Arbitration – Party Not Barred From Raising New Grounds To Set Aside Award In An Sec 37 Appeal: Supreme Court

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Arbitration – Party Not Barred From Raising New Grounds To Set Aside Award In An Sec 37 Appeal

Case: State of Chhattisgarh vs Sal Udyog Private Limited

Coram: CJI NV Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli

Case no.: CA 4353 OF 2010

Court Observation: We are afraid, the plea of waiver taken against the appellant-State on the ground that it did not raise such an objection in the grounds spelt out in the Section 34 petition and is, therefore, estopped from taking the same in the appeal preferred under Section 37 or before this Court, would also not be available to the respondent-Company having regard to the language used in Section 34(2A) of the 1996 Act that empowers the Court to set aside an award if it finds that the same is vitiated by patent illegality appearing on the face of the same. Once the appellant-State had taken such a ground in the Section 37 petition and it was duly noted in the impugned judgment, the High Court ought to have interfered by resorting to Section 34(2A) of the 1996 Act, a provision which would be equally available for application to an appealable order under Section 37 as it is to a petition filed under Section 34 of the 1996 Act. In other words, the respondent-Company cannot be heard to state that the grounds available for setting aside an award under sub-section (2A) of Section 34 of the 1996 Act could not have been invoked by the Court on its own, in exercise of the jurisdiction vested in it under Section 37 of the 1996 Act. Notably, the expression used in the sub-rule is “the Court finds that”. Therefore, it does not stand to reason that a provision that enables a Court acting on its own in deciding a petition under Section 34 for setting aside an Award, would not be available in an appeal preferred under Section 37 of the 1996 Act.”

In the aforesaid case, the Court was required to examine whether in an appeal preferred under Section 37 of the 1996 Act against an order refusing to set aside an Award, permission could be granted to amend the Memo of Appeal to raise additional/new grounds. Answering the said question, it was held that though an application for setting aside the Arbitral Award under Section 34 of the 1996 Act had to be moved within the time prescribed in the Statute, it cannot be held that incorporation of additional grounds by way of amendment in the Section 34 petition would amount to filing a fresh application in all situations and circumstances, thereby barring any amendment, however material or relevant it may be for the consideration of a Court, after expiry of the prescribed period of limitation. In fact, laying emphasis on the very expression “the Courts find that” applied in Section 34(2)(b) of the 1996 Act, it has been held that the said provision empowers the Court to grant leave to amend the Section 34 application if the circumstances of the case so warrant and it is required in the interest of justice. This is what has been observed in the preceding paragraph with reference to Section 34(2A) of the 1996 Act”

To sum up, existence of Clause 6(b) in the Agreement governing the parties, has not been disputed, nor has the application of Circular dated 27th July, 1987 issued by the Government of Madhya Pradesh regarding imposition of 10% supervision charges and adding the same to cost of the Sal seeds, after deducting the actual expenditure been questioned by the respondent-Company. We are, therefore, of the view that failure on the part of the learned Sole Arbitrator to decide in accordance with the terms of the contract governing the parties, would certainly attract the “patent illegality ground”, as the said oversight amounts to gross contravention of Section 28(3) of the 1996 Act, that enjoins the Arbitral Tribunal to take into account the terms of the contract while making an Award. The said ‘patent illegality’ is not only apparent on the face of the Award, it goes to the very root of the matter and deserves interference. Accordingly, the present appeal is partly allowed and the impugned Award, insofar as it has permitted deduction of ‘supervision charges’ recovered from the respondent-Company by the appellant-State as a part of the expenditure incurred by it while calculating the price of the Sal seeds, is quashed and set aside, being in direct conflict with the terms of the contract governing the parties and the relevant Circular. The impugned judgment dated 21st October, 2009 is modified to the aforesaid extent.

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