Enforcement of Foreign Award under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 | [Case Analysis of Vijay Karia. v. Prysmian Cavi E Sistemi SRL]

A. INTRODUCTION

1. Part II of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996[1] (“the Act”) defines a foreign award and provides the manner/mode for the execution of a foreign award. Depending on the Convention and the framework agreed upon, foreign awards are separately defined under  Section 44 and Section 53, both of which are dealt with under Chapter I and Chapter II of Part II of the Act.

2. As per Section 44, (which is governed under the New York Convention[2]) foreign award is defined as follows:

“44. Definition.– In this Chapter, unless the context otherwise requires, “foreign award” means an award on differences between persons arising out of legal relationships, whether contractual or not, considered as commercial under the law force in India, made on or after the 11th day of October, 1960 –

(a) in pursuance of an agreement in writing for arbitration to which the Convention set forth in the First Schedule applies, and

(b) in one of such territories as the Central Government, being satisfied that reciprocal provisions have been made may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare to be territories to which the said Convention applies.”

3. As per Section 53, (which is governed under the Geneva Convention) foreign award is defined as follows:

53. Interpretation.— In this Chapter “foreign award” means an arbitral award on differences relating to matters considered as commercial under the law in force in India made after the 28th day of July, 1924,—

(a) in pursuance of an agreement for arbitration to which the Protocol set forth in the Second Schedule applies, and

(b) between persons of whom one is subject to the jurisdiction of some one of such powers as the Central Government, being satisfied that reciprocal provisions have been made, may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare to be parties to the Convention set forth in the Third Schedule, and of whom the other is subject to the jurisdiction of some other of the Powers aforesaid, and

(c) in one of such territories as the Central Government, being satisfied that reciprocal provisions have been made, may, by like notification, declare to be territories to which the said Convention applies, and for the purposes of this Chapter an award shall not be deemed to be final if any proceedings for the purpose of contesting the validity of the award are pending in the country in which it was made….”

4. According to Section 44 of Chapter I of the Act, a foreign award means an arbitral award on differences between persons arising out of legal relationships, whether contractual or not, considered as commercial under the law in force in India, made on or after 11th October, 1960 in pursuance of an agreement in writing for arbitration. The award has to be passed in one such territory with which India has a reciprocal treaty. Similar conditions are specified under Section 53 for the Geneva Convention Awards. The said Awards can be executed as if it was a decree passed by the civil court of original jurisdiction in India as envisaged under Section 36 of the Act. For execution of the award the format laid down in Order 21 Rule 11 (2) of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 for execution of decree is required to be followed.

5. Section 48 of the Act lays down conditions for the enforcement of foreign award. Section 48 of the Act reads as follows:

48. Conditions for enforcement of foreign awards.—(1) Enforcement of a foreign award may be refused, at the request of the party against whom it is invoked, only if that party furnishes to the court proof that—

(a) the parties to the agreement referred to in section 44 were, under the law applicable to them, under some incapacity, or the said agreement is not valid under the law to which the parties have subjected it or, failing any indication thereon, under the law of the country where the award was made; or

(b) the party against whom the award is invoked was not given proper notice of the appointment of the arbitrator or of the arbitral proceedings or was otherwise unable to present his case; or

(c) the award deals with a difference not contemplated by or not falling within the terms of the submission to arbitration, or it contains decisions on matters beyond the scope of the submission to arbitration:

Provided that, if the decisions on matters submitted to arbitration can be separated from those not so submitted, that part of the award which contains decisions on matters submitted to arbitration may be enforced; or

(d) the composition of the arbitral authority or the arbitral procedure was not in accordance with the agreement of the parties, or, failing such agreement, was not in accordance with the law of the country where the arbitration took place; or

(e) the award has not yet become binding on the parties or has been set aside or suspended by a competent authority of the country in which, or under the law of which, that award was made.

(2) Enforcement of an arbitral award may also be refused if the court finds that—

(a) the subject-matter of the difference is not capable of settlement by arbitration under the law of India; or

(b) the enforcement of the award would be contrary to the public policy of India.

Explanation 1.– For the avoidance of any doubt, it is clarified that an award is in conflict with the public policy of India, only if,–

(i) the making of the award was induced or affected by fraud or corruption or was in violation of Section 75 or Section 81; or

(ii) it is in contravention with the fundamental policy of Indian law; or

(iii) it is in conflict with the most basic notions of morality or justice.

Explanation 2. — For the avoidance of doubt, the test as to whether there is a contravention with the fundamental policy of Indian law shall not entail a review on the merits of the dispute.

