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Jagannath Kapoor and anr. Vs. Premier Credit and Instalment Corporation (P) Ltd. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectArbitration
CourtAllahabad High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCivil Revn. No. 224 of 1967
Judge
Reported inAIR1973All49
ActsArbitration Act, 1940 - Sections 30 and 33; Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) , 1908 - Order 41, Rules 1 and 2; Evidence Act, 1872 - Sections 115
AppellantJagannath Kapoor and anr.
RespondentPremier Credit and Instalment Corporation (P) Ltd.
Appellant AdvocateK.L. Gurnani, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateS.K. Srivastava, Adv.
DispositionRevision allowed
Excerpt:
.....1940 and order 41, rules 1 and 2 of code of civil procedure, 1908 - two parties in hire purchase agreement - agreement stated reference to arbitrator in case of dispute - agreement repudiated - opposite party asked for restoration after repudiation - new contract was entered into by applicants - applicants lost faith in arbitrator - arbitrator passed order in favour of the opposite party - appeal for revision filed - held, unilateral reference to arbitrator illegal - if point is vital then objection to lack of jurisdiction can be raised any time - party can not be estopped because it had given consent to decision by arbitrator. - cantonments act[c.a. no. 41/2006]. section 346 & cantonment fund (servants rules, 1937, rules 13, 14 & 15: [h.l. gokhale, ag. cj, p.v. hardas, naresh h...........of the award. what confers jurisdiction on the arbitrators to hear and decide a dispute is an arbitration agreement as defined in section 2(a), and where there is no such agreement, there is an initial want of jurisdiction which cannot be cured by acquiescence. their lordships rejected the contention that the respondents were estopped by their conduct from questioning the validity of the award.likewise, in waverly jute mills v. raymon & co., : [1963]3scr209 the supreme court held that - 'an agreement for arbitration is the very foundation on which the jurisdiction of the arbitrators to act rests, and where that is not in existence, at the time they enter on their duties, the proceedings must be held to be wholly without jurisdiction. and this defect is not cured by the appearance of.....
Judgment:
ORDER

Gyanendra Kumar, J.

1. This is a revision by the defendants against the judgment and decrees of the Courts below whereby they upheld the award dated 19-2-1965, with a modification relating to future interest

2. The admitted or proved facts are that the parties entered into a hire-purchaseagreement dated 14-11-1962 (paper No. Kha-11) in respect of new Dodge motor truck, 1962 model, owned by the plaintiff opposite parties. The hire-purchase agreement was for Rs. 27,612/-, which the de-fendants were to pay to the plaintiffs in 23 monthly instalments. Clauses 16 (b) and (c) of the agreement that be reproduced below with advantage:

'16. (b) All disputes, differences or claims arising out of and in connection with this agreement shall 'be referred to the sole arbitration of Shri Mangal Sen Tandon. Chowk, Lucknow or his nominee or in event of their refusal Shri Ram Narain Mehrotra at Lucknow under the provision of the Indian Arbitration Act of 1940 or any statutory modifications thereof. The award of the arbitration shall be final and binding on all the parties concerned. The arbitrator shall be bound to give his award within the provisions of this agreement. His terms of reference will be strictly governed by the terms of this agreement and the Arbitrator shall not question the validity of the same. The notices sent by the Arbitrator to parties by Registered post at the addresses mentioned in the Agreement will be considered as sufficient service on the parties, whether such notices are received by them or not or refused.

(c) It has been expressly explained to us that the said Arbitrator is usually appointed an arbitrator in the other hire-purchase cases accepted by the owners, and being their own man is likely to be interested in the owners, but in spite of this information supplied to us, we have willingly agreed to the nomination of the said arbitrator because the owners are agreeable to enter into this agreement on this condition only.'

