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Union of India Vs. Baldev Dutt and anr. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectArbitration
CourtDelhi High Court
Decided On
Case NumberFirst Appeal No. 41 of 1970
Judge
Reported inILR1972Delhi811
ActsArbitration Act, 1940 - Sections 30
AppellantUnion of India
RespondentBaldev Dutt and anr.
Advocates: D.K. Kapur,; Rishikesh,; N.S. Goswal,;
Cases ReferredShri v. K.. Gupta
Excerpt:
(i) arbitration act (1940) - section 30--misconduct of proceedings--meaning of--venue of arbitration proceedings.; an arbitrator was appointed to decide disputes arising under a contract concluded at delhi. some hearings were held by him at poona.; the arbitrator draws his jurisdiction from the agreement. if the agreement is silent about the venue of arbitration proceedings, the hearings of the arbitrator should, in the absence of agreement to the contrary, be held within the territorial jurisdiction of the court having jurisdiction to decide the questions forming the subject-matter of the reference if the same had been the subject-matter of a suit. for, effectiveness of arbitration depends on various orders to be passed by the court under sections 8 to 10, 28, 30, 31, 38, 41, 42 and 43..........orders under section 18 during the arbitration proceeding or at any time after the filing of the award. arbitration can be superseded under section 19. under section 20 an arbitration agreement has to be filed in court if the court so orders. under section 28, failing an agreement of the parties, the court alone can grant time for making the award. under section 30, the court can set aside the award. under section 31(2), the court with jurisdiction can decide the question regarding the validity of the arbitration agreement or the award. the disputes regarding arbitrator's remuneration and costs are also decided by the court under section 38. section 41 prescribes the procedure to be followed by the court and gives certain power to the court in relation to arbitration proceedings......
Judgment:

V.S. Deshpande, J.

(1) Respondent No. 1 (hereinafter called the Contractor) entered into a contract with the President of India, the Union of India for the purpose of this litigation (hereinafter called the Government) to carry out the work of development of land (Levelling and Dressing) in 1964. The work was to be completed by June 1965. The progress of the work was, however, delayed beyond that date. The delay, according to the Contractor, was due to the failure of the Government to perform their part of the contract while the Government threatened to hold the Contractor liable for payment of compensation for delay under Clause 2

(2) At the request of the Contractor made on 13-4-1967 the Additional Chief Engineer appointed Shri v. K.. Gupta, Superintending Engineer. as the arbitrator and referred to him the disputes whether due to the default of the. Government time had ceased to be the essence of the contract, whether the contract ceased to subsist after 12-6-1965 and whether the Contractor was entitled to higher rates for the work done after June, 1965. Before the arbitrator the Contractor specifically claimed the refund of security deposit amounting to Rs. 78,487.00. damages for the defaults of the Government and a direction to the Government to pay his dues quickly. He denied that the Government was entitled to compensation from him or to get the remainder of the work done by another contractor at his cost under clauses 2 and 3 of the. contract respectively. The Government denied the Contractor's claim and asserted its right to take action under clauses 2 and 3 of the contract. On 16-1 1-1967 the Contractor filed a replication accompanied by copies of correspondence between the parties from the time of the formation of the contract till the reference to arbitration showing the complaints made by the Contractor of lack of co-operation on the part of the Government and warnings given by the Government about the delay in finishing the work by the Contractor.

(3) On the first two hearings held by the arbitrator at Delhi on 5-12-1967 and 2-2-1968 the Government maintained that only those claims of the Contractor as contained in the original reference as distinguished from the pleadings before the arbitrator could be considered by the arbitrator. The. Contractor requested the arbitrator to make an interim award oil matters 'already discussed. The arbitrator informed the parties that he was under orders of transfer to Poona and the parties agreed that further hearings could be, held at Poona.

