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This article has been written by Indira Yadav, and Tejasvi Jat, a 3rd-year student at the Institute of Law Nirma University.

Introduction

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often the real loser — in fees, and expenses, and waste of time. As a peace-maker, the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.” – Abraham Lincoln

The increase in global trade, investment, and cross-border transactions, has made the ‘Arbitration’ synonymous with dispute resolution in the international commercial world. It is an alternative manner of dispute resolution in which parties’ consent upon submitting their disputes to an arbitrator instead of resorting to court proceedings. The resulting decision is binding on both parties.

Since its inception, the Arbitration regime in India went through several changes. Arbitration as a mechanism of dispute resolution not only saves time and money but also provides for party autonomy and flexibility of the proceeding, therefore it holds great importance in the commercial world. Nowadays Every investor before investing in a country looks at its Arbitration mechanism and if the legal system and government of that country is environment friendly or not.

The present article discusses the development of arbitration in India over time and discusses how India can become a promising hub in the field of arbitration.

History

Arbitration is a manner of dispute resolution that is not new in India, there have been several instances in ancient times wherein various such mechanisms were deployed for dispute resolution, for example, Kulani (village council), Sreni (corporation), and Puga (assembly). Mahajans and Chambers were other such bodies to resolve commercial matters. Further, there were panchayats for arbitration that worked under the courts of law.

Modern arbitration law in India can be traced with the introduction of the Arbitration Act in 1899, which was basically derived from the English Arbitration Act, 1899. This was the first instance wherein arbitration was recognized by law as an alternative method of dispute resolution in India. Even though it was only applicable to the three presidency towns in India i.e., Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay. After that the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 was enacted in India. It had Section 89 and Schedule II concerning arbitration, which made it widely applicable over other parts of British India.

Since all these acts- the Arbitration act, 1899, provisions of the code of civil procedure, 1908 were found to be very technical and impractical, and so The Arbitration Act of 1940 was enacted to replace the existing framework. This was based upon the English Arbitration act of 1934. Quite comprehensive in nature with regards to domestic arbitration but did not deal as to how the execution of foreign arbitral awards would take place. Subsequently, three new acts(English Arbitration Act, 1950, Arbitration Act 1975, and Arbitration Act 1979) were enacted with the previous ones being repealed but Indian Arbitration law has been unchanged during this duration.

Working under the Act of 1940 was nowhere near satisfactory and it could not achieve its desired aim. As Justice D.A. Desai said in the case of Guru Nanak Foundation v. Rattan Singh and Sons (1981):

“How the proceedings under the Act are conducted and without an exception challenged in Courts, has made lawyers laugh and legal philosophers weep. Experience shows and law reports bear ample testimony that the proceedings under the Act have become highly technical accompanied by unending prolixity, at every stage providing a legal trap to the unwary. Informal forum chosen by the parties for expeditious disposal of their disputes has by the decisions of the Courts been clothed with ‘legalese’ of unforeseeable complexity.

While India was facing troubles in establishing an effective arbitration regime, the international arbitration law was also going through transitions. In 1923 the International Chamber of Commerce introduced the Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses, popularly known as ‘the 1923 Protocol’. It aimed at ensuring that the Arbitrational awards given in one country are enforceable in other countries too. But this protocol proved to be insufficient in the Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards, and subsequently, the ‘Geneva Convention of 1927’ was introduced. India was a signatory to both these protocols in giving effect to the same, it enacted the Arbitration (Protocol and Convention) Act, 1937. But these conventions made the process of international arbitration much more complicated and difficult to go ahead with. 

To address these complexities involved, the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards was adopted in New York (or more popularly known as ‘the New York Convention’) and came into effect from 7th June 1959. India became a signatory to this convention on 13 July 1960 and subsequently enacted the Foreign Awards (Recognition and Enforcement) Act, 1961 to give effect to the same. Therefore India then had three legislations in its framework concerning Arbitration:- Protocol and Convention Act, 1937, the Arbitration Act, 1940, and the Foreign Awards (Recognition and Enforcement) Act, 1961.

Due to the various complications in the existing legal framework of Arbitration and the occurrence of economic liberalization in 1991, the need for an updated legal framework of dispute resolution was felt to attract foreign investment and provide a comfortable business environment. With this aim Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 came into effect in India repealing all the Arbitration Act 1940. The Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 was based on UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration, 1985. It consolidated and amended the law related to domestic arbitration, international commercial arbitration, enforcement of foreign arbitral awards, and also defined the law relating to conciliation. The main purpose of The Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 was to impart a speedy and cost-effective dispute resolution mechanism that will have the same effect as the decree of the court and minimize the intervention and supervision of the judiciary.

The Arbitration And Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015

The Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 was introduced to make India a powerful hub for arbitration but sadly it suffered the same infirmities it aimed to cure. Working under it was very expensive, prolonged as there was no time limit to complete the arbitration procedure in the 1996 act and there was an extreme intervention of the courts at every stage. Also, if an Arbitral award was challenged in the court under Section 34 of the act, there would be an automatic stay on its execution making it inexecutable and further prolonging the process.

Further, the judgment of the Supreme Court in Bhatia International v. Bulk Trading S.A. and Another (2002) gave rise to a controversy as it held that the “Part I” of the act unless expressly or impliedly excluded will apply to the arbitrations with a seat outside India. This judgment was overruled in the landmark case of Bharat Aluminium Co v. Kaiser Aluminium Technical Services Inc. (BALCO),(2012) that put rest to the ongoing debate and it was held by the court that In case of International Commercial Arbitration (ICA) seated outside Indian courts do not have jurisdiction to grant interim relief and only when parties seek to enforce such judgment in India and it has been passed in line with part II of the Act of 1966, the jurisdiction of Indian courts will apply to the awards granted in ICA. 

For resolving the above-mentioned concerns eminent lawyers, jurists, and legal experts of the country were asked to send their recommendations concerning the functioning of the act by the Ministry of Law and Justice. Thereafter a committee was formed under the chairmanship of Hon’ble Justice (Retd.) A.P. Shah to suggest amendments in the Act of 1996. After the committee gave its suggestion, The Arbitration, and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 was passed by the Parliament to amend the 1996 act for the first time. The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 made some significant changes to the act which were as follows.

Appointment Of Arbitrators-

  1. The parties can request SC or HC to appoint the arbitrator and the appointment of such arbitrator should be completed within 60 days from the date of application.
  2. The fifth and Seventh schedules were added on the ineligibility of arbitrators keeping in mind the IBA Guidelines on Conflict of Interest.

Interim Reliefs

  1. Section 9, Court assistance in taking evidence (Section 27) and Appeals (specifically, clause (a) of sub-section (1) and sub-section (3) of section 37) was made applicable to the International commercial arbitrations, whether seated in India or outside India.
  2. The interim relief granted by Arbitral tribunals seated in India was given the same status as the order of the court under the new Section 17 and parties with foreign seated arbitration were given liberty to ask for aid from Indian courts.
  3.  Once an interim relief is granted the Arbitration proceedings must begin within 90 days or within such further time as granted by the court.

Time-Bound Procedures

  1. A strict timeline of 12 months was imposed to complete the arbitration proceedings seated in India. Additional 6 months can be provided for the disposal of the case with the permission of the court. If the arbitration proceeding has been completed within 6 months the tribunal will be eligible for extra fees and in case of delay beyond a specified period the fees of the tribunal will be reduced by up to 5% with each month.
  2. Also, a provision for fast-track disposal had been inserted by the amendment to complete the proceedings within 6 months.
  3. The application challenging the arbitrational award must be disposed of within 1 year.

Reduced Cost

  1. The ‘Cost follow the event’ regime had been introduced by inserting Section 31A. Under this regime the court or Arbitration tribunal was empowered to decide the costs needed to be paid and when to be paid by the losing party including fees and expenses of the arbitrators, courts and witnesses, legal fees and expenses, administrative costs of the institution, and any other costs incurred about the arbitral or court proceedings and the arbitral award.

Challenge Against The Arbitral Awards

  1. The definition of ‘court’ under Section 2 was amended to include only HC in the case of International Commercial Arbitration.
  2. There shall not be an automatic stay on the execution of the arbitral award once a challenge has been filed under Section 34.
  3. The grounds for challenging an ICA in case it is seated in India had been reduced by the 2015 amendment.
  4. Section 36 had been replaced with the new Section 36 in which if the time to challenge an arbitral award has been already elapsed in such case the arbitral award will be enforced as per the provisions of Code of Civil Procedure 1908, in the same manner as the decree of the court.

The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act 2015 gave rise to a new issue, that is whether Section 36(2) applies to the pending proceedings under Section 32 on the date of enforcement of The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act 2015. The court in the case of Board of Control for Cricket in India v. Kochi Cricket Pvt. Ltd.(2018) the court held that Section 36 (2) applies to the pending proceedings under Section 32 on the date of enforcement of The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act 2015, as it is procedural.

Further, the Law Commission Report recommended the use of the words ‘seat’ and ‘venue’ instead of ‘place’ of arbitration to keep in line with the international usage but it was not incorporated in the 2015 amendment. In the case of BGS SGS Soma JV v. NHPC Ltd (2019)the Supreme court held that the place of arbitration whether it is called seat or venue is the place, courts of which have the exclusive jurisdiction over the matter unless otherwise is indicated.

The Arbitration And Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2019

Though the amendment of 2015 brought several improvements in the arbitration mechanism of India, it failed to address the issue of lack of institutional arbitration in India. Therefore, on 13th January 2017, a High-level committee was formed under the leadership of Justice B.N. Sri Krishna, Retired Judge, Supreme Court of India to promote Institutional arbitration in India and suggest ways in which India can become a robust hub of domestic and international arbitration.

To inculcate the changes suggested by Justice B.N. Sri Krishna committee The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2019 came into force and introduced the following changes:

  1. It introduced the Arbitration Council of India, which would have the powers like grading arbitral institutions, recognizing professional institutes that provide accreditation to arbitrators, issuing recommendations and guidelines for arbitral institutions, and taking steps to make India a hub of domestic and international arbitrations. (This provision has not been notified yet)
  2. It empowered the SC and HC to grant the power of appointing arbitrators to the arbitral institutions which have been accredited by the Arbitration Council of India. (This provision has not been notified yet)
  3. The 2015 Amendment Act imposed a strict timeline of 12 months, to complete the proceedings on arbitrations seated in India, to be started from the date of inception of proceedings before an arbitral tribunal.  The 2019 amendment sought to change the start date of this time limit to start once the pleading has ended. The time limit of 12 months can further be extended by 6 months with the consent of the parties. However, the pleadings must be completed within 6 months.
  4. The 2019 amendment act did not impose any time limit on International Commercial Arbitration for the completion of arbitration proceedings.
  5. Further, it contained an express provision on confidentiality of arbitration proceedings and immunity of arbitrators.
  6. The 2019 amendment act introduced minimum qualifications for an arbitrator under the Eight Schedule.
  7. Also, Section 87 of the 2019 Amendment Act stated that the 2015 Amendment Act, which came into force on 23 October 2015 will only apply to those arbitration proceedings that have begun either on or after 23 October 2015. This section was in contravention to the decision given by the Supreme Court in the case of Board of Control for Cricket in India v. Kochi Cricket Pvt. Ltd. (2018) and against the objective of the Amendment Act, 2015.

Further, in the case of Hindustan Construction Company Limited v. Union of India, (2019) Supreme Court struck down Section 87 introduced by the 2019 Amendment Act as Manifestly Arbitrary.”

The Arbitration And Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2021

The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 was promulgated on November 4, 2020, and replaced by The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2021. The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2021 gained Parliamentary assent on March 10, 2021incorporated the amendments in the 2020 Ordinance. This amendment brought 2 changes:

  1. It removed the controversial Eight Schedule and Section 43J from the act which was added by the 2019 Amendment Act. The Eight Schedule stated the extensive qualifications for the accreditation of arbitrators which was against the principle of party autonomy in arbitration.
  2. It added a proviso to Section 36(3) which states that “where the Court is satisfied that a prima facie case is made out that,—

(a) the arbitration agreement or contract which is the basis of the award; or

(b) the making of the award,

was induced or affected by fraud or corruption, it shall stay the award unconditionally pending disposal of the challenge under section 34 to the award.”

This provision has been given retrospective effect and deemed to be effective from October 23, 2015, i.e., from the same date as the commencement of The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015.

A comparison with the arbitrational regime of Singapore and the United Kingdom

Institutional or Ad-hoc Arbitration

In India most of the arbitrations are ad-hoc and the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules are being used in international ad-hoc arbitrations. 

In Singapore, Institutional arbitration is given preference and SIAC rules are the first choice of the majority of parties, whereas ICC rules are the most preferred alternative. For ad-hoc arbitration, UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules are being preferred by most of the parties.

United Kingdom practice is the same as Singapore in this regard.

Duration

In all three jurisdictions, the time limit is almost the same. Further Singapore extends the choices like documents-only hearing and expedited procedure of arbitration under the SIAC Rules as well as early dismissal of the claim. In the United Kingdom, international arbitration is likely to take an average time of one to two years.

Foreign Arbitrators

In all three Jurisdictions, there is no restriction on the appointment of foreign arbitrators.

Domestic and International Arbitration

In India, all the arbitrations whether national or international if seated India is governed by Part I of The Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

In Singapore Arbitration Act (AA) governs domestic arbitrations and International Arbitration  Act (IAA) governs international arbitrations.

In the United Kingdom, English Arbitration Act governs both national and international arbitration.

Arbitrability

India acknowledges the concept that certain disputes are non-arbitrable. However, The Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 does not define any criteria to decide what is non-arbitrable. In India, the power to decide the non-arbitrability of a dispute resides with the arbitration tribunal and according to Section 8(1) and 11(6A) of the above-mentioned act, the courts are only empowered to examine the existence of an arbitration agreement.

In Singapore, every dispute is arbitrable unless it will be against the public policy of Singapore to arbitrate a dispute.

In the United Kingdom, some disputes such as disputes relating to criminal law and planning laws cannot be referred to arbitration. Generally, it is on the tribunal to decide the arbitrability of a case but in some cases, courts may also decide.

Multi-tier Clauses

In India, a multi-tier clause is a clause that necessitates different levels of dispute resolution as a pre-condition before filing arbitration is binding on the parties. In Singapore and the United Kingdom to such multi-tier clauses are binding.

Role of Courts in the Appointment of Arbitrators

In India, the court can only interfere in the appointment of arbitrators if the parties are unable to appoint the sole arbitrator or both the arbitrators are unable to choose the third arbitrator. In English Arbitration Act, 1996 the procedure is the same as in India in case the parties are unable to reach an agreement.

In Singapore, the President of the Court of Arbitration of Singapore International Arbitration Centre appoints an arbitrator where the parties are unable to agree on the joint nomination of arbitrators.

Disclosure of Conflict by Arbitrators 

According to Section 12 of the Indian Arbitration Act, 1996, a person when approached for being an arbitrator, is bound to disclose in writing any circumstances that are likely to put a question mark on his impartiality and independence. The appointment of the arbitrator can only be challenged if the circumstances are such that induce doubts regarding his independence or impartiality or in case he does not possess the requisite qualifications agreed upon by the parties. 

The grounds for challenging the appointment of arbitrators under Singapore Arbitration law are the same as in India. In Singapore the obligation to disclose the conflict of interest is continuing one i.e., the person who is approached for his appointment as arbitrator is bound to disclose any conflict of interest at that point of time as well as in the course of arbitration if such circumstances arise which may create doubt on his impartiality and independence.

In the case of the United Kingdom, the arbitrator is bound to disclose any prior interest at the earliest opportunity. If the arbitrator fails to discharge his obligation the parties can challenge his appointment in any forum agreed by them in the contract and if they have already exhausted that remedy, in the court.

Suggestions  for further development

  1. India needs full-time arbitration lawyers. In India, arbitration is always given second preference by lawyers. Mostly they give their time to arbitration hearings after court hours and therefore could not give proper time or attention to these proceedings. Though we have some good arbitration centers like Delhi International Arbitration Centre (DIAC), Nani Palkhivala Arbitration Centre (NPAC), Mumbai Centre for International Arbitration (MCIA), etc. But still,no arbitration center in India is comparable to Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), International Criminal Court (ICC), London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), etc. The main reason behind it is that we do not have permanent arbitrators in India like SIAC had a world-renowned arbitration Gary born.
  2. India needs to minimize its judicial intervention because once an arbitration matter gets stuck in the court, it can not be determined how much time it will take to be resolved. The 2021 amendment which provides for an unconditional stay on the enforcement of the award in case prima facie observation of the court is that fraud or corruption is involved in its granting, is a setback for the Indian arbitration regime as it will give the excuse to every judgment- debtor to circumvent their obligation just by alleging fraud and corruption. This will again increase the intervention of the court in the arbitration proceedings.
  3. To make arbitration in India more robust we are in dire need of establishing an arbitration bar that will discuss the existing concerns related to arbitration in India and address the troubles faced by arbitration practitioners.
  4. There are members from the government in New Delhi International Arbitration Centre and Arbitration Council of India. There is no such intervention of the government in the other arbitration centers of the world including ICC, SIAC, LCIA. This can hamper the process of delivering justice as to a great extent the awards will depend on the government in such cases and therefore the process of arbitration must be free from government control.
  5. There is an absence of awareness among the citizens of India regarding the process and benefits of arbitration. The arbitration institutes of India are required to hold campaigns and conferences like SIAC and ICC to encourage people to embrace arbitration instead of litigation. Also, law students should be trained and encouraged to pursue arbitration as a full-time career.

Conclusion

The recent amendments in Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1966 have made significant changes in the ever-evolving arbitration regime of India. Certainly, these amendments can be regarded as notable positive steps towards the aim of making India a global hub of Arbitration, in the same league as countries like Singapore and the UK. Indian legislature and courts have shown a pro-arbitration approach by their conduct and there is an exciting and prosperous future waiting for India in the field of Arbitration. However, India still has a long way to go before becoming a world guru in the field of arbitration but with this positive approach towards arbitration, India will soon achieve its objective.

References


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