Determination of seat of arbitration

Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 — Section 34:

There were a dispute between NHPC Ltd. and a foreign contractor, clause 67.3(vi) would have to be read as a clause designating the “seat” of arbitration, the same must follow even when sub-clause (vi) is to be read with sub-clause (i) of Clause 67.3, where the dispute between NHPC Ltd. would be with an Indian Contractor.

Territorial Jurisdiction:

The arbitration clause in the present case states that “Arbitration Proceedings shall be held at New Delhi/Faridabad, India…”, thereby signifying that all the hearings, including the making of the award, are to take place at one of the stated places. Negatively speaking, the clause does not state that the venue is so that some, or all, of the hearings take place at the venue; neither does it use language such as “the Tribunal may meet”, or “may hear witnesses, experts or parties”. The expression “shall be held” also indicates that the so-called “venue” is really the “seat” of the arbitral proceedings. The dispute is to be settled in accordance with the Arbitration Act, 1996 which, therefore, applies a national body of rules to the arbitration that is to be held either at New Delhi or Faridabad, given the fact that the present arbitration would be Indian and not international. It is clear, therefore, that even in such a scenario, New Delhi/Faridabad, India has been designated as the “seat” of the arbitration proceedings.

However, the fact that in all the three appeals before us the proceedings were finally held at New Delhi, and the awards were signed in New Delhi, and not at Faridabad, would lead to the conclusion that both parties have chosen New Delhi as the “seat” of arbitration under Section 20(1) of the Arbitration Act, 1996. This being the case, both parties have, therefore, chosen that the Courts at New Delhi alone would have exclusive jurisdiction over the arbitral proceedings. Therefore, the fact that a part of the cause of action may have arisen at Faridabad would not be relevant once the “seat” has been chosen, which would then amount to an exclusive jurisdiction clause so far as Courts of the “seat” are concerned.

Consequently, the impugned judgment is set aside, and the Section 34 petition is ordered to be presented in the Courts in New Delhi, as was held by the learned Single Judge of the Special Commercial Court at Gurugram.

[Source: Bgs Sgs Soma Jv vs NHPC Ltd. decided by SC on 10 December, 2019]

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