Disputes arose between the parties in respect of certain instalments as well as regarding the truck itself, which was ultimately returned by the defendants to the plaintiff Company on 10-10-1963. The Company resold the same on 5-6-64 on hire-purchase system to a third party for Rs. 26,000/-. On August 22,1964 the plaintiffs served a notice demanding Rs. 12,106.47P. from the defendants. On their failure to make any payment, the plaintiff Company on 13-10-64 referred their claim to the arbitrator, who, after giving notice to both the parties, fixed 14-11-64 for hearing of the case. However, on 14-11-64 the arbitrator found that the registered acknowledgment of one of the defendants had not been received back. So he fixed 3-12-64 for the next hearing. On 3-12-64 the defendants put in appearance and asked for another date whereupon the arbitrator fixed 10-12-1964 for the next hearing. On December 10, 1964, due to heavy rains, none of the parties could attend and at their instance the arbitrator adjourned the case to 7-1-1965. However, on 2-1-1965, the defendants filed their objections by post which were received by the arbitrator on January 4, 1965. On 7-1-1965 both the parties put in appearancebut the arbitrator reached the place at 3-30 p.m. by which time the parties had left, after a long wait. So the arbitrator fixed 28-1-1965 at 3-30 p.m. for the next hearing of the case. On 20-1-1965 the defendants sent a letter intimating their withdrawal from arbitration, as they had no faith in the arbitrator. The arbitrator thereupon proposed to proceed ex parte, but informed the defendants by registered post of the next date of hearing, which was 18-2-1965. On 16-2-1965 the defendants sent yet another letter to the arbitrator reiterating then withdrawal from arbitration on the ground intimated earlier. On 19-2-1965 the arbitratoi gave an ex parte written award, decreeing the plaintiffs' claim for Rs. 9,500/- with pendente lite and future interest On 16-3-1965 the plaintiffs applied to the arbitrator to file his award in the Court of the Civil Judge, Lucknow. The arbitrator filed his award accordingly. On receipt of notice from the Civil Judge, the defendants on September 10, 1965 filed an application under Section 30 of the Indian Arbitration Act before the Civil Judge, Lucknow, praying for setting aside the award on various grounds. The Civil Judge by his judgment dated 13-11-1965 rejected the application filed by the defendants and made the award a rule of the Court, except to the extent that future interest at the rate of 12 p'i cent per annum granted by the arbitratoi was set aside.

3. Aggrieved against the aforesaid judgment of the Civil Judge, the defendants went up in appeal before the District Judge, Lucknow, who dismissed the appeal with costs and affirmed the judgment of the Civil Judge. Hence this revision by the defendants.

4. The learned counsel for the revisionists has firstly contended that the name of the arbitrator (who was a relation of the plaintiffs) initially did not exist in the hire-purchase agreement and a space for inserting the name was left blank; that the plaintiffs later on surreptitiously filled in the name of Shri Mangal Sen Tandon as arbitrator, without any reference to or consent of the defendants and that the defendants did not know that the arbitrator was related to the plaintiffs. On these points there are concurrent findings of both the Courts below that the name of Shri Tandon as arbitrator existed in the agreement from the very beginning and had not been later on inserted therein by the plaintiffs. They further found that the defendants knew very well that the arbitrator was the plaintiff's own man, as is evident from the contents of Clause 16 (c) of the agreement quoted above. These findings of fact could not have been legally challenged by the defendants in the instant revision. However, I have carefully examined the deed of agreement and find that the name of Shri Tandon has been written in the same hand-writing, ink and pen as other insertions in various blankclauses of the agreement. Moreover, both the defendants have put their counter-signatures on clause 16 (b) against the name and residence of the arbitrator, 'Mangal Sen Tandon', in support of their above contentions, the defendants merely filed their affidavits and did not examine any independent witness to support their allegations. The pleas are without substance and have to be rejected outright,

5. The next and the main contention of the defendants is that reference to the arbitrator should have been made by both the parties and that a reference unilaterally made by the plaintiff Company alone was wholly illegal and conferred no jurisdiction on the arbitrator to proceed with arbitration or give an award.

In reply the learned counsel for the plaintiff Company urges that in the first place there is no provision in the Arbitration Act for making a joint reference to the arbitrator and, at any rate, Clause 16 (b) of the agreement provides that 'all disputes, differences or claims arising out of or in connection with this agreement shall be referred to the sole arbitration of Shri Mangal Sen Tandon.' The argument is that apart from disputes and differences between the parties, the claim of a particular party could also be referred to the arbitrator for adjudication and inasmuch as the plaintiffs alone had put forward their claim, they were entitled to refer the same for arbitration unilaterally. Lastly, it is urged that, in any event, the defendants had appeared and filed their objections before the arbitrator and had thus accepted his authority and they were, therefore, estopped from challenging his jurisdiction at this belated stage.

6. It is true that the Arbitration Act does not specifically provide for a joint reference by the parties to an arbitrator out of Court Yet, in the very nature of arbitration proceedings, where the adjudicator a chosen by common consent of the parties, it is but natural that their disputes, differences or claims should also be jointly referred by them for decision of the arbitrator. The use of the word 'claims', read in conjunction with 'disputes' and 'differences' in Clause 16 (b) of the agreement, is significant. It obviously refers to the respective claims of the parties against each other.