(4) On 26-3-1968 the Additional Chief Engineer referred the following specific disputes to the arbitrator at the instance of the Contractor. namely, whether the Contractor was liable to pay compensation under clause 2 of the contract, whether the Government was authorised to get the work done under clause 3 of the contract at the cost of the Contractor, whether the security deposit was refundable to the Contractor forthwith, whether the Contractor was entitled to higher rates for work done after 24-6-1965 and whether the Contractor is entitled lo damages due to the defaults of the Government. On 13-6-1968 the Government informed the arbitrator that it proposed to make no further submissions in respect or the first reference made to him and that its representative, the Executive Engineer would not appear before the arbitrator at Poona unless the arbitrator was going to deal with the additional disputes referred to him on 26-3-1968. The arbitrator informed the Government that he would deal with additional disputes also. The Government then requested for postponment of the hearing fixed at Poona for 13-7-1968. On 8-7-1968 the Government informed the arbitrator that since the case fell within the jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court, valid proceedings could only be conducted at Delhi and not at Poona. On the third hearing on 13-7-1968 at Poona the Government's representative did not appear and the arbitrator warned the Government that the case would be taken up ex parti on 20-7-1968 at Poona. Again on 20-7-1968 the Government did not appear before the arbitrator. The Contractor, however, submitted that an interim award should be made on the points already heard at Delhi, namely :-(1) whether the Contractor was liable to the Government under clause 2 and 3 of the contract, and (2) whether the Government must refund the security deposit to the Contractor immediately. The arbitrator thereupon made, an interim award on 25-7-1968 ordering the Government not to take any action against the Contractor under clauses 2 and 3 of the contract and to refund to the Contractor the security deposit immediately. On 27-8-1968 in the fifth hearing at Delhi the Executive Engineer for the Government agreed to the arbitrator holding the hearing at Poona. He explained that in his previous letters he had protested against the holding of the hearings at Poona only because the final bill was not ready and no useful purpose would have been served by his coming to Poona. Before any further hearings could be held, the Contractor filed the award in this Court under section 14 of the Arbitration Act praying that a decree be passed on it. The Government resisted the application on, the following grounds under section 30 of the Arbitration Act, namely :-

( I ) That the. arbitrator had misconducted himself and the proceedings: (2) That the arbitrator could not change the venue of arbitration from Delhi to Poona: (3) That the arbitrator could not give an interim award; and (4) That the contractor was not entitled to claim the refund of security deposit as he was liable to pay a larger amount to the Government under clauses 2 and 3 of the contract.

V.D. Misra, J.

(5) However, negatived the objections and made tile interim award a rule of the Court. In this appeal by the Government. the same objections have been repeated by the appellant before us. The first objection is whether the arbitrator misconducted himself and the proceedings within the meaning of section 30(a) of the Arbitration Act, 1940. No misconduct against the arbitrator personally has been alleged. What is seen. from the arbitration proceedings is that the arbitrator has made the interim award on the basis of the documentary evidence alone without examining any witnesses, that he held the third and the fourth hearings at Poona and that on the fifth hearings he, asked the Contractor to submit a non-judicial stamp for the making of the award. We have to consider whether any of these, acts amounted to misconduct of the proceedings by the arbitrator. In considering this we must first ascertain precisely the, nature of this arbitration and the duty of the arbitrator there under. The nature of arbitration under the Arbitration Act, 1940 has to be distinguished from statutory arbitration in which reference is compelled by a statute (such as under the Bombay Co-operative Societies Act, 1925) and the semi-statutory arbitration in which the reference is by agreement of parties but the proceedings are according to the statute (such as under section 10-A of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947). The arbitration under the Arbitration Act, 1940 is a private arbitration based on the agreement of parties. The arbitrator is entirely in the same. position as a Judge with the difference that his authority is derived not by virtue. of a public office but by virtue, of an agreement between the parties, The proceeding before the arbitrator is, thereforee, entirely judicial. It is to be distinguished from what is sometimes called a quasi-judicial proceeding before an authority which combines the two capacities of the judge and the administrator. In the latter capacity, the quasijudicial authority is guided by policy while in the former one he decides a dispute. Even among arbitrators appointed by the. agreement of parties, the power of the arbitrators and, thereforee, the nature of the proceedings before them may vary. An arbitrator may be merely a referee (such as a valuer whose position was considered in Union of India v. Modi Sugar Mills Ltd., 2nd (1970) LI Delhi 92 who is to decide the question referred to him on his own expert knowledge that being the very object of his appointment as an arbitrator. Secondly, an arbitrator may be enabled by the rules of an association to decide the. disputes between members of the association merely on the statements made by the parties without having to take any evidence (as for instance in the arbitration under the Rules of Arbitration of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, considered in 'a series of decisions of the Calcutta High Court). Lastly, comes the arbitrator, as in the present case, appointed by the parties to decide the disputes arising out of the contract between them just like a judge. Of course, the arbitrator is not governed by the technical rules contained in the Civil Procedure Code or the Evidence Act. He is nevertheless required to follow the fundamental rules of fair procedure. This is why his award would be vitiated if he misconducts the proceedings. The proceedings would include the hearing of the parties and taking evidence with a view to decide the disputes between them. Evidence may, however, be documentary or oral or both. It may even consist in the admissions made in the pleadings.

