India: Recent Judgments In Relation To Section 34 Of The Arbitration And Conciliation Act, 1996

Last Updated: 7 September 2018
Article by Yashika Sarvaria

Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 ("Act") provides for setting aside of an arbitral award by making an application to the Court, on the grounds stated therein. Recently, a number of judgments have been passed while interpreting Section 34. The same have been briefly discussed in the present article.

  1. Emkay Global Financial Service Limited v. Giridhar Sondhi, Civil Appeal No. 8367 of 2018, decided on August 20, 2018.

In the aforesaid case, an award was passed against the Respondent by the Sole Arbitrator. The award was challenged by the Respondent under Section 34 of the Act before the District Court of Delhi, which was rejected in view of the exclusive jurisdiction clause. In Appeal, the High Court of Delhi referred back the parties to the District Judge, to first frame issues and then decide on evidence, including the opportunity to cross examine witnesses who give depositions. The question before the Supreme Court was whether there is any requirement to lead evidence in an application to challenge an award under the Act?

The Supreme Court interpreted the words "furnishes proof" appearing in Section 34(2)(a) and relied on the following case-laws:

(i) Sandeep Kumar v. Dr. Ashok Hans, (2004) 3 Arb LR 306, wherein the High Court of Delhi held that there is no requirement under the provisions of Section 34 for parties to lead evidence. The record of the Arbitrator was held to be sufficient in order to furnish proof of whether the grounds mentioned in Section 34 had been made out.

(ii) Sial Bioenergie v. SBEC Systems, AIR 2005 Del 95 wherein the High Court of Delhi inter alia held:

"...the whole purpose of the 1996 Act would be completely defeated by granting permission to the applicant/JD to lead oral evidence at the stage of objections raised against an arbitral award. The 1996 Act requires expeditious disposal of the objections and the minimal interference by the Court...

... At the stage of the objections which are any way limited in scope due to the provisions of the Act to permit oral evidence would completely defeat the objects underlying the 1996 Act. The process of oral evidence would prolong the process of hearing objections and cannot be countenanced..."

(iii) Fiza Developers & Inter-Trade Pvt. Ltd. v. AMCI (India) Pvt. Ltd. and Anr., (2009) 17 SCC 796, the Supreme Court dealt with the question whether issues as contemplated under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 should be framed in challenge to the award under Section 34 of the Act. The Supreme Court inter alia held:

"...Applications under Section 34 of the Act are summary proceedings with provision for objections by the respondent-defendant, followed by an opportunity to the applicant to "prove" the existence of any ground under Section 34(2). The applicant is permitted to file affidavits of his witnesses in proof. A corresponding opportunity is given to the respondent-defendant to place his evidence by affidavit. Where the case so warrants, the court permits cross-examination of the persons swearing to the affidavit. Thereafter, the court hears arguments and/or receives written submissions and decides the matter. This is of course the routine procedure. The court may vary the said procedure, depending upon the facts of any particular case or the local rules. What is however clear is that framing of issues as contemplated under Rule 1 of Order 14 of the Code is not an integral part of the process of a proceeding under Section 34 of the Act."

(iv) WEB Techniques and Net Solutions Pvt. Ltd. v. M/s. Gati Ltd. and Anr, wherein the High Court of Calcutta after referring to Fiza Developers, held that oral evidence is not required under a Section 34 application when the record before the Arbitrator would show whether the petitioners had received notice relating to his appointment.

The Court also referred to the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill of 2018, being Bill No.100 of 2018, which provides for an amendment to Section 34(2)(a) of the principal Act, and proposes substitution of the words "furnishes proof that", with "establishes on the basis of the record of the arbitral tribunal that".

In view of the above, the Supreme Court concluded that:

"An application for setting aside an arbitral award will not ordinarily require anything beyond the record that was before the Arbitrator. However, if there are matters not contained in such record, and are relevant to the determination of issues arising under Section 34(2)(a), they may be brought to the notice of the Court by way of affidavits filed by both parties. Cross-examination of persons swearing to the affidavits should not be allowed unless absolutely necessary, as the truth will emerge on a reading of the affidavits filed by both parties." 

