding applicability of 1940 Act would not render the entire arbitration agreement invalid. Such stipulation will have to be read in the light of Section 85 of 1996 Act and in our view, principles governing such relationship have to be under and in tune with 1996 Act. As observed earlier, the requirements of “arbitration agreement” as stipulated in Section 7 of 1996 Act stand completely satisfied in the present matter nor has there been any suggestion that the agreement stood vitiated on account of any circumstances in the realm of undue influence, fraud, coercion or misrepresentation. In the circumstances, the attempt must be to sub-serve the intent of the parties to resolve the disputes by alternative disputes resolution mechanism. The High Court was, therefore, completely in error.