Supreme Court: The bench of Ashok Bhushan and R. Subhash Reddy*, JJ has held that the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006, being a special Statute, will have an overriding effect vis-à-vis Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, which is a general Act. Hence, even if there is an agreement between the parties for resolution of disputes by arbitration, if a seller is covered by Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006, the seller can certainly approach the competent authority to make its claim. Further, if the counter-claim made by the buyer in the proceedings arising out of claims made by the seller is not allowed, it may lead to parallel proceedings before the various fora.
The Court, held,
“When there is a provision for filing counter-claim and set-off which is expressly inserted in Section 23 of the 1996 Act, there is no reason for curtailing the right of the respondent for making counter-claim or set-off in proceedings before the Facilitation Council.”
Scheme of the Acts
- As per Section 18(3) of the 2006 Act, when the conciliation initiated under sub-section (2) of Section 18 of the said Act is not successful, the Council shall either itself take up the dispute for arbitration or refer to any institution for arbitration.
- Further, Section 18(3) of the said Act also makes it clear that the provisions of 1996 Act are made applicable as if there is an agreement between the parties under sub-section (1) of Section 7 of the 1996 Act.
- The obligations of the buyer to make payment, and award of interest at three times of the bank rate notified by Reserve Bank in the event of delay by the buyer and the mechanism for recovery and reference to Micro and Small Enterprises Facilitation Council and further remedies under the 2006 Act for the party aggrieved by the awards, are covered by Chapter V of the 2006 Act.
- The provisions of Section 15 to 23 of the Act are given overriding effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other law for the time being in force.
- From the Statement of Objects and Reasons also it is clear that it is a beneficial legislation to the small, medium and micro sector.
- The Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 is a general law whereas the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006 is a special beneficial legislation which is intended to benefit micro, small and medium enterprises covered by the said Act.
- The Act of 2006 contemplates a statutory arbitration when conciliation fails. A party which is covered by the provisions of 2006 Act allows a party to apply to the Council constituted under the Act to first conciliate and then arbitrate on the dispute between it and other parties.
Fundamental differences in the settlement mechanism under the 2006 Act and the 1996 Act
- The Council constituted under the 2006 Act to undertake mandatory conciliation before the arbitration which is not so under the 1996 Act.
- In the event of failure of conciliation under the 2006 Act, the Council or the centre or institution is identified by it for arbitration. The 1996 Act allows resolution of disputes by agreed forum.
- In the event of award in favour of seller and if the same is to be challenged, there is a condition for pre-deposit of 75% of the amount awarded. Such is not the case in the 1996 Act.
Why the counter-claim should be allowed?
“When Section 18(3) makes it clear that in the event of failure by the Council under Section 18(2) if proceedings are initiated under Section 18(3) of the 1996 Act, the provisions of 1996 Act are not only made applicable but specific mention is made to the effect as if the arbitration was in pursuance to an arbitration agreement referred to in sub-section (1) of Section 7 of the 1996 Act. When there is a provision for filing counter-claim and set-off which is expressly inserted in Section 23 of the 1996 Act, there is no reason for curtailing the right of the respondent for making counter-claim or set-off in proceedings before the Facilitation Council.”
The Court hence, noticed that if the counter-claim made by the buyer in the proceedings arising out of claims made by the seller is not allowed, it may lead to parallel proceedings before the various fora.
“When such beneficial provisions are there in the special enactment, such benefits cannot be denied on the ground that counter-claim is not maintainable before the Council.”
On one hand, in view of beneficial legislation, seller may approach the Facilitation Council for claims, in the event of failure of payment by the buyer under provisions of 2006 Act, at the same time, if there is no separate agreement between the parties for any arbitration in a given case, buyer may approach the civil court for making claims against the seller, or else if there is an agreement between the parties for arbitration in the event of dispute between the parties, parties may seek appointment of arbitrator. At the same time if the seller is covered by definition under micro, small and medium enterprises, seller may approach the Facilitation Council for making claims under the provisions of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006. In such event, it may result in conflicting findings, by various forums.
“If any agreement between the parties is there, same is to be ignored in view of the statutory obligations and mechanism provided under the 2006 Act. Further, apart from the provision under Section 23(2A) of the 1996 Act, it is to be noticed that if counter-claim is not permitted, buyer can get over the legal obligation of compound interest at 3 times of the bank rate and the ―75% pre-deposit contemplated under Sections 16 and 19 of the MSMED Act.”
Further, when the provisions of Sections 15 to 23 are given overriding effect under Section 24 of the Act and further the 2006 Act is a beneficial legislation, even the buyer, if any claim is there, can very well subject to the jurisdiction before the Council and make its claim/ counter claim as otherwise it will defeat the very objects of the Act which is a beneficial legislation to micro, small and medium enterprises.
Even in cases where there is no agreement for resolution of disputes by way of arbitration, if the seller is a party covered by Micro, Small and Medium Development Act, 2006, if such party approaches the Council for resolution of dispute, other party may approach the civil court or any other forum making claims on the same issue.
“If two parallel proceedings are allowed, it may result in conflicting findings.”
[Silpi Industries v. Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 439, decided on 29.06.2021]
*Judgment by: Justice R. Subhash Reddy
For appellants: Senior Advocates V. Giri, P.B. Suresh
For Kerala State Road Transport Corporation: Aishwarya Bhati, ASG
For Respondent: Basava Prabhu Patil