Kinnari Mullick and Another vs. Ghanshyam Das Damani
CITATION – (2018) 11 SCC 328
JUDGE – A.M Khanwilkar
- The Appellants and the Respondent entered into two developmental agreements for construction of a multistoried building. Subsequently, a dispute arose with respect to the distribution of the flats and its conveyancing deeds.
- Thereafter, the Respondent nominated their arbitrator, but notably did not specify that the Respondent’s nomination was to appoint a sole member Tribunal.
- Moreover, the Respondent’s notice to the Appellants did not call upon them to appoint their nominee arbitrator. On the basis such nomination by the Respondent, the sole arbitrator commenced the arbitral proceedings.
- The Appellants subsequently preferred an application under Section 16 of the Act and challenged the jurisdiction of the sole arbitrator on 10 May 2010. The sole arbitrator rejected the application on 27 August 2010 by way of an interim award.
- Aggrieved by the interim award, the Appellants approached the Single Judge of the Calcutta High Court (“Single Judge”) under Section 14 of the Act alleging bias and for a declaration that the sole arbitrator had become incompetent to perform his functions.
- The Single Judge by judgment dated 17 September 2012 disposed of the Section 14 application by reserving the Appellants’ right to challenge the award under Section 34 of the Act, if required.
- The sole arbitrator issued the final award on 18 June 2013 in favour of the Respondent.
- Interestingly, the award was not reasoned. Aggrieved by the award, the Appellants filed a challenge petition under Section 34 of the Act for setting aside the award. Both the interim award as well as the final award formed the subject matter of the challenge under Section 34 of the Act.
- The Single Judge allowed the challenge petition on the premise that the award did not disclose any reason in its support. Accordingly, the award was set aside, and the parties were left to pursue their remedies in accordance with law.
- Aggrieved by the finding of the Single Judge, the Respondent preferred an appeal before the Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court (“Division Bench”).
- The Division Bench affirmed the findings recorded by the Single Judge. However, the Division Bench suo moto decided to relegate the parties back to the arbitral tribunal with a direction to the arbitral tribunal to assign reasons in support of its award.
- Aggrieved by the order of the Division Bench, the Appellants filed a special leave petition before the Supreme Court of India (“Supreme Court”). The Respondent did not challenge either the settling aside of the award, or the relegation of parties back to the Tribunal.
- The primary issue assailed before the Supreme Court was whether a court, under Section 34(4) of the Act, is empowered to remand the parties back before the arbitral tribunal with a direction to assign reasons in support of the arbitral award, especially when the arbitral award has been set aside by the Single Judge, and the Division Bench has concurred with that finding.
The Supreme Court:
- examined Section 34(4)4of the Act and observed that the quintessence for exercising the power under this provision is that the arbitral award has not been set aside.
- relied on McDermott International Inc. v. Burn Standard Limited, (2006) 11 SCC 181 and opined that the Parliament has not vested any power on courts to remand the parties to the Tribunal or defer the proceedings, except within the limited scope prescribed under Section 34(4) of the Act. The Supreme Court held that such power under Section 34(4) can be exercised only on a written application being made by a party and not suo motu.
- referred to the Madras High Court judgment of MMTC v. Vicnivass Agency, (2009) 1 MLJ 199 and affirmed the three procedural conditions for invoking Section 34 (4) namely: (i) there should be an application under Section 34(1) of the Act; (ii) a request should emanate from a party under Section 34(4); and (iii) the court considers it appropriate to invoke the power under Section 34(4) of the Act.
- In the present facts and circumstances, since no written application filed was filed by the Respondent before the Single Judge or the Division Bench under Section 34(4), and the fact that the arbitral award had been set aside by the Single Judge and the setting aside confirmed even by the Division Bench, the Supreme Court held that the decision of the Division Bench to remit the award back the sole arbitrator suffered from jurisdictional error and was unsustainable.