(6) Were the proceedings of the arbitrator Shri v. K. Gupta vitiated because he did not examine any witnesses Shri R. L. Aggarwal, learned counsel for the Contractor firstly argued that this objection to the proceedings of the, arbitrator has not been specifically raised by the Government under section 30 of the Arbitration Act, 1940 and even in the grounds of appeal before us and we cannot, thereforee, consider it. It is true that the objection raised was only in general terms, namely, that the arbitrator misconducted the proceedings. We are of the view, however, that section 30(a) of the Arbitration Act, 1940 gives the Court power to examine the proceedings of the, arbitrator. If on such examination it is apparent that the proceedings were misconducted by the arbitrator then the effect of such misconduct would be a question of law and it would be difficult for the Court to shut its eyes to such misconduct. It is true that the misconduct must be .flagrant to vitiate the proceedings. Minor mistakes of technical nature would not be misconduct. But the complete failure of an arbitrator to collect any evidence on which he based his award would be such misconduct. The arbitrator Shri Gupta did not, however, commit any such misconduct. Firstly, the copies of the correspondence between the parties filed by the Contractor along with his replication before the arbitrator constituted the most valuable evidence for the adjudication of the disputes between the parties. The assertions made by the Contractor from stage to stage of the working of the contract show that he complained that the Government was not doing its part of the contract and the delay in executing the work was due to the non-cooperation of the Government. The Government admitted that certain hindrances to work were not cleared but wanted the Contractor to work on that part of the land on which there were no such hindrances. A perusal of the correspondence, however, shows that the delay was due to the defaults on the part of the Government. In a letter by the Executive Engineer to Shri G. R. Hingorani, Superintending Engineer, on 17-4-1967 (being Annexure C-30 to the replication of the Contractor before the arbitrator) the following admission is made:-

'IT is observed that the progress of work has been all along very slow. Contractor has already taken two years and nine months to execute this work and still it is incomplete about 20%. The only fact that goes in his favor for claiming compensation for delay in execution of work is that there has been inaction on the part of Department to operate clause 3 for reason of slow progress of the work by the contractor and have it completed in time. This very fact shows that the Department has been all along satisfied about the quantum of labour that could be available to the contractor from the resources in the area and for which reason it did not take action under clause 3 of the agreement. For this reason, only, there is 'likelihood that the arbitrator may 'either decide that the contractor is not responsible to execute rest of the work under clause 10(c).'

(7) These contemporaneous statements of the parties were admissible in evidence as forming part of the same transaction, namely, the carrying out of the work as per the contract under section 6 of the Evidence Act and the admissions of the parties under sections 17 and 18 thereof. Secondly, the Executive Engineer representing the Government informed the arbitrator on 13-6-1968 that the Government did not propose to make any submissions in respect of the case before the arbitrator. This meant that the Government did not want to examine any witnesses. If so, the arbitrator was compelled to decide the case on the documentary evidence as ha did. He did not, thereforee, decide the case without evidence but on the contrary, fully based his decision on the documentary evidence which was sufficient to sustain his findings.