(3) If an application for the setting aside or suspension of the award has been made to a competent authority referred to in clause (e) of sub-section (1) the Court may, if it considers it proper, adjourn the decision on the enforcement of the award and may also , on the application of the party claiming enforcement of the award, order the other party to give suitable security.”

6. The grounds mentioned in Section 48 are watertight i.e. no grounds outside Section 48 can be looked at. The enforcement of a foreign award under Section 48 of the Act may be refused only if the party resisting enforcement furnishes to the Court proof that any of the stated grounds has been made out to resist enforcement. The grounds for resisting enforcement of foreign award under Section 48 may be classified into three grounds – (i) grounds which affect the jurisdiction of the arbitration proceedings; (ii) grounds which affect party interest alone; and (iii) grounds which go to the public policy of India, as explained by Explanation to Section 48(2).

7. Through the present article, the author has analysed/discussed the ruling of the Supreme Court in  Vijay Karia  v. Prysmain Cavi E Sistemi SRL[3] , wherein the Court has discussed/dealt with the enforcement of foreign award under Section 48 of the Act.

B. BRIEF FACTS

8. The brief facts of this case are as follows:

8.1 Appellant 1 i.e. Vijay Karia and Appellants 2 to 39 (who are represented by Appellant 1) (collectively referred to as “the appellants”) were non-cooperative shareholders of Ravin Cables Ltd. (“Ravin”). On January 19, 2010, the appellants and Ravin entered into a Joint Venture Agreement with Respondent 1 i.e. Prysmian Cavi E Sistermi SRL (“Respondent 1) (a company registered under the laws of Italy). By virtue of the JVA, Respondent 1 acquired a majority shareholding of Ravin’s share capital. Clause 27 of the JVA provided for dispute resolution, under which any dispute arising under the agreement, would be settled exclusively under the Rules of Arbitration of the London Court of International Arbitration (“LCIA”) and the seat of the Arbitration shall be London, United Kingdom.

8.2 On the same day, under a separate ‘Control Premium Agreement’ Respondent 1 (claimant in the arbitration) paid substantial consideration to the appellant (respondent in the arbitration) as ‘control premium’ towards the acquisition of the share capital of Ravin. As per the terms of the JVA, until the expiry of the integration period, Ravin was to be jointly managed by the CEO & Managing Director and after the efflux of the integration period, Managing Director was solely responsible for managing Ravin. However, during the integration period the existing CEO (earlier appointed by Respondent 1) was removed and replaced by the Board of Directors (at the instance of the appellants). Thereafter, the appellants’ directors opposed the appointment of a CFO whose appointment was assented to by Respondent 1. The interference in the management and control of Ravin led to disputes between the parties.

8.3 As a result, in February 2012, Respondent 1  invoked arbitration proceedings against the appellants, alleging that there have been material breaches committed under the JVA. As a result, the LCIA appointed a sole arbitrator to adjudicate the disputes between the parties. The parties filed their respective claims/counter-claims before the  sole arbitrator.

8.4 Considering the various issues were raised by the respective parties at different stages, the  sole arbitrator passed three (3) Interim arbitral awards and one (1) final arbitral award. After considering the facts and the pleadings, the  sole arbitrator passed the final arbitral award in favour of  Respondent 1 (claimant in the arbitration) and rejected the counter-claims of the appellants. The Arbitral Tribunal allowed all the reliefs sought by Respondent 1 and directed the appellants to transfer 10,252,275 shares held by them to  Respondent 1. The appellants were further directed to reimburse the legal costs of the arbitration as determined by the LCIA Court.

8.5 The final award was never assailed by the appellants before the English Courts and only when the award-holder brought the arbitral award to India for the purpose of its enforcement, the appellants raised certain objections under Section 48 of the Act. The  Single Judge of the  Bombay High Court after dealing with the objections raised by the appellants, stated that the final arbitral award must be recognised and enforced, and the objections raised by the appellants do not fall under the pigeonholes contained in Section 48 of the Act. Since Section 50 of the Act, does not provide an appeal when a foreign award is recognised and enforced by a judgment of a  Single Judge of a High Court, the appellants filed an appeal before the Supreme Court under Section 136 of the Constitution of India.

C. ISSUES RAISED

9. The appellants’ contentions can be categorised broadly into the three ‘pigeonhole’ grounds (para 25) viz. 

(i) that the party was unable to present its case before the Tribunal,

(ii) that the Tribunal failed to deal with the contentions raised by the appellants [under Section 48(1)(b)],

(iii) that the foreign award is against the public policy of India [under Section 48(2)(b)] in two respects viz. (a) that it would be in contravention to the fundamental policy of Indian law; and (b) that it would violate the most basic notions of justice.

