Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Competition Commission of India (CCI): Coram of Ashok Kumar Gupta (Chairperson) and Sangeeta Verma and Bhagwant Singh Bishnoi, Members found no cartelization in respect to the skyrocketing prices by the airlines during the Jat Agitation.

Informant had alleged that Jet Airways, Spice Jet and Indigo had contravened the provisions of Section 3 of the Competition Act.

Informant’s Submissions

During the month of February 2016 when Jat Agitation was going on, domestic airlines had skyrocketed their rates particularly between the Delhi-Chandigarh and Delhi-Amritsar routes.

From the above instance, it was noted that the aviation industry had been exploiting the passengers during such conditions as the same was observed during the Chennai Floods and Nepal Earthquake.

Preliminary Conference

Commission on noting the allegations and submission by the Informant held a preliminary conference and made a reference to the Director-General of Civil Aviation in terms of Section 21 A of the Act, later the Commission sought certain information from 5 airlines.

What did the Commission note?

Commission noted that with the use of algorithms, there exists a high possibility of collusion with or without the need of human intervention or coordination between competitors.

Therefore, Commission opined that there was a need for investigation of the algorithms used by airlines, so as to determine whether the fares set by the airlines during the alleged period were an outcome of collusion or not?

 Hence, on 9-11-2018 an order was passed to cause an investigation to be made.

 DG in its investigation report concluded that no contravention of Section 3(3) read with Section 3(1) of the Act was found against the conduct of Spice Jet, Air India, Go Air and Indigo during the period of ‘Jat’ Agitation, but in regard to Jet Airways, DG excluded the same from its purview of investigation since the airline was grounded in April 2019 and due to grounding of Jet Airways and un-availability of any employee/personnel, the Resolution Professional could not provide any price data, booking dates, capacity of flight, number of passengers flown and the number of price buckets used by Jet Airways during the period of ‘Jat’ Agitation.

After the objections and suggestions were filed, parties were directed to appear for a final hearing on the investigation report on 23-02-2021.

On the fixed date of hearing, Commission noted that neither the informant nor its counsel appeared before the Commission.

Further, Commission considered the matter in its ordinary meeting and decided to pass an appropriate order.

What did the investigation try to ascertain?

It was ascertained whether the increase in air-ticket prices during the period of Jat Agitation was the result of an agreement between the OPs?

Whether the price data suggested any uniformity in prices indicative of price parallelism?

DG found no contravention of Section 3(3) read with Section 3(1) of the Act against the conduct of Spice Jet, Air India, Go Air and Indigo during the period of Jat Agitation.

Analysis and Decision

Commission noted that the existence of an ‘agreement’ is sine qua non before ascertaining whether the same is anti-competitive or not in terms of the scheme of Section 3 of the Act.

Definition of ‘agreement’ as given in Section 2(b) of the Act requires inter alia any arrangement or understanding or action in concert whether or not formal or in writing or intended to be enforceable by legal proceedings.

The establishment of ‘agreement’ would require some explicit or tacit arrangement amongst the parties wherefrom a concert between them can be deciphered. This may include, amongst others, exchange of information in the form of communications/ e-mails or in any other form of communication amongst the competitors, whether – explicit or tacit, oral or in writing, formal or informal including through parallel conduct which cannot be otherwise explained etc.

 In the instant matter, no such emails were found which could show any exchange of information among the airlines establishing any form of collusion during or after the period of Jat Agitation.

The investigation did not reveal any price parallelism or identical pricing of tickets by the airlines.

Further, elaborating more, Commission noted that widespread usage of algorithms in price determination by individual firms could pose possible anti-competitive effects by making it easier for firms to achieve and sustain collusion without any formal agreement or human interaction.

Based on DG’s investigation, Commission noted that airlines were using different software’s for the pricing of tickets in different fare bucket.

No evidence on record was found to establish a cartel amongst the airlines during the period of Jat Agitation.

