Arbitration clause in Rent Agreement
Facts of the Tenancy eviction case:
The appellants have inducted the respondents as tenants in respect of a shop room measuring 600 sq. feet at HA-3, Sector-3, Salt Lake City, Kolkata, and paying a monthly rent to the appellants. In respect of the tenancy, the appellants and the respondents have executed an unregistered tenancy agreement which has been notarized on 10.11.2003. On 06.03.2008, the appellants, through their Advocates, served a notice on the respondents terminating the tenancy and asking them to vacate the shop premises and the notice stated that after April, 2008 the relationship of landlord and tenant between the appellants and the respondents shall cease to exist and the respondents will be deemed to be trespassers liable to pay damages at the rate of Rs.500/- per day for wrongful occupation of the shop. The respondents, however, did not vacate the shop premises and the appellants filed Title Suit No.89 of 2008 against the respondents for eviction, arrears of rent, arrears of municipal tax, mesne profit and for permanent injunction in the Court of the Civil Judge (Senior Division), 2nd Court at Barasat, District North 24-Parganas in the State of West Bengal. In the suit, the respondents filed a petition under Section 8 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (for short ‘the 1996 Act’) stating therein that the tenancy agreement contains an arbitration agreement in clause 15 and praying that all the disputes in the suit be referred to the arbitrator. By order dated 10.06.2009, the learned Civil Judge dismissed the petition under Section 8 of the 1996 Act and posted the matter to 10.07.2009 for filing of written statement by the defendants (respondents herein).
Aggrieved, the respondents filed an application (C.O. No.2440 of 2009) under Article 227 of the Constitution of India before the Calcutta High Court and contended that the tenancy agreement contains an arbitration agreement in Clause 15, which provides that any dispute regarding the contents or construction of the agreement or dispute arising out of the agreement shall be settled by Joint Arbitration of two arbitrators, one to be appointed by the landlords and the other to be appointed by the tenants and the decision of the arbitrators or umpires appointed by them shall be final and that the arbitration will be in accordance with the 1996 Act and, therefore, the learned Civil Judge rejected the petition of the respondents to refer the disputes to arbitration contrary to the mandate in Section 8 of the 1996 Act. The appellants opposed the application under Article 227 of the Constitution of India contending inter alia that the dispute between the appellants and the respondents, who are landlords and tenants respectively, can only be decided by a Civil Judge in accordance with the provisions of the West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act, 1997 (for short ‘the Tenancy Act’). By the impugned judgment dated 16.04.2010, the High Court has held that in view of the decisions of this Court in Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd. v. Pinkcity Midway Petroleums [(2003) 6 SCC 503], Agri Gold Exims Ltd. v. Sri Lakshmi Knits & Wovens & Ors. [(2007) 3 SCC 686] and Branch Manager, Magma Leasing & Finance Limited & Anr. v. Potluri Madhavilata & Anr. [(2009) 10 SCC 103], the Court has no other alternative but to refer the disputes to the arbitrators to be appointed by the parties as per the arbitration agreement. The High Court, however, has observed in the impugned judgment that if any dispute is raised regarding arbitrability of such dispute before the arbitral tribunal, such dispute will be decided by the arbitral tribunal.
Relevant Rent/Tenancy Law:
The relevant portion of Section 6 of the Tenancy Act 1997 is quoted hereinbelow:
“6. Protection of tenant against eviction.—(1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any other law for the time being in force or in any contract, no order or decree for the recovery of the possession of any premises shall be made by the Civil Judge having jurisdiction in favour of the landlord against the tenant, except on a suit being instituted by such landlord on one or more of the following grounds………..”
[Note the words in red.]
Supreme Court decided that arbitration clause is overridden by Tenancy Act:
It will be clear from the language of Section 6 of the Tenancy Act 1997 quoted above that ‘notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any contract’, no order or decree for recovery of possession of any premises shall be made by the Civil Judge having jurisdiction in favour of the landlord against the tenant, ‘except on a suit being instituted by such landlord’ on one or more grounds mentioned therein. It is, thus, clear that Section 6 of the Tenancy Act overrides a contract between the landlord and the tenant and provides that only the Civil Judge having jurisdiction can order or decree for recovery of possession only in a suit to be filed by the landlord.
In this case, there is an arbitration agreement in clause 15 of the tenancy agreement, which provides that any dispute regarding the contents or construction of the tenancy agreement or dispute arising out of the tenancy agreement shall be settled by arbitration in accordance with the provisions of the 1996 Act. But the words ‘notwithstanding anything in any contract’ in Section 6 of the Tenancy Act, will override the arbitration agreement in clause 15 of the tenancy agreement where a suit for recovery of possession of any premises has been filed by a landlord against the tenant. Such a suit filed by the landlord against the tenant for recovery of possession, therefore, cannot be referred under Section 8 of the 1996 Act to arbitration. In fact, sub-section (3) of Section 2 of the 1996 Act expressly provides that Part-I which relates to ‘arbitration’ where the place of arbitration is in India shall not affect any other law for the time being in force by virtue of which certain disputes may not be submitted to arbitration. Section 6 of the Tenancy Act is one such law which clearly bars arbitration in a dispute relating to recovery of possession of premises by the landlord from the tenant. Since the suit filed by the appellants was for eviction, it was a suit for recovery of possession and could not be referred to arbitration because of a statutory provision in Section 6 of the Tenancy Act.
The High Court, therefore, was not correct in coming to the conclusion that as per the decisions of this Court in the aforesaid three cases, the Court has no alternative but to refer the parties to arbitration in view of the clear mandate in Section 8 of the 1996 Act. On the contrary, the relief claimed by the appellants being mainly for eviction, it could only be granted by the “Civil Judge having jurisdiction” in a suit filed by the landlord as provided in Section 6 of the Tenancy Act. The expression “Civil Judge having jurisdiction” will obviously mean the Civil Judge who has jurisdiction to grant the other reliefs: decree for arrears of rent, decree for recovery of arrears of proportionate and enhanced municipal taxes, a decree for mesne profits and a decree for permanent injunction claimed in the suit.