  1. K. Kishan v. Vijay Nirman Company, Civil Appeal No. 21824 of 2017, decided on August 14, 2018

The present case pertained to a dispute regarding claims arising out of a project which was referred to an arbitral tribunal. Whilst the arbitral award was passed in favour of the creditor, the debtor challenged the arbitral award under Section 34 of the Act. This was made by the debtor during the 10 days' notice period which is provided under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code ("IBC") for the operational creditor filings. Despite the same, an application was filed by the creditor with the NCLT. The NCLT admitted the case ruling that the petition filed under Section 34 by the debtor was irrelevant for the reason that the claim stood admitted. In Appeal, the NCLAT upheld the NCLT's order and ruled that Section 238 of the IBC would override the Arbitration Act.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 can be invoked in respect of an operational debt where an arbitral award has been passed against the operational debtor, which has not yet been finally adjudicated upon. The Supreme Court inter alia held that filing of a petition under Section 34 of the Act against an arbitral award shows that a pre-existing dispute which culminates at the first stage of the proceedings in an Award, continues even after the Award, at least till the final adjudicatory process under Sections 34 and 37 has taken place. The Court further held that:

"23. We may hasten to add that there may be cases where a Section 34 petition challenging an Arbitral Award may clearly and unequivocally be barred by limitation, in that it can be demonstrated to the Court that the period of 90 days plus the discretionary period of 30 days has clearly expired, after which either no petition under Section 34 has been filed or a belated petition under Section 34 has been filed. It is only in such clear cases that the insolvency process may then be put into operation.

24. We may hasten to add that there may also be other cases where a Section 34 petition may have been instituted in the wrong court, as a result of which the petitioner may claim the application of Section 14 of the Limitation Act to get over the bar of limitation laid down in Section 34(3) of the Arbitration Act. In such cases also, it is obvious that the insolvency process cannot be put into operation without an adjudication on the applicability of Section 14 of the Limitation Act.

...Section 238 of the Code would apply in case there is an inconsistency between the Code and the Arbitration Act. In the present case, we see no such inconsistency. On the contrary, the Award passed under the Arbitration Act together with the steps taken for its challenge would only make it clear that the operational debt, in the present case, happens to be a disputed one.

27. ...Even if it be clear that there be a record of an operational debt, it is important that the said debt be not disputed. If disputed within the parameters laid down in Mobilox Innovations Private Limited  v.  Kirusa Software Private Limited (2018) 1 SCC 353, an insolvency petition cannot be proceeded with further."

  1. State of Bihar v. Bihar Rajya Bhumi Vikas Bank Samiti, Civil Appeal No. 7314 of 2018, Decided on July 30, 2018

The amended Section 34(5) of the Act (inserted by Amending Act 3 of 2016 w.e.f. October 23, 2015) provides that an application to set aside arbitral award shall be filed by a party only after issuing a prior notice to the other party and such application shall be accompanied by an affidavit by the applicant endorsing compliance with the said requirement. In the present case, a Section 34 petition challenging an award was filed on 05.04.2016 before the Patna High Court, in which notice was issued to the opposite party by the Court on 18.07.2016. Despite the coming into force of Section 34(5), the common ground between the parties was that no prior notice was issued to the other party in terms of the said Section, nor was the application under Section 34 accompanied by an affidavit that was required by the said sub-section. The Single Judge of the Patna High Court, by a judgment dated 06.09.2016, held that the provision contained in Section 34(5) was only directory. A Letters Patent Appeal to a Division Bench yielded the impugned order dated 28.10.2016, by which it was held that the mandatory language of Section 34(5), together with its object, made it clear that the sub-section was a condition precedent to the filing of a proper application under Section 34, and, on the analogy of a notice issued under Section 80 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, being a condition precedent to the filing of a suit against the Government, the Division Bench held that since this mandatory requirement had not been complied with, and as the period of 120 days had run out, the Section 34 application itself would have to be dismissed. In the end, it allowed the appeal and set aside the judgment of the Single Judge.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether Section 34(5) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 is mandatory or directory.

The Supreme Court inter alia held that to construe such a provision as being mandatory would defeat the advancement of justice as it would provide the consequence of dismissing an application filed without adhering to the requirements of Section 34(5), thereby scuttling the process of justice by burying the element of fairness. It was further held that the provision is procedural, the object behind which is to dispose of applications under Section 34 expeditiously.