Hence, no case of contravention of the provisions of Section 3(1) of the Competition Act was made out against the airlines. [Shikha Roy v. Jet Airways (India) Ltd., Case No. 32 of 2016, decided on 3-06-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For SpiceJet Limited: Mr. Abhishek Sharma, Advocate along with Mr. Shashi Shekhar, Executive (Legal) of OP-2

For InterGlobe Aviation Limited: Mr. Raj Shekhar Rao, Senior Advocate with Mr. Sagardeep Rathi, Mr. Pranjal Prateek and Mr. Ebaad Nawaaj Khan, Advocates

For Go Airlines (India) Limited: Mr. Vihang Virkar and Mr. Karun Jhangiani, Advocates along with Mr. Prashant Shinde, Senior General Manager (Legal) of OP-4

For Air India Limited: Mr. Pratik Majumdar, DGM of OP-5

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of S.C. Gupte and M.S. Karnik, JJ., expressed that for an employer to come to a conclusion of a possible case of cartelization, it is not necessary that the same can happen only after the opening of commercial bids.

Petitioner claimed to be a sole proprietor of a firm carrying on the business of fresh water supply through barges. Petitioner had been one of the contractors supplying water to respondent 1 ONGC.

Respondent 1 invited Indigenous Open Tender for e-procurement for supply of water to its offshore facilities, including the Nhava Supply Base. The said tender was a two bid system – a technical bid followed by a commercial bid.

Along with the petitioner, there were three others who had submitted the bids.

Respondent ONGC had cleared the technical bids of all 4 bidders, including the petitioner and his father at the stage of consideration of commercial bids, the bids of both petitioner and his father were not opened.

Upon evaluation of offers submitted by petitioner and Royal Traders, it came to the notice of Respondent ONGC that the proprietors of two firms were respectively the son and father. Hence considering that the two would have access to vital information pertaining to the bid submitted by the other, the employer concluded that both the bidders have an undisclosed understanding with each other, which would restrict competitiveness thereby offending Section 2 of the Integrity Pact.

Section 2 of the Integrity Pact is as follows:

Commitments of the Bidder/contractor

  1. The Bidder/Contractor will not enter with other Bidders into any undisclosed agreement or understanding, whether formal or informal. This applies in particular to prices, specifications, certifications, subsidiary contracts, submission or non – submission of bids or any other actions to restrict competitiveness or to introduce cartelisation in the bidding process.

Analysis and Decision

High Court stated that the grounds urged by petitioner in support of their challenge to acceptance of bids did not commend the Court.

Though the petitioner and his father had shown as proprietors of different concerns, but they operate from the same premises.

Further, in an earlier contract involving another employer, the petitioner had not only acted both for himself and his father, but had also issued cheques from the same account towards the contracts of himself and his father.

Above being a purely administrative matter, to fault the respondent employer’s decision there must be a case of either perversity in the decision or a colourable exercise on the part of the employer.

Bench expressed that even if the State cannot act in a matter of commercial contract in wholly unreasonable or arbitrary or capricious manner, its administrative decision cannot be put on the pedestal of a quasi-judicial decision.

Court added that as long as the respondent’s decision was reasonably supported by material on record and there was no case of victimization or colourable exercise, the decision could not be faulted.

There is nothing sacrosanct about finding the technical bid of a bidder responsive in a two bid system so as to make it obligatory on the employer to open the commercial bid. The employer may well come upon knowledge of some relevant information, which disqualifies the particular bidder, and in that case may choose not to open his commercial bid. If his disqualification is supported by some material on record, there is nothing further for this Court to inquire.

High Court found no merit in the grounds of challenge urged by the petitioner. [O.K. Marine v. ONGC, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 799, decided on 8-06-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Mr. R.D. Soni, i/b. Irvin D’souza, for the Petitioner

Dr. Abhinav Chandrachud, a/w. Mr. Nishit Dhruva, Mr. Prakash Shinde, Ms. Khushbu Chhajed, Mr. Abhishek Bhavsar and Ms. Alisha Shah, i/b. MDP & Partners, for Respondent Nos. 1 and 3.

Mr. Kunal Gaikwad, for Respondent No.4.

Mr. Karl Tamboly, a/w. Mr. Ramiz Shaikh and Mr. Akshay Bafna, i/b. Bafna Law Associates, for Respondent No.5.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Sanjeev Narula, J., decides a matter covering various aspects of the arbitration agreement.

Instant petition under Section 11 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act sought appointment of a Sole Arbitrator.

Respondent was called upon to file a reply to the petition vide Order 08-02-2021, but no reply was filed.

Factual Matrix

Parties entered into a Memorandum of understanding on 1-01-2020 with the objective of promoting their respective business interests and profitability.