10. The issues raised by the appellants were dealt/answered by the Supreme Court as follows –

I. Exercise of power under Article 136 while dealing with an order enforcing the foreign award (para 24):

i Section 37 of the Arbitration Act, which is contained in Part I of the said Act, provides an appeal against either setting aside or refusing to set aside a ‘domestic’ arbitration award. The legislative policy so far as recognition and enforcement of ‘foreign’ arbitration awards is that an appeal is provided against a judgment refusing to recognise and enforce a foreign award. The Act does not provide for an appeal against an order recognising and enforcing an award.

ii This is because the policy of the legislature is that there ought to be only one bite at the cherry in a case where objections are made to the foreign award on the extremely narrow grounds contained in Section 48 of the Act and which have been rejected. This is in consonance with the fact that India is a signatory to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, 1958 (“the New York Convention”) and intends – through this legislation – to ensure that a person who belongs to a Convention country, and who, in most cases, has gone through a challenge procedure to the said award in the country of its origin, must then be able to get such award recognised and enforced in India as soon as possible.

iii Bearing this in mind, it is important to remember that the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction under Article 136 should not be used to circumvent the legislative policy so contained. The Court should be very slow in interfering with such judgments, and should entertain an appeal only with a view to settle the law if some new or unique point is raised which has not been answered by the Supreme Court before, so that the Supreme Court judgment may then be used to guide the course of future litigation in this regard. Also, it would only be in a very exceptional case of a blatant disregard of Section 48 of the Arbitration Act that the Supreme Court would interfere with a judgment which recognises and enforces a foreign award however, inelegantly drafted the judgment may be.

II. Public policy post 2015 Amendment (paras 37- 40):

i. By the 2015 Amendment Act[4], Section 48 was amended to delete the ground of “contrary to the interest of India”. Also, what was important was to reiterate Renusagar Power Co. Ltd. v. General Electric Co.[5] position, that the test as to whether there is a contravention with the fundamental policy of Indian law shall not entail a review on the merits of the dispute [vide Explanation 2 to Section 48(2)].

ii. It will be noticed that in the context of challenge to domestic awards, Section 34 of the Arbitration Act differentiates between international commercial arbitrations held in India and other arbitrations held in India. So far as “the public policy of India” ground is concerned, both Sections 34 and 48 are now identical, so that in an international commercial arbitration conducted in India, the ground of challenge relating to “public policy of India” would be the same as the ground of resisting enforcement of a foreign award in India.

iii. Why it is important to advert to this feature of the 2015 Amendment Act is that all grounds relating to patent illegality appearing on the face of the award are outside the scope of interference with international commercial arbitration awards made in India and foreign awards whose enforcement is resisted in India[6]. This statement of the law applies equally to Section 48 of the Arbitration Act.

iv. Indeed, this approach has commended itself in other jurisdictions as well. Thus, in Sui Southern Gas Co. Ltd. v. Habibullah Coastal Power Co.[7], the Singapore High Court, after setting out the legislative policy of the Model Law that the ‘public policy’ exception is to be narrowly viewed and that an arbitral award that shocks the conscience alone would be set aside.

III. Pro-enforcement Bias (para 47):

i.  US cases show that given the “pro-enforcement bias” of the New York Convention, which has been adopted in Section 48 of the Arbitration Act, 1996 – the burden of proof on parties seeking enforcement has now been placed on parties objecting to enforcement. In the guise of public policy of the country involved, foreign awards cannot be set aside by second guessing the arbitrator’s interpretation of the agreement of the parties; the challenge procedure in the primary jurisdiction gives more leeway to the Courts to interfere with an award than the narrow restrictive grounds contained in the New York Convention when a foreign award’s enforcement is resisted.

IV. Discretion of the Court to enforce foreign awards (paras 48, 49, 50, 52, 55, 56):

i. Enforcement of a foreign award under Section 48 of the Arbitration Act may be refused only if the party resisting enforcement furnishes to the Court proof that any of the stated grounds has been made out to resist enforcement. The said grounds are watertight – no ground outside Section 48 can be looked at. Also, the expression used in Section 48 is “may”.

ii. When the grounds for resisting enforcement of a foreign award under Section 48 are seen, they may be classified into three groups – (i) grounds which affect the jurisdiction of the arbitration proceedings; (ii) grounds which affect party interest alone; and (iii) grounds which go to the public policy of India, as explained by Explanation 1 to Section 48(2).