It is equally true that an objection regarding the inherent want of jurisdiction of the arbitrator on account of the absence of a joint reference by both the parties does not appear to have been taken before the arbitrator or the Civil Judge or even in the grounds of appeal preferred by the defendants before the District Judge. However, the point was specifically raised during the arguments advanced before the District Judge, who has clearly mentioned this fact in his judgment dated 31-8-1967. Needless to say that this point goes to the very root of the matter and vitally affects the jurisdiction of the arbitrator to adjudicate upon the dispute between the parties. Such a point of alleged want of inherent jurisdiction can be allowed to be raised at any stage. I have accordingly allowed the learned counsel for the applicants to raise this point, particularly when it was sought to be argued before the lower appellate Court and has specifically been taken in the grounds of revision filed in this Court.

7. It may be pointed out that case law is also a very important source of law and even though there is no specific provision in the Arbitration Act for a joint reference by the parties, yet the Supreme Court of India and our own High Court have clearly indicated that it is necessary that the contesting parties should not only appoint an arbitrator out of Court by common consent but they should also make a joint reference of their dispute to him for adjudication. The authorities have also laid down time and again that where an objection goes to the very root of the matter and affects the inherent jurisdiction of a particular tribunal the same can be allowed to be raised at any stage, provided it can be decided upon the materials already before the Court and does not involve the taking of further evidence or remanding the case or any issue or a decision of a question of fact. It is further well settled that where there is inherent want of jurisdiction in a tribunal, no amount of consent can confer the same on it; nor the mere fact that the challenging party had appeared before such tribunal and had even taken part in the proceedings at some stage would amount to estoppel, acquiescence or waiver.

8. For authority, reference may first be made to Ram Harakh Singh v. Mumtaz Husain : AIR1949All679 . The facts of that case were that there were two mortgagors A and B, while the mortgagee was C. A claimed redemption of the mortgage without any payment. On the other hand, C, the mortgagee, contended that the usufruct of the mortgaged property was not sufficient to discharge the mortgage debt and considerable amount was still due under the mortgage. B, the other co-mortgagor, supported the case of the mortgagee. However, later on A and C referred their dispute to arbitration and obtained an award followed by a decree in terms of the award; but all these proceedings against B were ex parte. In these circumstances Ghulam Hasan, J. held that being a co-mortgagor, B was an interested party within the meaning of Section 21 of the Arbitration Act and that the matter in difference between the other mortgagor A and the mortgagee C as to on what amount redemption should be decreed in favour of the mortgagors, it could not be denied that both the mortgagors were equally interested in the matter. The learned Judge went on to observe that 'where all the parties interested have not agreed that the matter be referred to arbitration, anyaward that may have been given is invalid and the fact that proceedings against some of the defendants who did not join in the reference were ex parte does not render the award valid......... It was also argued that Bhaving ratified the proceedings subsequent to the making of the award, the proceedings became valid. I am not prepared to accede to this contention. Subsequent ratification does not validate the reference which was void at its inception.'

9. In Thawardas v. Union of India : [1955]2SCR48 the dispute was between the contractor and the Dominion of India. The contractor claimed a certain amount of damages from the Union Government on account of their default. However, it was the contractor alone who made a reference to the arbitrator. On these facts, Bose, J., speaking for the Court, observed as follows in paragraph 18:--

'A reference requires the assent of 'both' sides. If one side is not prepared to submit a given matter to arbitration when there is an agreement between them that it should be referred, then recourse must be had to the Court under Section 20 of the Act and the recalcitrant party can then be compelled to submit the matter under Sub-section (4).

In the absence of either, agreement by both sides about the terms of reference, or an order of the Court under Section 20(4) compelling a reference, the arbitrator is not vested with the necessary exclusive jurisdiction.'

Thawarda's case (supra) was followed by a Division Bench of this Court in Union of India v. Gorakh Mohan : AIR1964All477 . In Om Prakash v. Union of India : AIR1963All242 , B. Dayal, J. observed that the effect of an appointment of an arbitrator by a Court on an application made under Section 8 of the Act is that he is appointed by the parties themselves and it is for the parties to refer their disputes to him. Reference in such a case must be out of Court and must be by both the parties together. Reference out of Court cannot be by one party alone.