In the MoU it was provided that both the parties agree that they shall not attempt to solicit, contact or attempt to contact employees of each other for the purpose of offering employment.

Disputes arose as MSD breached its obligations under Clause 2.4 as explained above. MSD also indulged in various criminal activities which violate the terms of MoU, such as tampering with the servers of IMZ, forcibly gaining access to the computer database and electronic records of IMZ, sending emails to clients of IMZ and further making a false allegation against the directors and employees of IMZ.

On being aggrieved with the above, IMZ invoked the arbitration. Since MSD did not respond to the notice of Delhi International Arbitration Centre, IMZ approached this Court by way of the present petition.

Analysis

High Court while analyzing the matter stated that in exercising jurisdiction under Section 11, Court needs to only examine if there is an existence of the arbitration agreement and whether there is the existence of arbitral disputes.

Supreme Court in the decision of Vidya Drolia v. Durga Trading Corporation, (2021) 2 SCC 1, observed that “the rule for the Court is ‘when in doubt, do refer”.

Therefore, it was noted that only in cases when ex-facie, the document appeared to be fabricated, that the Court would make a judicial enquiry. Mere allegation of fraud is not enough.

Bench stated that the purported veracity of the document in the present case, though disputed by MSD, was not sufficient to hold that the document is fraudulent, or that the Court should not proceed to appoint an Arbitrator.

Non-Compliance of Pre-Arbitration Procedure 

Arbitration clause stipulated that the parties shall attempt to resolve the disputes mutually through negotiations, falling which the same shall be referred to and decided by a sole arbitrator.

Bench found it to be surprising and irreconcilable that, on hand, MSD initiated criminal proceedings by filing an FIR against IMZ and on the other hand, it looked forward to mutually resolve the disputes through negotiation.

Moreover, in Court’s opinion, having regard to the ongoing litigation between directors of the parties before the NCLT, criminal proceedings, and conduct of the parties, relegating them to mutual negotiation to resolve the disputes would be an empty formality

 In such a situation which arose in the present matter, insistence on negotiation as a pre-condition to arbitration should not get in the way of the dispute resolution process agreed upon between the parties.

Non-payment of stamp duty on a commercial contract would invalidate the arbitration agreement?

High Court stated that the issue of stamping also stands covered by N.N. Global Mercantile (P) Ltd. v. Indo Unique Flame Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 13, wherein the Supreme Court in clear and unequivocal terms overruled the decisions in SMS Tea Estates (P) Ltd. v. Chandmari Tea Company (P) Ltd.,(2011) 14 SCC 66, and Garware Wall Ropes Ltd. v. Coastal Marine Constructions and Engg. Ltd., (2019) 9 SCC 209, however, the same was affirmed in Vidya Drolia v. Durga Trading Corporation, (2021) 2 SCC 1.

Thus, Court opined that the plea of agreement being unstamped wouldn’t prevent the Court in appointing an arbitrator while exercising jurisdiction under Section 11 of the Act.

IMZ established that the contingencies provided under Section 11(6) of the Act were satisfactorily made out. Hence the present petition was allowed.

Shashank Garg, Advocate was appointed as the Sole Arbitrator to adjudicate the disputes that arose between the parties under the MoU.

Appeal was allowed in view of the above terms. [IMZ Corporate (P) Ltd. v. MSD Telematics (P) Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine Del 3016, decided on 4-06-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For Petitioner: Mr Nikhil Malhotra, Advocate

Mr Devadatt Kamat, Senior Advocate with Mr Sumeet Lall,

Mr Sidhant Kapoor and Mr. Javedur Rehman, Advocates.

Case BriefsDistrict Court

State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, U.T. Chandigarh: The Coram of Justice Raj Shekhar Attri (President) and Padma Pandey, Rajesh K. Arya (Members) observed that a service provider cannot state that it was not obliged to provide any record/bills to the consumer, since a person who is spending hefty amount to receive the services has the right to know where, how and in what manner the money was spent.

Complainant had paid an amount of Rs 27 lakhs to the OPs for the construction of a residential house.

Regarding the completion of work, the complainant asked the OPs to provide the details of the bill, but to no avail and as a result, the complainant hired a professional to assess the work done.

After the assessment, it was found that the value of completion of work done by the OPs came to be Rs 16,77,629 whereas they received an amount of Rs 27 lakhs. Due to which the complainant stopped the work.