(8) The second instance of alleged misconduct coincides with the second objection, namely, the holding of the proceedings by the arbitrator at Poona. Shri Aggarwal for the Contractor argued that the arbitrator was entitled to hold the proceedings at any place and that there is nothing in any law which required that he must hold it within the jurisdiction of the Court which was competent to make the award a rule of the Court. We do not see the powers of the arbitrator in this way. Primarily, the arbitrator derives his authority from the agreement between the parties. If, however, the agreement is silent as to the venue of arbitration proceedings, the question arises at what place or places is the case to be heard by the arbitrator. It seems to us that, in the absence of a contract or statutory provision to the contrary, an arbitration based on the. agreement of parties is governed by the provisions of the Arbitration Act, 1940. The contract between the parties in this case specifically says so. The object of this Act is to consolidate and amend the law relating to arbitration. The arbitrator cannot function effectively without the backing given to him by the power of the Court. Under section 2(c) of the Act, the 'Court' means a civil court having jurisdiction to decide the questions forming the subject matter of the reference if the same had been the subject-matter of a suit. This means that, but for the arbitration, the dispute would have been the subject-matter of a suit in such a Court. If any of the parties to the arbitration agreement does not behave or if any appointed arbitrator neglects or refuses to act, the arbitrator or umpire has to be appointed by the Court under sections 8 and 9 of the Act. Similarly, the Court has a power to remove an arbitrator or umpire in certain circumstances under sections 11 and 12 of the Act. Under section 13, the arbitrator has a power to state a special case for the opinion of the Court on any question of law involved. Under section 14, the award has to be filed in the Court to be made a rule of the Court. Under section 15, 16 and 17 of the Act, the award can be modified, remitted or made. a rule of the Court. The Court can also pass interim orders under section 18 during the arbitration proceeding or at any time after the filing of the award. Arbitration can be superseded under section 19. Under section 20 an arbitration agreement has to be filed in Court if the Court so orders. Under section 28, failing an agreement of the parties, the Court alone can grant time for making the award. Under section 30, the Court can set aside the award. Under section 31(2), the Court with jurisdiction can decide the question regarding the validity of the arbitration agreement or the award. The disputes regarding arbitrator's remuneration and costs are also decided by the Court under section 38. Section 41 prescribes the procedure to be followed by the Court and gives certain power to the Court in relation to arbitration proceedings. Sections 42 and 43 give the arbitrator the assistance of the Court in serving notices and processes. Section 47 makes the provisions of the Act applicable to all arbitrations.

(9) It would be seen, thereforee, that 'an arbitrator can function only within the jurisdiction of the competent Court. Even if he were to hold his hearing outside the. jurisdiction of the competent Court, resort to the competent Court will have to be made every now and then. But the competent Court would find it difficult, for instance, to issue processes, say to witnesses etc., to enforce their attendance before the arbitrator if the arbitrator holds his hearing outside the territorial jurisdiction of the competent Court. Similarly, parties before the arbitrator would not be able to apply for the issue of a temporary injunction etc., to the Court in the territorial jurisdiction of which the arbitrator is holding the proceedings unless the said Court is the competent Court under section 2(c) of the Arbitration Act, 1940. Holding of hearings outside the territorial jurisdiction of the competent Court by the arbitrator would, thereforee, lead to legal and practical difficulties. The intention of the Act, thereforee, appears to be that ordinarily the hearings of the arbitrator must be held within the territorial jurisdiction of the competent Court. One exception to this rule is that the parties may agree that the arbitrator may hold hearing or A hearings of the case outside the territorial jurisdiction of the competent Court. As at present advised, we do not see any other exception to this principle. In the present case, thereforee, the validity of the proceedings held by the arbitrator at Poona depends entirely on the agreement of the parties. The arbitrator has noted at the second hearing on 2-2-1968 that the parties agreed that he should hold further hearings at Poona where he was transferred. The sittings at Poona were thus valid in view of this agreement. The Executive Engineer on behalf of the Government subsequently objected to the sittings at Poona but in the fifth hearing he again explained that those objections were not serious. It is true that the arbitration clause required the Additional Chief Engineer to appoint a new arbitrator if any arbitrator was transferred from the original place where arbitration proceedings were held. But the Additional Chief Engineer did not appoint any arbitrator even though Shri v. K.. Gupta was transferred from Delhi to Poona. The authority of the appointed arbitrator could not automatically come to an end unless and Until a new arbitrator was appointed by the Additional Chief Engineer. The holding of sittings at Poona, thereforee, did not constitute misconduct of proceedings by the arbitrator.

