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Mehta Teja Singh and Co. Vs. Union of India and anr. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectArbitration
CourtDelhi High Court
Decided On
Case NumberSuit No. 301-A of 1973 and I.A. 2514 of 1973
Judge
Reported inAIR1977Delhi231
ActsArbitration Act, 1940 - Sections 14 and 30
AppellantMehta Teja Singh and Co.
RespondentUnion of India and anr.
Appellant Advocate G.T. Gujaria and; J.P. Gupta, Advs
Respondent Advocate K.B. Soni, Adv. for ;A.B. Saharya
Cases Referred and N. Chellappan v. Secy.
Excerpt:
.....meaning of, under section 30(a)--whether arbitrator guilty of--necessity of calling for report of technical examiner forming foundation of award--rule of natural justice--whether violated by not calling for production a vital document--error apparent on face of award, question of.; the petitioner-firm was invited by the union of india to undertake certain construction work. when the firm claimed payment of its final bill after execution, the respondent counter-claimed refund of alleged over payment. the petitioner denied it. the matter having been referred to arbitration, the arbitrator, inter alia, awarded a certain sum to be refunded to the respondent. this part of the award was challenged before the court. admittedly, the examiner's report was not produced before the..........realisations made by the defendant to the extent of rs. 50,478.15 and did not even call for the technical examiner's report on. the basis of which this recovery was made. 8. before me the contractor has pressed only issue no. 4. on behalf of the union only issue no. 2 was argued.9. when the matter was before the arbitrator, the contractor submitted his claims. in their counterclaim, the union made the following claim on account of overpayment. it was said that after the execution of the work the technical examiner had made a report in which he had pointed out that overpayment had been made to the contractor. on the basis of this report, the union formulated its claim before the arbitrator in these words:'details of recoveries on account of post-technical examination of work. s1. no......
Judgment:
ORDER

1. The petitioner M/s. Mehta Teja Singh & Co. are a firm of contractors (contractor). The respondent Union of India invited them to accept the work of construction of irrigation channels for equine breeding studs at Hissar. One of the items of this work was this:

'Rough excavation in any soil (ordinary or hard) getting out and removal L Of' Spoil to a distance not exceeding 440 yards all as. specified.'

2. The contractor executed the work. Payments were made to him from time to time. At the end of the work, in the final bill it was found that he was entitled to a balance sum of Rs. 12,782.09.

3. At that stage the Union lodged a claim against the contractor. The claim was that as the contractor had been overpaid he should refund to them a sum of Rs. 50.478.15. The contractor denied the claim. The matter went to the arbitrator.

4. Lt. Col. M. K. Bakshi, Commander Works Engineer was appointed as the arbitrator. He made the award on 1st June, 1973. On the claim of the Union for refund his award was in these terms:

'(b) Claimant's claim No. 2 of Rs. 50,478.15 against recoveries for removal of spoil to a distance less than specified. The claimant shall pay to the respondent a net sum of Rs. 14,674.00 only towards recovery.'

5. The Union having succeeded in their claim before the arbitrator refused to release the security of Rs. 50,000/- which had been deposited by the contractor with them at the commencement of the work. The contractor, thereforee, in order to get the security released paid this amount of Rs. 14,674/- to the Union under protest reserving his right to challenge the award in Court. it is this part of the award ' that is now being challenged before me by a petition under Ss. 30 and 33 of the Arbitration Act.

6. Counsel for the contractor has not challenged other parts of the award wherein the contractor's claims were rejected. He has confined his attack only to this part of the claim of the Union which was found by the arbitrator the contractor.

7. On the pleadings of the parties the following issues were framed:

1. Whether the Petitioner has acquiesced in the award and is estopped from challenging the same on account of the fact that realisations have been permitted to be made in accordance with the award? OPD.

2. Is the award of the arbitrator not open- to challenge because it is a non-speaking award?

3. Is the award given by the arbitrator vitiated because of misconduct in the proceedings particularly on account of the failure to give a proper hearing, to make note of the proceedings, to consider the submissions and putting the onus on the plaintiff-petitioner as set out in the objection petition?