iii. Where a ground to resist enforcement is made out, by which the very jurisdiction of the tribunal is questioned – such as the arbitration agreement itself not being valid under the law to which the parties have subjected it, or where the subject-matter of difference is not capable of settlement by arbitration under the law of India, it is obvious that there can be no discretion in these matters. Enforcement of a foreign award made without jurisdiction cannot possibly be weighed in the scales for a discretion to be exercised to enforce such award if the scales are tilted in its favour. In simpler words, if an objection made to the jurisdiction of the Arbitral Tribunal, and the parties are able to satisfy that the award was made without the Arbitral Tribunal having jurisdiction, then the Courts have said that they will not exercise its discretion to enforce an award.

iv. On the other hand, where the grounds taken to resist enforcement can be said to be linked to party interest alone, for example, that a party has been unable to present its case before the arbitrator, and which ground is capable of waiver or abandonment, or, the ground being made out, no prejudice has been caused to the party on such ground being made out, a Court may well enforce a foreign award, even if such ground is made out.

v. When it comes to the “public policy of India” ground, again, there would be no discretion in enforcing an award which is induced by fraud or corruption, or which violates the fundamental policy of Indian Law, or is in conflict with the most basic notions of morality or justice.

vi. The expression “may” in Section 48 can, depending upon the context, mean “shall” or as connoting that a residual discretion remains in the Court to enforce a foreign award, despite grounds for its resistance having been made out. What is clear is that the width of this discretion is limited to the circumstances pointed out herein above, in which case a balancing act may be performed by the Court while enforcing a foreign award “or was otherwise unable to present his case”, natural justice under Section 48 and failure to determine a material issue would fall under public policy (para 84).

vii. The expression “was otherwise unable to present his case” occurring in Section 48(1)(b) cannot be given an expansive meaning and would have to be read in the context and colour of the words preceding the said phrase. In short, this expression would be a facet of natural justice, which would be breached only if a fair hearing was not given by the arbitrator to the parties. Read along with the first part of Section 48(1)(b), it is clear that this expression would apply at the hearing stage and not after the award has been delivered, as has been held in Ssangyong[8] (supra).

viii. A good working test for determining whether a party has been unable to present his case is to see whether the factors outside the party’s control have combined to deny the party a fair hearing. Thus, where no opportunity was given to deal with an argument which goes to the root of the case or findings based on evidence which go behind the back of the party and which results in a denial of justice to the prejudice of the party; or additional or new evidence is taken which forms the basis of the award on which a party has been given no opportunity of rebuttal, would, on the facts of a given case, render a foreign award liable to be set aside on the ground that a party has been unable to present his case. This must, of course, be with the caveat that such breach be clearly made out on the facts of a given case, and that awards must always be read supportively with an inclination to uphold rather than destroy, given the minimal interference possible with foreign awards under Section 48.

ix. If a foreign award fails to determine a material issue which goes to the root of the matter or fails to decide a claim or counter-claim in its entirety, the award may shock the conscience of the Court and may be set aside, as was done by the Delhi High Court in Campos Brothers Farm v. Matru Bhumi Supply Chain Pvt. Ltd.[9] on the ground of violation of the public policy of India, in that it would then offend a most basic notion of justice in this country.

x. It must always be remembered that poor reasoning, by which a material issue or claim is rejected, can never fall in this class of cases. Also, issues that the tribunal considered essential and has addressed must be given their due weight – it often happens that the tribunal considers a particular issue as essential and answers it, which by implication would mean that the other issue or issues raised have been implicitly rejected.

xi. For example, two parties may both allege that the other is in breach. A finding that one party is in breach, without expressly stating that the other party is not in breach, would amount to a decision on both a claim and a counterclaim, as to which party is in breach. Similarly, after hearing the parties, a certain sum may be awarded as damages and an issue as to interest may not be answered at all. This again may, on the facts of a given case, amount to an implied rejection of the claim for interest.

xii. The most important point to be considered is that the foreign award must be read as a whole, fairly, and without nit-picking. If read as a whole, the said award has addressed the basic issues raised by the parties and has, in substance, decided the claims and counterclaims of the parties, enforcement must follow.