(10) Assuming for the sake of argument that the third and the fourth hearings held at Poona by the arbitrator were not valid as the consent of the Government to the venue at Poona was withdrawn, what is the effect The arbitrator expressed the view that the objection to the venue was not valid but did not give such a decision. In fact, he did not proceed ex parte against the Government though, according to him, he was entitled to do so. He was careful to distinguish between the hearings given to both the parties at Delhi and the hearings Which took place at Poona. He purported to deliver the interim award on the points already heard at Delhi. In the interim award he held that the Government could not take action against the Contractor under clauses 2 and 3 of the contract and that the Government was bound to refund to the Contractor the security deposit immediately. Were these questions heard at Delhi

(11) The jurisdiction of the arbitrator was derived from the references made to him by the Additional Chief Engineer. The reference has to be distinguished from the arbitration agreement. Section 2 of the Arbitration Act distinguishes them by defining them separately. Even though the arbitration agreement was wide enough to include all disputes arising out of the contract, the arbitrator at a particular point of time could consider only those disputes arising out of the contract which were referred to him by the Additional Chief Engineer. The claims of the Contractor listed in the interim award are those which were specifically made in the second reference sent to the arbitrator at Poona by the Additional Chief Engineer. The second reference could not, thereforee, be held to have been discussed by the arbitrator with the parties at Delhi. Was, however, the second reference distinct from the first one? In our view, it would be difficult to separate the subject-matter of the two references. Throughout, the dispute between the parties was whether the delay in execution of the work was due to the fault of the contractor or whether it was due to the fault of the Government. In the first reference, the second point of dispute referred to arbitration was whether the time had ceased to be the essence of the contract due to the failure of the Government in handing over the whole site to the Contractor and whether the contract ceased to be effective because of the failure of the Government to perform their obligations to facilitate the execution of the work. It is implicit in this dispute that the Government could not enforce clauses 2 and 3 against the Contractor. The very first item of dispute in the first reference was whether the contract survived after the expiry of the stipulated period on 12-6-1965. If the contract did not survive then the Government was bound to return to the Contractor the security deposit. This obligation of the Government also arose from the default of the Government in co-operating with the Contractor in the execution of the work. As these disputes were covered by the arbitration agreement, the language of the first reference would have to be liberally construed to know what disputes were referred to arbitration. It is to be noted that both in the claim filed by the Contractor before the arbitrator as also in the reply filed by the Government and the replication filed by the Contractor, the disputes referred to arbitration were more fully spelt out and they certainly cover the action of the Government under clauses 2 and 3 of the contract and the liability of the Government to refund the security deposit to the Contractor. It is only because the Executive Engineer who was the officer-in-charge of the contract raised a technical plea that these disputes were not covered in the first reference that these disputes were specifically listed by the Contractor and were referred to arbitration in the second reference. In our view, however, the second reference only specifies and enumerates the disputes which were already implied in the first reference. The first reference was fully discussed by the arbitrator with the parties at Delhi in the light of the statements filed by the parties before the arbitrator and the documents filed by the Contractor before the arbitrator at Delhi. The arbitrator has taken the view that the disputes regarding the action of the Government under clauses 2 and 3 of the contract and the refund of security deposit were discussed at Delhi and he was, thereforee, competent to deliver the interim award on those disputes. The award on the face of it is complete and does not contain any error of law or of fact on the face of it. Even if the proceedings are examined, it cannot be said that it was any misconduct on the part of the arbitrator to take the view that these disputes were heard at Delhi. On a liberal view of the first reference, these disputes were included in it and were, thereforee, heard at Delhi. The liberal view is not perverse in any way. There was. thereforee, no misconduct on the part of the arbitrator if he thought that these disputes were heard at Delhi.

(12) As the Government had intimated to the arbitrator on 13-6-1968 that it did not propose to make any further submissions in the case before him, the arbitrator had to decide the case on the basis of the materials with him. As the Government refused to attend the further proceedings the arbitrator had to decide by 20th July 1968 the dispute before him inasmuch as the period of four months after his entering on the reference was shortly expiring thereafter. He cannot be blamed, thereforee, if he asked the Contractor to supply him with non-judicial stamp for writing his award on it and for making the award on 25-7-1968. The material before the arbitrator was sufficient for giving the interim award. There was no undue haste on his part. On the contrary, he had to act quickly before the expiry of the original period of four months given to him for giving the award. As the delay in the execution of the work was due to the defaults of the Government, the security deposit had to be refunded to the Contractor by the Government.

(13) In view of the above reasons, thereforee, none of the objections urged by the appellant is sustainable. The award on the face of it does not contain any error of law.

(14) S.K.P. The appeal is, thereforee, dismissed though without any order as to costs.


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