4. Is the award of the arbitrator also liable to be set aside particularly because the arbitrator did not call for the evidence of the realisations made by the defendant to the extent of Rs. 50,478.15 and did not even call for the technical examiner's report on. the basis of which this recovery was made.

8. Before me the contractor has pressed only issue No. 4. On behalf of the Union only issue No. 2 was argued.

9. When the matter was before the arbitrator, the contractor submitted his claims. In their counterclaim, the Union made the following claim on account of overpayment. It was said that after the execution of the work the technical examiner had made a report in which he had pointed out that overpayment had been made to the contractor. On the basis of this report, the Union formulated its claim before the arbitrator in these words:

'Details of recoveries on account of post-Technical Examination of work. S1. No. Description of defeat Qty. Rate Amount Remarks. 1. Borrow pits dug at a distance not exceeding 50 yards instead of distance not exceeding 440 yards as specified vide item 4 of Sch. 'A' 29347.76 C.M.* 1.72 C.M.** 50478.15 *This Qty has been taken from audited Final Bill (item 4 of (Sch. 'A' **See Break down as below. 4.24/CM ** 'A' Ssr rate for Sl. item 4 of Sch. 'A' S. I. 78 0.98 Av 108 2.25 0.71 1.25 509 20% 0.71 4.24/CM 'B' Ssr rate for Sl. Item 4 of Sch. 'A' in any soil with 50 yds. Lead 2.62/CM S.I. 78 106 0.98Av 1.20 20% 2.18 0.44 2.62/CM When Ssr rate is 4.24/CM Contractor rate is Rs. 4.50/CM Contractor rate is Rs. 4.50 x 2.6 Rs.4.50/CM Rs.4.50 x 2.6 4.24 = Rs. 2.78/CM. : Excess rate is = 4.50 2.78 (-) 1.72 C.M.

10. The contractor disputed this claim of the Union. He contended that no recovery could be made from him. In reply the Union said that under Clause 67 of the Contract, they were entitled to recover any amount which had been overpaid and, thereforee, the arbitrator is entitled to go into this question and order refund.

11. Under Clause 67 'the Government reserve the right to carry out - a technical examination of the works' and

'If as a result of such technical examination any overpayment is discovered in respect of any work done by the contractor it shall be recovered by Government from the contractor ............'

It cannot, thereforee, be disputed that under Clause 67, if as a result of the 'technical examination' any overpayment is discovered the Government has a right to recover it from the contractor.

12. Now comes the point of conflict. -In the -course of the arbitration proceedings, the contractor requested, the arbitrator to order the production of the technical examiner's report on the basis of which recovery of overpayment was being claimed. He also asked for the correspondence which ensued on the report of the technical examiner between one department of the Government and the other. This request of the contractor was strenuously opposed by the Union. The arbitrator did not make any order. He paid little attention to the question of production, fundamental though it was. He heard the parties. He made his award on 1st June, 1973, as I have said.

13. After the award was made the contractor filed the present petition. He also requests the Court that the Union may be ordered to produce in Court the technical examiner's report. as well as ensuing correspondence. By order dated 22nd Jan., 1975 Prithvi Rai, J. directed the Union to produce the report of the technical examiner but declined to make an order in respect of the inter-departmental correspondence or nothings on the files on the ground that these were privileged.

14. Now the Union has filed the report of the technical examiner dated 8th Sept., 1971. The relevant Part of the report reads as follows:

'During site inspection it was noticed that the borrow pits have been dug along channel Nos. 1 and 4 involving no lead at all. This has resulted in an unintended benefit to the contractor to the extent of Rupees 2.50 per Cu. M. (i.e. by taking the difference of rates quoted for items 4 & 1 of Schedule 'A').'

15. Now it is not in dispute that the technical examiner's report dated 8th September, 1971 was not produced by the department before the arbitrator. Nor was the contractor allowed to inspect the report. Without seeing the report the arbitrator made his award. Can such an award be upheld? This is -the question.