V. Violation of FEMA Rules and fundamental policy of Indian Law (paras 91, 93):

i. Based on the Non-Debt Instrument Rules[10], it was argued that that the transfer of shares from the Karias (appellants), who are persons resident in India, to  Respondent 1, who is a person resident outside India, cannot be less than the valuation of such shares as done by a duly certified Chartered Accountant, Merchant Banker or Cost Accountant, and, as the sale of such shares at a discount of 10% would violate Rule 21(2)(b)(iii), the fundamental policy of Indian Law contained in the aforesaid Rules would be breached; as a result of which the award cannot be enforced.

ii. The Supreme Court upheld the Delhi High Court judgment in Cruz City Mauritius Holdings v. Unitech Limited[11], wherein the Delhi High Court held that a contravention of a provision of law is insufficient to invoke the defence of public policy when it comes to enforcement of a foreign award. Contravention of any provision of an enactment is not synonymous to contravention of fundamental policy of Indian Law. The expression fundamental policy of Indian Law refers to the principles and the legislative policy on which Indian statutes and laws are founded. The expression “fundamental policy” connotes the basic and substratal rationale, values and principles which form the bedrock of laws in our country. The objections to enforcement on the ground of public policy must be such that offend the core values of a member State’s national policy and which it cannot be expected to compromise. The expression “fundamental policy of law” must be interpreted in that perspective and must mean only the fundamental and substratal legislative policy, not a provision of any enactment. The contention that enforcement of the award against Unitech must be refused on the ground that it violates any one or the other provision of FEMA, cannot be accepted; but, any remittance of the money recovered from Unitech in enforcement of the award would necessarily require compliance of regulatory provisions and/or permissions.

iii. The Supreme Court held (paras 91 and 93) that first and foremost, FEMA – unlike FERA – refers to the nation’s policy of managing foreign exchange instead of policing foreign exchange, the policeman being  Reserve Bank of India under FERA. It is important to remember that Section 47 of FERA no longer exists in FEMA, so that transactions that violate FEMA cannot be held to be void. Also, if a particular act violates any provision of FEMA or the Rules framed thereunder, permission of Reserve Bank of India may be obtained post-facto if such violation can be condoned.

iv. Neither the award, nor the agreement being enforced by the award, can, therefore, be held to be of no effect in law. This being the case, a rectifiable breach under FEMA can never be held to be a violation of the fundamental policy of Indian Law. Even assuming that Rule 21 of the Non-Debt Instrument Rules requires that the shares be sold by a resident of India to a non-resident at a sum which shall not be less than the market value of the shares, and a foreign award directs that such shares be sold at a sum less than the market value,  Reserve Bank of India may choose to step in and direct that the aforesaid shares be sold only at the market value and not at the discounted value, or may choose to condone such breach.

v. Further, even if Reserve Bank of India were to take action under FEMA, the non-enforcement of a foreign award on the ground of violation of   FEMA Regulations or Rules would not arise as the award does not become void on that count.

vi. The fundamental policy of Indian Law, as has been held in Renusagar [12](supra), must amount to a breach of some legal principle or legislation which is so basic to Indian Law that it is not susceptible of being compromised. “Fundamental Policy” refers to the core values of India’s public policy as a nation, which may find expression not only in statutes but also time-honoured, hallowed principles which are followed by the Courts. Judged from this point of view, it is clear that resistance to the enforcement of a foreign award cannot be made on this ground.

D. CONCLUSION

11. After considering the facts and pleading, the Supreme Court confirmed the ruling of the sole arbitrator and dismissed the appeals with heavy costs. The Court stated that their jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution is very limited.

12. On a conjoint reading of the objective of Article V of the New York Convention along with the objectives of the Act, the Supreme Court through the present judgment, has ironed the wrinkles under Section 48 of the Act. The Supreme Court took a holistic view by not just limiting its scope of enquiry to the Indian judgments but has also relied on judgments of various other jurisdictions to arrive at a global consensus on various issues involved in challenging the enforcement of a foreign award. The Supreme Court has adopted a balanced approach while dealing with the scope of judicial interference at the time of enforcement of foreign award and exercising its jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution.


*Alumni (2012-2017) of Government Law College, Mumbai, practicing Advocate at High Court at Mumbai and maybe reached out vatsalapant94@gmail.com. The views expressed herein are personal and do not represent views of any organisation. 

[1] Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 

[2] Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York, 1958)

[3] 2020 SCC OnLine SC 177  

[4] Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 

[5] 1994 Supp (1) SCC 644

[6] Ssangyong Engineering & Construction Co. Ltd. v. National Highways Authority of India, (2019) 15 SCC 131 (paras 30 & 43)

[7] [2010] 3 SLR 1 : (2010) SGHC 62

[8] (2019) 15 SCC 131

[9] 2019 SCC OnLine Del 8350

[10] Foreign Exchange Management (Non-debt Instruments) Rules, 2019 

[11] 2017 SCC OnLine Del 7810  

[12] 1994 Supp (1) SCC 644

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