OPs extracted Rs 10,22, 371 extra from the complainant causing him financial loss and also failed to complete the construction work as per the agreement and demanded more amount.

In view of the above background, the Complainant sought directions to OPs to refund the excess amount.

OP’s Pleading

Opposite Parties pleaded that as per the agreement, the complainant was liable to pay an amount of Rs 62,84,800, Since 60% of the work was completed, the complainant was supposed to pay an amount of Rs 37,73, 880, out of which only Rs 27 lakhs were paid. OPs also submitted that the person who did the assessment was not an expert. Also, the complainant befooled the OP that his loan was going to get sanctioned and hence the OPs should continue the construction work, even in the absence of payment of remaining amount.

OPs also submitted that they were not obliged to provide the detail of bills for the said construction work.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Moot Question: Whether the OPs had received an excess amount from the complainant towards partial construction work of house done on his plot or not?

Bench opined that to come to any definite conclusion, an independent person qualified in the said field was required to be appointed to give his report resultantly, a Local Commissioner was appointed.

Unfair Trade Practice

Commission noted from the report of the Local Commissioner that through the material in the building and structure raised was as per the required specifications, yet the value of work which has been done at the site came to be Rs 15,04,630 only, whereas, on the other hand, the opposite parties have already received an amount of Rs 27 lacs from the complainant, which act clearly amounts to adoption of unfair trade practice.

Deficiency in Service

Adding to its analysis, Bench also stated that the complainant was right in seeking bills from the OPs. In fact, by not providing the bill, OPs were deficient in providing service.

OPs cannot wriggle out of the situation by stating that they were not obliged to provide any record/bills to the complainant, as the same was not agreed to between the parties, because every person who is shredding hefty amount from his pocket towards the services being provided to him, has the right to know as to how, where and in what manner, the same has been utilized.

Conclusion

Commission directed OPs to refund the amount of Rs 11, 95, 370 received in excess along with 12% interest within a period of 30 days.

To pay compensation for causing mental agony and harassment and also cost of litigation, in lumpsum, to the tune of Rs 50,000/-, to the complainant, within a period of 30 days

If the complainant had availed housing loan from any bank/financial institution for making payment towards price of plot in question, it shall have the first charge on the amount payable, to the extent, the same was due to be paid by the complainant. [Mubarak Masih v. Gautam Construction Company, Complaint Case No. 57 of 2019, decided on 27-05-2021]


Advocates before the Commission:

Abhishek Bhateja, Advocate for the complainant.

N.K. Nagar, Advocate for the opposite parties.

Op EdsOP. ED.

Background

Section 27 of the Contract Act, 18721 (ICA) dealing with agreement in restraint of trade states as under:

(1) Every agreement by which any one is restrained from exercising a lawful profession, trade or business of any kind, is to that extent void.

Exception 1.― Saving of agreement not to carry on business of which goodwill is sold–

One who sells the goodwill of a business may agree with the buyer to refrain from carrying on a similar business, within specified local limits; so long as the buyer, or any person deriving title to the goodwill from him, carries on a like business therein:

Provided that such limits appear to the Court reasonable, regard being had to the nature of the business.

It thus provides that an agreement restraining a person from carrying on a lawful profession, trade or business is void to that extent. However, an agreement not to carry on within specified local limits, a business similar to the business of which goodwill is sold, can be enforced, provided the limits of restraint are reasonable.

The provision regarding restraint of trade has been lifted from David D. Field’s Draft Code for New York which was based upon the old English doctrine of restraint of trade, as prevailing in ancient times. While construing the provisions of Section 27, the High Courts in India have held that neither the test of reasonableness nor the principle that the restraint being partial or reasonable are applicable to a case governed by Section 27 of the Contract Act, unless it falls within the exception.

The original draft of the Law Commission did not contain any provision regarding restraint of trade. But the provision of Section 27 was introduced afterwards at the time of enactment, the main object being to protect trade in India. The Law Commission in its Thirteenth Report2 had recommended that the provision should be suitably amended to allow such restrictions and all contracts in restraint of trade, general or partial, as were reasonable, in the interest of the parties as well as of the public. However, no action had been taken on the said recommendation.