16. To my mind the technical examiner's report was a vital document. In order to arrive at a just and fair decision it was incumbent on the arbitrator to order its production. It was a material document. Without the report it was not possible to resolve the controversy between the department and the contractor. Throughout the department's case was that they were entitled to make a recovery because of the report of the technical examiner under Clause 67 of the contract. This was the basis of the claim. Without the technical examiner's report being produced before the arbitrator how could any decision be reached on the respective contentions of the parties? The department contended that the technical-examiner has found that overpayment has been made. The contractor on the other hand denied this. The least the arbitrator could have done was to order its production. The contractor asked for the report. The Union in their counter-claim asserted that they were not bound to show the report to the contractor. In my opinion this has resulted *in grave prejudice to the contractor. Without seeing the report it was not possible to defend the counter-claim. The arbitrator had a duty to -be fair to the parties. Fairness demanded that he should have ordered the document which was the basis of the claim to be produced. Any decision arrived at on claim No. 2 without looking at the report is bound to result in miscarriage of justice. This is exactly what was happened in this case.

17. Under S. 30(a) of the Arbitration Act an award is liable to be set aside if the arbitrator hag misconducted himself or the proceedings. Misconduct under S. 30 has not the connotation of a moral lapse. It comprises legal misconduct. Where the arbitrator refuses to order production of material documents having a direct bearing on the dispute between the parties and which would have thrown ample light on the controversy he is guilty of misconduct because without the document he cannot come to a just and fair decision. This is what the Supreme Court has held in K. P. Poulose V. State of Kerala, : AIR1975SC1259 .

18. Counsel for the Union has contended that though it is true that the report of the technical examiner was not produced no prejudice was caused to the contractor as the purport of the report was set out by the department in their letter dated 6th June, 1972. In that letter the department wrote to the contractor:

'It may be informed that during Technical Examination of above work under condition 67 of IAFW-2249, forming part of the Contract Agreement, it is seen that the borrow pits have been dug by you along channel Nos. I and 4 involving no lead at all which actually were required to be dug at a distance of 440 yards as specified under item 4 of Schedule 'A' of the contract agreement. This has resulted to an overpayment to the Rs. 50 000/- Exact amount of recovery is being worked out and shall be intimated to you shortly.'

The exact amount of recovery was later on worked out to Rs. 50,478.15.

19. Both from the technical examiner's report as well as the letter dated 6th June, 1972 it will be seen that the technical examiner had found that borrow pits had been dug along channels Nos. 1 & 4 involving no lead at- all. This is why he thought that 'unintended benefit' had been given to the contractor.

20. In terms of the contract the contractor was bound to remove the spoil to a distance not exceeding 440 yards. But if he dumps the earth at that very place from where he excavates it, he cannot get any payment. Lead, means the distance from the point where material is excavated to that where it is deposited. But in the claim a different position was taken. What was said there was 'as a result of the technical examination of the work, it was revealed that though as per the contract the claim- had to bring the earth from the borrow pits from a distance not exceeding 440 yards but actually at site these borrow pits were dug along channels involving lesser lead.'

21. Similarly in para. 2.4 of the counter-claim, it was said:

'Having taken the element of the lead 'of 440 yards in their rate the claimant's statement that even if the lead is less than 440 yards no recovery is due from them does not stand to any reasoning.'

22. The department thought that the contractor was bound to remove the spoil to a distance of 440 yards This was also their case before the arbitrator where the description of defect in the work of the contractor was given as: that he had dug borrow pits 'at a distance not exceeding 50 yards instead of a distance not exceeding 440 yards.'

23. The department's line of reasoning was that if the contractor had dug the pits at a distance not exceeding 50 yards he was entitled to one rate. If he had dug pits at a distance of 440 yards he was entitled to another rate. The 'break down' given by the department in their claim clearly shows this. But this reasoning is clearly opposed to the clause of the contract which says that the contractor is entitled to the rate of 4.50 for the rough excavation in any soil (ordinary or hard) getting out and removal of spoil to a distance not exceeding 440 yards. The contract provided only one rate. It did not provide for two rates, it was open to the contractor to dump the earth at any distance from the place of excavation and that distance was not to exceed 440 yards. It could be less than 440 yards. It could be 50 yards from the place of excavation. Simply because the contractor dumped the earth -at a distance of 50 yards will not be a ground for disentitling him to the payment of the contracted rate of Rs. 4.50. The award thereforee suffers from this error, which appears ex facie.

24. From the reading of the counter-claim and the technical examiner's report it is clear that the arbitrator was guilty of legal misconduct. All this error has resulted because he did not order the production of the report and did not peruse it. If the arbitrator had ordered the Production of the report the contractor would have been able to persuade him that the counter-claim of the department ran counter to the report of the technical examiner. He would have cleared the confusion which arose because of the two differing expressions such as 'no lead at all' and 'lesser lead'. As the report was not made available to the contractor he was hampered in defending the counter-claim. How could he meet the case of the Union? He did not know what the technical examiner had said in his report. The principles- of natural justice require that a party must know the case he has to meet. Natural justice is nothing else but fair play in action. Today Parties litigate with their cards open at the table. It is true that an arbitrator is not bound by the technical rules of evidence or court procedures. But certainly he has a duty to be fair. That duty is laid upon everyone who is called upon to decide a dispute impartially. Refusal to order production of a document which is the foundation of the claim is a denial of justice. This is why when the matter came before Court Prithvi Rai, J. ordered production. He rejected the claim of privilege.

25. The arbitrator's procedure should not be opposed to natural justice. He should perform his function in a quasi-judicial manner and should not make a farce of the enquiry before him. But if he does not follow the fundamental rule governing judicial procedure he commits misconduct. The word misconduct does not involve moral turpitude. It is a technical misconduct. The words misconducted the proceedings' in S. 30 mean in the words of Atkin, J., 'such a mishandling of the arbitration as is likely to cause some substantial miscarriage of justice'. (Williams v. Wallis (1914) 2 Kb 478 One instance of such mishandling is this case.

26. For these reasons I would hold that the arbitrator was guilty of legal misconduct in awarding a sum of Rs. 14,674/- against the contractor.

27. Counsel for the Union submits that there is no error apparent on the face of the record and the award, thereforee, -cannot be impugned. I was referred to M/s. Allen Berry & Co. Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India, : [1971]3SCR282 , Union of India v. Kalinga Construction Co. (P) Ltd., : [1971]2SCR184 and N. Chellappan v. Secy., Kerala State Electricity Board, : [1975]2SCR811 . It was said that the award is a non-speaking award and cannot be set aside as there is no error on the face of the award.

28. In my opinion it is not so much a case of apparent error as of legal misconduct. thereforee, these rulings have no application to the facts of this case. The error in the award has resulted because of legal 'misconduct. Error there is but it has its origin in misconduct such as to justify setting aside the award.

29. Counsel then said that no prejudice was caused to the contractor by the non-production of the report. I cannot accept this. The technical examiner's report said one thing. The claim was entirely different. It was not possible for the contractor to contest the claim without the material document being before him.

30. Lastly counsel contended the arbitrator has not awarded the entire sum of Rs. 50,478.50 to the Union of India. He has awarded only Rs. 14,674/- and, thereforee, it is not possible to go into the mental process of the arbitrator or the reasons, which weighed with him in making the award for a lesser sum than that claimed by the Union. This argument does not appeal to me. As I have said it is not a case of apparent error on the face of the award. It is a case of misconduct. Without the document it was not possible for the claimant to contest the case or, for the arbitrator to decide it.

31. For these reasons I would set aside the award in so far as it awards Rs. 14,674/- to the Union of India against M/s. Mehta Teja Singh & Co. The rest of the award has not been challenged and is, thereforee, sustained. The good part of the award is severable from the bad. The parties are however left to bear their own costs.

32. Order accordingly.


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