Likewise, in Ajit Singh v. Fateh Singh D. K. Mahajan, J. observed that 'There cannot be an agreement to reference by one party, therefore, any amount of consent by Bhim Singh (the other party) alone would be of no consequence,'

Thus there are clear authorities of the Supreme Court as well as of Allahabad and Punjab High Courts that both the parties must necessarily agree to the terms of reference to the arbitrator, failing which the arbitrator is not vested with the requisite jurisdiction to adjudicate the claim.

10. This brings us to the next question whether the defendants could challenge the jurisdiction of the arbitrator and the award given by him at this stage, after having appeared before the arbitrator on lomedates and not having challenged the jurisdiction of the arbitrator either before him or before the Civil Judge or even in the memorandum of appeal filed before the District Judge. In other words, can the above conduct of the defendants amount to waiver, estoppel or acquiescence so as to debar them from challenging the jurisdiction of the arbitrator in this revision.

11. In : AIR1963All242 (supra) regarding estoppel and waiver B. Dayal, J. observed as follows:--'Learned counsel for the respondent contended that the invalidity of the reference on the ground that there was no application under Section 20 of the Arbitration Act and there was no mutual reference out of Court cannot be raised because it had not been taken up at any earlier stage. We do not agree with this contention of the learned counsel for the respondent. In the first place, it is a matter of jurisdiction and even if it had not been raised earlier it cannot be shut out.'

In Ram Kinkar Rai v. Tufani : AIR1931All35 the question referred to the Full Bench was whether a point of law which has never been taken either in the trial Court or the lower appellate Court can be raised in second appeal. The answer of the Full Bench was that -

'A point not taken in the Court below, whether the omission was by the appellant in that Court or whether the respondent failed to support his decree by taking the point, will not be permitted to be raised, except possibly:

Where the point may be described as involving a question of public policy e.g.,

(1) involving jurisdiction;

(2) involving the principle of res judicata;

(3) where the decision of the point would prevent future litigation.

In the above instances the point will be allowed to be argued only if it can be decided upon the materials before the Court and does not involve the taking of further evidence, or the sending of the case, or any issue, back to the lower Court, or decision of a question of fact.'

In Khardah Co. Ltd. v. Raymon & Co., AIR 1962 SC 1810 it was held by the Supreme Court that the party applying under Section 33 is not estopped by its conduct in appearing before the arbitrators and in taking part in the proceedings before them from questioning the validity of the award. What confers jurisdiction on the arbitrators to hear and decide a dispute is an arbitration agreement as defined in Section 2(a), and where there is no such agreement, there is an initial want of jurisdiction which cannot be cured by acquiescence. Their Lordships rejected the contention that the respondents were estopped by their conduct from questioning the validity of the award.

Likewise, in Waverly Jute Mills v. Raymon & Co., : [1963]3SCR209 the Supreme Court held that -

'An agreement for arbitration is the very foundation on which the jurisdiction of the arbitrators to act rests, and where that is not in existence, at the time they enter on their duties, the proceedings must be held to be wholly without jurisdiction. And this defect is not cured by the appearance of the parties in these proceedings, even if that is without protest, because it is well settled that consent cannot confer jurisdiction.'

In Ajit Singh's case (supra) the Punjab High Court observed thus on the question of waiver, estoppel and acquiescence:

'It is a fundamental rule of law that whatever is without jurisdiction cannot acquire any sanctity merely because the parties do not raise the objection of jurisdiction or later on consent to the same, for no amount of consent can confer jurisdiction.'

12. In the instant case the point involves the question of jurisdiction of the arbitrator and hence it could be allowed to be taken even at the belated stage of civil revision to this Court. The mere fact that the defendants had appeared before the arbitrator at earlier stages of the proceedings and had filed their objections against the claim of the plaintiff Company would not operate as estoppel against the defendants in challenging the jurisdiction of the arbitrator to give an award.

13. On behalf of the opposite parties reliance has mainly been placed on two authorities, viz. Shambhu Nath v. Hari Shankar Lal : AIR1954All673 and Bhusawal Municipality v. A. E. Co. Ltd : [1964]5SCR905 . In Shambhu Nath's case (supra) two arbitrators had been appointed and there was a provision in the agreement fos the appointment of an umpire. The arbitrators, however, did not appoint the umpire but gave an agreed award, after hearing both the parties, who had produced all their evidence before them, without any objection. In the above circumstances the Division Bench held as under:--

'If the arbitrators do not nominate an umpire then under Section 8(1)(c) a party has to serve the arbitrators with a notice in writing and if within 15 days they do not make the appointment then under Section 8(2) the Court has the right to appoint an umpire. An umpire however, is different from an arbitrator in this respect that, while the arbitrators have to sit together to make the award, the umpire is only called upon to act if the arbitrators have allowed the time to expire without making an award or have delivered to any party to the arbitration agreement or to the umpire a notice in writing stating that they cannot agree, the umpire then has to enter on the reference in lieu of the arbitrators and to make bis award within two months. Where, therefore, the arbitrators have agreed on all points, the umpire is not called upon to act at all.

In the circumstances, it may be that the failure to appoint an umpire is not such a breach of the above provision as to vitiate an award and might amount merely to an irregularity which it is possible to waive. As the lower Court has pointed out, if the parties had so desired they could have served notice on the arbitrators to appoint an umpire and on the failure of the arbitrators to make such an appointment they could have moved the court The parties however, did not follow that procedure and in spite of the fact that the arbitrators had not appointed an umpire they appeared before the arbitrators and produced all their evidence. In the circumstances the lower Court has rightly held that the parties must be deemed to have waived the irregularity and were estopped.'

Shambhu Nath's case referred to above is wholly distinguishable from the facts of the present case. In the first place, the present is not a case where the arbitrators had to appoint an umpire, who was to give his opinion on difference of opinion between them. In Shambhu Nath's case (supra) both the arbitrators had agreed on all points. Hence it was not at all necessary to appoint an umpire. Moreover, in that case the parties had appeared before the arbitrators and had produced all their evidence, without any objection. In the instant case, though the defendants had appeared at the initial stage, they had, even before the production of evidence of the plaintiffs, withdrawn from the proceedings and had challenged the jurisdiction of the arbitrator though on somewhat different grounds. Under these circumstances Shambhu Nath's case (supra) is no authority for the facts and circumstances of the present dispute.

14. As regards the case of Bhusawal Municipality, : [1964]5SCR905 (supra), their Lordships of the Supreme Court were dealing with the interpretation of the second proviso to clause 5 of the Bombay Electricity Supply (Licensed Undertakings War Costs) Order (1944). Mr. G. S. Pathak, appearing for the Bhusawal Municipality, had put forward two contentions. In the first place, it was argued that the agreement to abide by the decision of the Provincial Government was in the nature of an arbitration agreement which purported to constitute the Government into an arbitrator and as such it was necessary for both the parties to make a reference to the Government, and inasmuch as both the parties had not joined the reference and it was made only by one of them the Government had no jurisdiction to give its award, which on that account stood vitiated. In view of the fact that this point had not been taken in the Courts below nor was it found in the statement of the case filed in the Supreme Court, their Lordships did not permit Mr. Pathak to relyupon it. Hence it cannot be said that the Supreme Court had even impliedly held that in case of an arbitration, it was not necessary to make a joint reference by both the contesting parties. Their Lordships simply did not allow this point to be raised and expressed no opinion thereon.

15. Secondly, Mr. Pathak had argued that under the second proviso to clause 5 itself the dispute had to be referred by both the parties and not only by one of them. On this second point their Lordships of the Supreme Court held that it was 'untenable in view of the clear language of the proviso which says: 'in the event of dispute by any party interested' the decision of the Provincial Government shall be final.' In fact, their Lordships of the Supreme Court had come to the conclusion that the second proviso to clause 5 had specifically authorised any one of the parties interested to approach the Provincial Government for decision. Thus there being a clear provision to the contrary in the proviso itself, the case was to be governed by the language of the relevant clause and not by the general rule relating to arbitration proceedings. The Bhu-sawal Municipality's case : [1964]5SCR905 (supra) therefore is no authority for the contention put forward by the plaintiff opposite parties.

16. Accordingly the revision is allowed. The judgments and the decrees of the Courts below upholding the award are set aside, except to the extent of findings on issues Nos. 1 and 3 which are hereby maintained. In the circumstances of the case, I make no order as to costs. The record shall be sent down to the Court of the Civil Judge, Lucknow, within three weeks.

17. The learned counsel for the parties undertake to make a joint reference to the arbitrator within one month, failing which it will be open to any of the parties to take recourse to the procedure laid down by Section 20 of the Arbitration Act, whereupon the Court shall make an order of reference to the arbitrator named in the agreement, dated 14th November, 1962 (paper No, Kha-11 on record), as provided by Section 20(4). If the parties make a joint reference to the aforesaid arbitrator within the stipulated period, then the learned Civil Judge would send the agreement (Kha-11) to the arbitrator on receiving information from any of the parties, failing which the same would be forwarded by the Civil Judge to the arbitrator along with the order of reference under Section 20(4) of the Act.


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