The Court however added that it shall be the endeavour of every Court in which a Section 34 application is filed, to stick to the time limit of one year from the date of service of notice to the opposite party by the applicant, or by the Court, as the case may be. In case the Court issues notice after the period mentioned in Section 34(3) has elapsed, every Court shall endeavour to dispose of the Section 34 application within a period of one year from the date of filing of the said application.

  1. BCCI v. Kochi Cricket Pvt. Ltd., (2018) 6 SCC 287

In the present case, the dispute pertained to a franchise agreement dated 12.03.2011. A sole arbitrator was appointed, who delivered two arbitral awards dated 22.06.2015 against the appellant and in favour of the respondents. On 16.09.2015, the appellants filed an application under Section 34 of the Act in the Bombay High Court challenging the aforesaid arbitral awards. On 26.11.2015, the respondents filed two execution applications in the High Court for payment of the amounts awarded under the two awards, pending enforcement of such awards. These were resisted by two chamber summons filed by the appellants dated 03.12.2015, praying for dismissal of the aforesaid execution applications stating that the old Section 36 would be applicable, and that, therefore, there would be an automatic stay of the awards until the Section 34 proceedings had been decided. The chamber summons were argued before a Single Judge, who, by the impugned judgment [Rendezvous Sports World v. BCCI, 2016 SCC OnLine Bom 6064] in Special Leave Petitions (Civil) Nos. 19545-46 of 2016, dismissed the aforesaid chamber summons and found that the amended Section 36 would be applicable in the facts of this case.  

Section 36 of the Act reads as under:

Pre-amended provision

"36.  Enforcement —Where the time for making an application to set aside the arbitral award under Section 34 has expired, or such application having been made, it has been refused, the award shall be enforced under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908) in the same manner as if it were a decree of the Court."

Amended provision

"36.  Enforcement — (1) Where the time for making an application to set aside the arbitral award under Section 34 has expired, then, subject to the provisions of sub-section (2), such award shall be enforced in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908), in the same manner as if it were a decree of the court.

(2) Where an application to set aside the arbitral award has been filed in the Court under Section 34, the filing of such an application shall not by itself render that award unenforceable, unless the Court grants an order of stay of the operation of the said arbitral award in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (3), on a separate application made for that purpose.

(3) Upon filing of an application under sub-section (2) for stay of the operation of the arbitral award, the Court may, subject to such conditions as it may deem fit, grant stay of the operation of such award for reasons to be recorded in writing:

Provided that the Court shall, while considering the application for grant of stay in the case of an arbitral award for payment of money, have due regard to the provisions for grant of stay of a money decree under the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908)."

Section 26 of the Act, inter alia, reads as under:

"26.  Act not to apply to pending arbitral proceedings — Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the arbitral proceedings commenced, in accordance with the provisions of Section 21 of the principal Act, before the commencement of this Act unless the parties otherwise agree...."

The question before the Supreme Court was what will happen to the petitions filed under Section 34 of the Act that had been filed before the commencement of the Amendment Act, which were governed by Section 36 of the old Act? Would Section 36, as substituted, apply to such petitions?

The Supreme Court inter alia held:

(i)  Since it is clear that execution of a decree pertains to the realm of procedure, and that there is no substantive vested right in a judgment-debtor to resist execution, Section 36, as substituted, would apply even to pending Section 34 applications on the date of commencement of the Amendment Act.

(ii) The matter can also be looked at from a slightly different angle. Section 36, prior to the Amendment Act, is only a clog on the right of the decree-holder, who cannot execute the award in his favour, unless the conditions of this section are met. This does not mean that there is a corresponding right in the judgment-debtor to stay the execution of such an award.

(iii) Being a procedural provision, it is obvious that the context of Section 36 is that the expression "has been" would refer to Section 34 petitions filed before the commencement of the Amendment Act and would be one pointer to the fact that the said section would indeed apply, in its substituted form, even to such petitions. 

(iv) It would be clear that looking at the practical aspect and the nature of rights presently involved, and the sheer unfairness of the unamended provision, which granted an automatic stay to execution of an award before the enforcement process of Section 34 was over (and which stay could last for a number of years) without having to look at the facts of each case, it is clear that Section 36 as amended should apply to petitions filed under Section 34 before the commencement of the Amendment Act also for the aforesaid reasons.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Vaish Associates Advocates
 
In association with
Practice Guides
by Mondaq Advice Centres
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Vaish Associates Advocates
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions