Supreme Court of India Uncategorized

Pre-BALCO arbitration agreements with foreign seat: SC decision does little to improve clarity on Part 1 exclusion

SindhuSivakumar_DraftingForArbitrationA few months ago (May 28, 2014), in Reliance Industries Limited and Another v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India elaborated on the law laid by it in relation to the jurisdiction of Indian courts over foreign-seated arbitrations in the 2012 decision in Bharat Aluminium v. Kaiser Aluminium, (2012) 9 SCC 552.

Without getting into the substantive details, the dispute and arbitration arose out of two production-sharing contracts between the parties. While Indian law governed the agreement, the arbitration clause provided for arbitration seated in London and English law expressly governed the arbitration clause (or agreement). Over the course of arbitration proceedings, the Union of India challenged the arbitrability of four issues. This was resisted by Reliance, and ultimately, the three-member arbitral tribunal decided in favour of Reliance through an award on September 12, 2012. This award of the tribunal (on arbitrability) was challenged under Section 34 of the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“Act”) by the Union of India before the Delhi High Court.

Surprisingly, the Delhi High Court accepted its jurisdiction to hear the Section 34 set-aside application even though the award in question was passed in a foreign-seated arbitration. The reasoning of the High Court in accepting jurisdiction is suspect; the High Court seemed to suggest that the law of the seat only governed the conduct of arbitration, not the issues of arbitrability or public policy, which are also subject to the law of the contract, that is, Indian law. The High Court also took into account the fact that the parties had not expressly excluded Part 1 of the Act. Since the arbitration agreement pre-dated the Bharat Aluminium decision (it was a 1994 agreement), the fact that Part 1 was not excluded, was taken to imply that Indian courts had the jurisdiction to set aside the foreign award under Section 34 (following the logic of the Supreme Court in Bhatia International v. Bulk Trading S.A., (2002) 4 SCC 105).

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Reliance filed an appeal before the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court overruled the Delhi High Court’s judgment on its jurisdiction to hear the Section 34 application. The Supreme Court essentially went back to the post-Bhatia, pre-Bharat Aluminium line of cases that dealt with what constituted an effective ‘exclusion’ of Part 1 of the Act under Bhatia International. One of these cases was Yograj Infrastructure Limited v. Ssang Yong Engineering and Construction Company Limited, (2011) 9 SCC 735, where the Supreme Court had held that the choice of a foreign seat (in this case, Singapore) amounted to an ‘implied exclusion’ of the Part 1 of the Indian Act, and that accordingly, Indian courts had no jurisdiction in such foreign seated arbitrations. Another pre-BALCO decision the Supreme Court referred to in Reliance was Videocon Industries v. Union of India, (2011) 6 SCC 161, in which the Supreme Court had held that a foreign law governing the arbitration agreement (as well as a foreign seat) amounted to an exclusion of Part I of the Indian Act. In the present case, as there was a choice of an English seat and because English law was the law governing the arbitration agreement, Part 1 was clearly excluded. Further, the Supreme Court also made it clear that the law of the seat did not just govern the conduct of the arbitration; it meant that the courts at the seat had exclusive supervisory jurisdiction to hear challenges to awards based on arbitrability and public policy. Further, the Supreme Court reiterated its ruling in Enercon that recognised the separability principle.

All in all, this decision of the Supreme Court is very much in line with the recent ‘pro-arbitration’ trend in the Indian courts. The ‘pro arbitration’ trend is reflective of a larger strategy of the present Indian government to convert India into a global arbitration hub (2014 BJP Manifesto). On the flip side, this decision does not do much to clarify the position on pre-BALCO (that is, before September 6, 2012) arbitration agreements that provide for a foreign seat: on the one hand, you have the Yograj decision which seemed to (correctly) indicate that the providing for a foreign seat was enough to exclude the application of Part 1 and Section 34, and on the other, the Videocon decision, which relied on the presence of a foreign law governing the arbitration agreement to imply the exclusion of Part 1. The Reliance case could have been the perfect opportunity for the Supreme Court to clarify that a foreign seat alone is sufficient to exclude Part 1; unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not bite.

(Sindhu Sivakumar is part of the faculty on

Supreme Court of India

The role of courts in arbitrator appointments – Patel Engineering and beyond

What questions can the Chief Justice entertain while appointing arbitrators under Section 11 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“the Act”)? In 2005, in SBP and Company v. Patel Engineering Ltd. (“the Patel Engineering case”), a seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court issued determinative dicta in relation to this function of the court. In this post, we examine a series of subsequent cases where the Supreme Court has interpreted and given effect to its dicta in the Patel Engineering case.


Section 11 of the Act provides that when the parties fail to appoint one or more arbitrators according to the terms of the arbitration agreement, or when two arbitrators fail to choose the third or presiding arbitrator, or the designated appointment mechanism otherwise fails, the parties can approach the Chief Justice to resolve the stalemate and appoint an arbitrator.

Section 11 is based on Article 11 of the UNCITRAL Model Law, 1985 (“the Model Law”). Similar to the Model Law, Section 11 envisages the Chief Justice performing a fairly routine, administrative function in making the appointment, similar to the appointing role that arbitral institutions take on. All that is required is a request from a party to the Chief Justice to appoint the arbitrator, usually in the form set out in Notification No F22/1/95/SCA/Genl.The extent of enquiry in making the appointment should include checking for the impartiality and independence of the appointee and the qualifications specified in the agreement.

However, in the Patel Engineering case, the Supreme Court held that the appointing function in Section 11 is a judicial function where the Chief Justice should examine certain jurisdictional questions like the existence and validity of the arbitration agreement. The exact scope of enquiry of the Chief Justice was set out by the Supreme Court as follows:

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It is necessary to define what exactly the Chief Justice, approached with an application under Section 11 of the Act, is to decide at that stage. Obviously, he has to decide his own jurisdiction in the sense, whether the party making the motion has approached the right High Court. He has to decide whether there is an arbitration agreement, as defined in the Act and whether the person who has made the request before him, is a party to such an agreement. It is necessary to indicate that he can also decide the question whether the claim was a dead one; or a long barred claim that was sought to be resurrected and whether the parties have concluded the transaction by recording satisfaction of their mutual rights and obligations or by receiving the final payment without objection. It may not be possible at that stage, to decide whether a live claim made, is one which comes within the purview of the arbitration clause. It will be appropriate to leave that question to be decided by the arbitral tribunal on taking evidence, along with the merits of the claims involved in the arbitration. The Chief Justice has to decide whether the applicant has satisfied the conditions for appointing an arbitrator under Section 11(6) of the Act…”

Further, the Court in this case also held that the court’s decision on any of these preliminary matters would be final and not open for subsequent examination by the arbitral tribunal.

In subsequent cases, questions have arisen in relation to this dicta – in relation to whether the Chief Justice or his designate has to examine all the preliminary issues laid down in Patel Engineering or whether he can set aside some of these preliminary issues for the arbitral tribunal to decide. Questions have also been raised about the extent to which courts can examine the scope of the arbitration agreement while dealing with a Section 11 application.

Discretion to leave issues to the arbitral tribunal

In National Insurance Company Ltd. v. Boghara Polyfab Pvt. Ltd., (2009) 1 SCC 267, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that the Chief Justice, in exercising his powers under Section 11, does not have to decide all the preliminary questions set out in Patel Engineering.

The Court segregated the preliminary issues into three categories, that is, “(i) issues which the Chief Justice or his designate is bound to decide; (ii) issues which he can also decide, that is, issues which he may choose to decide; and (iii) issues which should be left to the Arbitral Tribunal to decide.

The first category included the Chief Justice’s territorial jurisdiction as well as the issue of whether there was an arbitration agreement and whether the Section 11 applicant is indeed a party to the agreement. The second, optional category included issues of whether claim is a dead (barred by limitation) claim or a live claim and whether the parties have concluded their contract by recording satisfaction of their mutual rights and obligation or by receiving the final payment without objection. If the Chief Justice did decide to rule on these optional issues, his decision would be final and cannot be reopened by the tribunal. However, the court urged the Chief Justice to exercise caution in exercising this option and to be guided by the objective of the Act of “expediting the arbitration process with minimum judicial intervention”. The last category of issues which the Chief Justice should not decide included issues of “(i) Whether a claim made falls within the arbitration clause (as for example, a matter which is reserved for final decision of a departmental authority and excepted or excluded from arbitration)” or “(ii) Merits or any claim involved in the arbitration.

SupremeCourtofIndia_Section11ArbitrationandConciliationAct_appointmentofarbitrator.jpg.jpgThe categorisation of the Court in this case is interesting, especially in relation to the second category, because in a previous case, Shree Ram Mills Ltd. v. Utility Premises (P) Ltd., (2007) 4 SCC 599, the Supreme Court had suggested that the second category of cases, involving the decision of whether the claim is a live claim or not, has to be decided by the court as it is only by deciding this limitation issue that the court can decide whether to constitute a tribunal or not. The Court said: “… the Chief Justice has to record satisfaction that there remains a live issue in between the parties…” and that “where the Chief Justice comes to a finding that there exists a live issue, then naturally this finding would include a finding that the respective claims of the parties have not become barred by limitation.

In Chloro Controls India Private Ltd v. Severn Trent Water Purification Inc., (2013) 1 SCC 641, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court said that there is no variance between the Shree Ram Mills Ltd. and Boghara Polyfab Private Limited judgments; both judgments were in line with the law declared in the Patel Engineering Case. Quoting from Shree Ram Mills, the Court clarified that it laid down that “it is only for the purpose of finding out whether the arbitral procedure has to be started that the Chief Justice has to record satisfaction that there remains a live issue in between the parties.

… The Chief Justice only has to record his satisfaction that prima facie the issue has not become dead by the lapse of time or that any party to the agreement has not slept over its rights beyond the time permitted by law to agitate those issues covered by the agreement….

Thus, “…the Chief Justice may not decide certain issues finally and upon recording satisfaction that prima facie the issue has not become dead even leave it for the Arbitral Tribunal to decide.”

The Court also upheld the categorisation laid down in Boghara Polyfab Private Limited: “We have no reason to differ with the classification carved out in National Insurance Co. as it is very much in conformity with the judgment of the Constitution Bench in SBP.

The scope of the arbitration agreement

In Arasmeta Captive Power Company Private Limited v. Lafarge India Private Limited, the Supreme Court in December, 2013, reiterated another aspect of the Patel Engineering decision, namely that the Chief Justice should not decide on whether the claim in question is one which comes within the purview of the arbitration clause or not. In 2005, the Supreme Court had said: “It will be appropriate to leave that question to be decided by the arbitral tribunal on taking evidence, along with the merits of the claims involved in the arbitration.

In 2013, the question was whether the claims raised by the parties fell within the definition of a ‘billing dispute’ and thus, within the scope of the arbitration agreement. The Supreme Court categorically stated that the question fell to be determined by the arbitral tribunal and not the courts.

The Court said, “….the designated Judge… while dealing with an application under Section 11(6) of the Act, on an issue raised with regard to the excepted matters, was not justified in addressing the same on merits whether it is a dispute relating to excepted matters under the agreement in question or not…..The designated Judge has fallen into error by opining that the disputes raised are not “billing disputes”, for the same should have been left to be adjudicated by the learned Arbitrator…

Thus, the third category of issues (under Boghara) are strictly for the tribunal to decide. With Arasmeta, the Supreme Court has shown that it is prepared to strictly enforce the jurisdictional line (between the court and the tribunal) and not further encroach upon the jurisdiction of the tribunal apart from what is necessary to appoint an arbitrator under Section 11.

(Sindhu Sivakumar is part of the faculty on


Enercon Case: Supreme Court breathes life into ‘unworkable’ arbitration clause

SindhuSivakumar_DraftingForArbitrationThe Supreme Court’s decision in Enercon (India) v. Enercon GmBH (dated February 14, 2014) is pretty significant for cross-border arbitration. While it does not drastically change the law the way BALCO for example did, it discusses (at length – the judgment is forty-odd pages) several issues of drafting, interpretation, and choice-of-law that we do not have too much jurisprudence on. In this post, we will go over the issues related to the drafting of the arbitration clause.

But first, the facts

The dispute between Enercon (India) and Enercon GmBH was a long-standing one. It started in 2008 and involved a number of courts along the way – the trial and appellate courts of Daman, the Bombay High Court, and the English High Court. We won’t get into the proceedings at length here; suffice to know that all these proceedings were procedural in nature, and did not involve a substantive decision on merits. Those keen to know more can read Paras 3 to 31 of the Supreme Court judgment.

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The dispute was over a wind energy joint venture in India between a German and an Indian party. The German entity alleged that royalties and damages amounting to approximately Euros 89 million were due to it under an agreement that the parties had allegedly executed, the Intellectual Property Licence Agreement (“IPLA”).

The IPLA, in clause 18, was subject to an arbitration agreement:

18.1 All disputes, controversies or differences which may arise between the Parties in respect of this Agreement including without limitation to the validity, interpretation, construction, performance and enforcement or alleged breach of this Agreement … any Party may refer … for resolution to an arbitral tribunal ….”

The arbitration clause (which we haven’t reproduced in full here – we’ll set them out in the context of the different points we will discuss) raised a number of issues that came up before the Supreme Court. There were arguments that the clause was invalid, and that even if it was valid, it was unworkable. There were also several arguments about the choice-of-laws of the parties, as the choice-of-law language in the clause was very poorly drafted.

The unworkability of the arbitration clause

In a previous post we had discussed how courts sometimes construe arbitration clauses in a narrow and semantic manner, drawing distinctions between references to arbitration containing the words “all disputes arising out of or in connection with this agreement” on the one hand and “all disputes under this agreement” on the other. This approach, you may remember from reading that post, was severely criticised and rejected in England for being antithetical to the pro-arbitration policy in place in most modern legal systems. The pro-arbitration policy requires courts to enforce arbitration clauses whenever possible – interpret them to ‘make them work’.

SupremeCourtofIndia_ProArbitrationPolicy.jpgThe Indian Supreme Court, in the Enercon case, adopted a similar stance and said that interpretation should be approached in a commercial manner, adopting “the attitude of a reasonable business person”, and not in a legalistic or semantic manner. In other words, if the clause indicates a clear intention to arbitrate, then that intention should not be voided simply because the drafters did not articulate this intention well.

In this case, a part of clause 18, the part dealing with arbitrator appointments, was drafted in an unworkable manner. It read:

… any Party may refer dispute(s), controversy(ies) or difference(s) for resolution to an arbitral tribunal to consist of three (3) arbitrators, of whom one will be appointed by each of the Licensor [Enercon] and the Licensee [EIL] and the arbitrator appointed by Licensor shall also act as the presiding arbitrator.”

On a plain reading, this language makes no sense whatsoever. It starts off by saying that the tribunal will “consist of three (3) arbitrators”. In the very next breath however, it talks about the licensor and the licensee each appointing one arbitrator and for the licensor’s arbitrator to be the presiding arbitrator. This would mean that the tribunal would have only two members.

ADV-Drafting-And-Reviewing-Commecrial-Contracts-PLThe Court was however, prepared to give effect to this clause. It did so by essentially severing the problematic words, “and the arbitrator appointed by Licensor shall also act as the presiding arbitrator” from the clause, and allowing the default mechanism set out in Section 10 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 — that of having the two party-appointed arbitrators choose the presiding arbitrator or the chairman — to operate in its place.

The Supreme Court has taken a very positive stance in enforcing such a difficultly worded arbitration clause. That the court is committed to a pro-arbitration policy that was set in motion by BALCO is a source of comfort.

In the next post, we will look at some of the choice-of-law questions that clause 18 threw up, as well as the Supreme Court’s discussion on separability of the arbitration clause.

(Sindu Sivakumar is part of the faculty at


The more “catch-all” the reference, the better

SindhuSivakumar_DraftingForArbitrationDispute resolution clauses, including arbitration clauses, are often called “midnight clauses”, because parties and their counsel have a tendency to treat these clauses as “boilerplate”, leaving their negotiation and drafting to the absolute last minute. Rarely is attention paid to the precision of the language used. In fact, many clauses  — for instance, “English law – arbitration, if any, London according ICC Rules” — are not even complete sentences. As we will explore in this post, this can sometimes have unintended consequences for the parties.

The language used tends to vary widely in relation to the scope of reference in the arbitration clause. Even the model arbitration clauses provided by the different arbitral institutions are not consistent.

For example, the London Court of International Arbitration (“LCIA”) model clause prefers the language: “Any dispute arising out of or in connection with this contract, including any question regarding its existence, validity or termination, shall be referred to and finally resolved by arbitration under the LCIA Rules, which Rules are deemed to be incorporated by reference into this clause.”

On the other hand, the International Chamber of Commerce (“ICC”) recommended clause reads: “All disputes arising out of or in connection with the present contract shall be finally settled under the Rules of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce by one or more arbitrators appointed in accordance with the said Rules.

Some arbitration clauses will contain language that is even simpler than this: “All disputes arising under this agreement shall be referred to arbitration.”

Does the language you use matter? Generally speaking, the answer is ‘No’. Most Model Law jurisdictions follow a pro-arbitration policy of giving effect to arbitration clauses unless the language makes it almost impossible to do so, as was the case with the Sulamerica clauses.


That said, there are several cases where the courts have been more semantic in their approach. For example, in one case, the language “arising under” was said to signify a narrower reference than “arising out of” (Heyman v. Darwins Ltd., [1942] AC 356).  In another (Overseas Union Insurance Ltd. v. AA Mutual International Insurance Co. Ltd., [1988] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 63), the words “arising under a contract” were not considered wide enough to include disputes in relation to the validity of the contract itself, such as a misrepresentation claims. In order to include such disputes within the scope of reference, language like “in relation to” or “in connection with” was held to be required.

However, these decisions were much criticised by Lord Hoffman of the House of Lords in Fiona Trust and Holding Corp. v. Privalov, [2008] 1 Lloyd’s Rep. 254 (H.L.). He said:

…in my opinion the distinctions which they [the cases we referred to] make reflect no credit upon English commercial law. It may be a great disappointment to the judges who explained so carefully the effects of the various linguistic nuances if they could learn that the draftsman… regarded the expressions “arising under this charter”…and “arisen out of this charter”… as mutually interchangeable. … the time has come to draw a line under the authorities to date and make a fresh start…

Courts, Lord Hoffman recommended, need to “…give effect to the reasonable commercial expectations of the parties about the questions which they intended to be decided by arbitration….”

This approach will find favour in most modern courts, including in India. See, for example, the decision of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in M/s. Krebs Biochemicals v. Nannapaneni Venkatrao (July 6, 2009).

From a drafting perspective, the lesson one takes away is this — be as wide as possible with the language of the scope of the reference in your arbitration clause; the more “catch-all” it is, the better. That said, the mere fact that you don’t include the words “in connection with” or “in relation to” or “including any question regarding its existence, validity or termination” should not be fatal. In all likelihood, your clause will still be held to cover issues such as the validity of the agreement.

(Sindhu Sivakumar is a member of the faculty on


“Agreement in writing” and the formal validity of arbitration agreements

SindhuSivakumar_DraftingForArbitrationMost jurisdictions require arbitration agreements to be in writing if they are to be recognised. Article II of the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, 1958 (“the New York Convention”), Article 7 of the original UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (1985) before it was amended in 2006 (“the 1985 Model Law”), and Section 7 of India’s Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“the Indian Act”), all contain this requirement.

We know that there are different ways of entering into contracts — including electronically, by reference to other documents, and orally. Sweden and Norway could not find any rational basis for treating arbitration agreements any differently. Article 1 of the Swedish Arbitration Act and Articles 3 to 10 of the Norwegian Arbitration Act recognise any kind of agreement through which the parties have reached a consensus to arbitrate. The 2006 version of the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (“the 2006 Model Law”), in Article 7, allows states to abolish all formal requirements of validity. Some states, like England, have taken a halfway house approach. While requiring the arbitration agreement to be in writing, they also allow that requirement to be met quite easily.

The recent Bombay High Court decision in Mody v. Kerwala (September 19, 2013) is in contrast to this approach. The Court held that not only must an arbitration agreement be in writing according to Section 7(3) of the Indian Act, the fact that the agreement is in writing can only be proved as specified in Section 7(4) of the Act.

Without debating the relative merits of the strict “in writing” approach, let us look at the enforcement issues that arise from the multiplicity of legal approaches on this point.

Written_arbitration_agreement_validityjpgConsider Part II of the Indian Act, which gives effect to India’s obligations under the New York Convention. Section 44 of the Indian Act defines a “foreign award” as an award made in a New York Convention signatory state (and notified by the Central Government as fulfilling the reciprocity requirement), and made pursuant to an agreement in writing. Every other provision in Part II, including an Indian court’s obligation to refer stay proceedings brought in breach of foreign-seated arbitration agreements (Section 45), its obligation to recognise a foreign award as final and binding (Section 46), and its obligation to enforce and execute the award (Sections 47 to 49), is contingent on the award being a “foreign award” under Section 44, that is, made pursuant to an agreement in writing.

So, would an award made pursuant to an oral agreement in say Sweden (a country notified by the Central Government), be a “foreign award” under Section 44? Can it be enforced in India? How would it satisfy Section 47’s evidentiary requirement of producing the original arbitration agreement for enforcement?

Chances are, an Indian court will not enforce such an award. It has no reason to, considering the scheme of Part II and the New York Convention. The same goes for other NY Convention signatories. There is an inherent discrepancy in the New York Convention approach and the approach endorsed in the 2006 UNCITRAL Model Law that states like Norway and Sweden follow.

However this is resolved at the national and international level, the drafting lesson here is very clear. Always ensure that your arbitration agreement is valid under the law of the seat, the law applicable to the arbitration agreement (which should always be specified), as well as the law at the place of enforcement. Otherwise, there is a very real danger that your award might not be enforceable, even if your agreement and award are perfectly valid at your seat.

(Sindhu Sivakumar is part of the faculty on