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Report No. 246

Judicial Interventions in Foreign Seated Arbitrations

38. Section 2(2) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (the "Act"), contained in Part I of the Act, states that "This Part shall apply where the place of arbitration is in India." In comparison, Article 1(2) of the UNCITRAL Model Law provides:

"The provisions of this Law, except articles 8, 9, 35 and 36, apply only if the place of arbitration is in the territory of this State." The central issue, therefore, that was before the two judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Bhatia International v. Interbulk Trading SA, (2002) 4 SCC 105, and before the five-judge Bench in Bharat Aluminum and Co. v. Kaiser Aluminium and Co., (2012) 9 SCC 552 (hereinafter called "BALCO") was whether the exclusion of the word "only" from the Indian statute gave rise to the implication that Part I of the Act would apply even in some situations where the arbitration was conducted outside India.

39. The Supreme Court in Bhatia, held that Part I mandatorily applied to all arbitrations held in India. In addition, Part I applied to arbitrations conducted outside India unless it was expressly or impliedly excluded. While Bhatia was a case arising out of section 9, the same principle was extended by the Supreme Court to sections 11 and 34 as well (in Venture Global v. Satyam Computer, (2008) 4 SCC 190; Indtel Technical Services v. W.S. Atkins, (2008) 10 SCC 308; Citation Infowares Ltd v. Equinox Corporation, (2009) 7 SCC 220; Dozco India v. Doosan Infrastructure, (2011) 6 SCC 179; Videocon Industries v. Union of India, (2011) 6 SCC 161).

As a result, Indian Courts were competent to provide interim relief pending arbitration, appoint arbitrators and set aside arbitral awards even if the arbitration was conducted outside India. These powers existed unless Part I was expressly or impliedly excluded. Further, an implied exclusion was construed not on the basis of conflict of laws principles but in an ad hoc manner. This position now stands overruled following BALCO.

40. The Supreme Court in BALCO decided that Parts I and II of the Act are mutually exclusive of each other. The intention of Parliament that the Act is territorial in nature and sections 9 and 34 will apply only when the seat of arbitration is in India. The seat is the "centre of gravity" of arbitration, and even where two foreign parties arbitrate in India, Part I would apply and, by virtue of section 2(7), the award would be a "domestic award".

The Supreme Court recognized the "seat" of arbitration to be the juridical seat; however, in line with international practice, it was observed that the arbitral hearings may take place at a location other than the seat of arbitration. The distinction between "seat" and "venue" was, therefore, recognized. In such a scenario, only if the seat is determined to be India, Part I would be applicable. If the seat was foreign, Part I would be inapplicable.

Even if Part I was expressly included "it would only mean that the parties have contractually imported from the Arbitration Act, 1996, those provisions which are concerned with the internal conduct of their arbitration and which are not inconsistent with the mandatory provisions of the [foreign] Procedural Law/Curial Law." The same cannot be used to confer jurisdiction on an Indian Court. However, the decision in BALCO was expressly given prospective effect and applied to arbitration agreements executed after the date of the judgment.

41. While the decision in BALCO is a step in the right direction and would drastically reduce judicial intervention in foreign arbitrations, the Commission feels that there are still a few areas that are likely to be problematic.

(i) Where the assets of a party are located in India, and there is a likelihood that that party will dissipate its assets in the near future, the other party will lack an efficacious remedy if the seat of the arbitration is abroad. The latter party will have two possible remedies, but neither will be efficacious.

First, the latter party can obtain an interim order from a foreign Court or the arbitral tribunal itself and file a civil suit to enforce the right created by the interim order. The interim order would not be enforceable directly by filing an execution petition as it would not qualify as a "judgment" or "decree" for the purposes of sections 13 and 44A of the Code of Civil Procedure (which provide a mechanism for enforcing foreign judgments).

Secondly, in the event that the former party does not adhere to the terms of the foreign Order, the latter party can initiate proceedings for contempt in the foreign Court and enforce the judgment of the foreign Court under sections 13 and 44A of the Code of Civil Procedure. Neither of these remedies is likely to provide a practical remedy to the party seeking to enforce the interim relief obtained by it.

That being the case, it is a distinct possibility that a foreign party would obtain an arbitral award in its favour only to realize that the entity against which it has to enforce the award has been stripped of its assets and has been converted into a shell company.

(ii) While the decision in BALCO was made prospective to ensure that hotly negotiated bargains are not overturned overnight, it results in a situation where Courts, despite knowing that the decision in Bhatia is no longer good law, are forced to apply it whenever they are faced with a case arising from an arbitration agreement executed pre-BALCO.

42. The above issues have been addressed by way of proposed Amendments to sections 2(2), 2(2A), 20, 28 and 31.

Amendments to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 Back

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