Scope

The section is general in nature, and declares all agreements in restraint of trade void, pro tanto, except in the case specified in the exception. The section lays down a very rigid rule invalidating restraints, not only general restraints but also partial ones, and also restricts the exception of narrow local limits.

Broadly, agreements in restraint of trade are those in which one or both parties limit their freedom to work or carry on their profession or business in some way. Such agreements are often criticised because they conflict with public interest, and because they are unfair in unduly restricting personal freedom.

In a sense, every promise relating to business dealings operates as a restraint of trade, because it restricts the promisor’s future liability. It is the restraint which is “unreasonably detrimental to a freely competitive private economy”. (Farnsworth, Contracts, 3rd edn., p. 331). Further Lord Birkenhead laid down two tests to decide whether an agreement is in restraint of trade. They are:

(a) Whether it is reasonable as between parties.

(b) Whether it is consistent with the intent of public.

The Delhi High Court in Modicare Ltd. v. Gautam Bali2, has explained the validity of Section 27 of ICA as:

  1. Section 27 of the Contract Act makes void i.e. unenforceable, every agreement by which anyone is restrained from exercising a lawful profession, trade or business of any kind. Thus, even if the defendants or any of them, under their agreement with the plaintiff, had undertaken not to carry on or be involved in any capacity in any business competing with the business of the plaintiff, even after leaving employment with/association of the plaintiff, the said agreement, owing to Section 27 supra, would be void and unenforceable and the plaintiff on the basis thereof could not have restrained any of the defendants from carrying on any business or vocation, even if the one which the defendant had agreed not to carry on. I find it incongruous that the law, on the one hand would disable a plaintiff from enforcing a contract where the defendant had voluntarily agreed not to do something, by going to the extent of declaring such contract void, but on the other hand, enable the same plaintiff to the same relief under the law of tort. To hold so, would make the law look like an ass.
  2. Section 27, contained in a legislation of the year 1872, on promulgation of the Constitution of India in the year 1950, conferring the right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business, the status of a fundamental right, under Article 19(1)(g) thereof, today has a different connotation. Article 19(6) only clarifies that nothing contained in clause (g) shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law, imposing in the interest of general public, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of right conferred by the said clause. Thus, restrictions, in the interest of general public and if reasonable, to the fundamental right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business, can be imposed only by law. The law of tort of unreasonable interference in carrying on business, in view of Section 27 of the Contract Act in force since 1872, was not the existing law within the meaning of Article 19(6) of the Constitution.

 Restrictive nature of covenants in the agreement

A contract may have several covenants, which may be positive, negative, general or partial. In contacts containing negative obligations, the restraint is direct. When a positive obligation limits freedom, it imposes an indirect restraint and can be equally restrictive or unreasonable as a negative obligation.

The principle of restraint of trade and restrictive nature of covenants in agreements have been elucidated by several courts in a plethora of judgments. In Navigators Logistics Ltd. v. Kashif Qureshi3, the Delhi High Court has explained the validity of Section 27, ICA as:

  1. Section 27 of the Contract Act is as under:

* * *

  1. The interpretation of Section 27 of the Contract Act is not res integra.

56. Applying the aforesaid law to the facts of the present case, it is found that as per the plaintiff also, there was no fixed term for which either of Defendants 1 to 8 had agreed to serve the plaintiff. The clause in the employment contract claimed by the plaintiff also is to the effect that Defendants 1 to 8, for a period of one year after ceasing to be the employee of the plaintiff, to not compete with the plaintiff. Such a clause in the employment contract, as per the judgments aforesaid of the Supreme Court, is void under Section 27 of the Contract Act. Once the clause is void, there can be no injunction or damages in lieu of injunction on the basis thereof.

The High Court of Delhi in Arvinder Singh v. Lal Pathlabs (P) Ltd.4, has explained the principle of Section 27, ICA as under:

  1. As per Section 27 of the Contract Act every agreement by which any one is restrained from exercising a lawful profession, trade or business of any kind is to that extend void. It is the exception which protects from being void such an agreement provided the conditions envisaged by the exceptions are satisfied. The condition for the exception is that if the goodwill of a business has been sold, an agreement to refrain from carrying on similar business, if it appears to the Court to be reasonable, would be protected and would be enforced.
  1. The words “profession” “trade” and “business” used in Section 27 are specific words and we see no scope to give meaning to the word profession applying the rule of noscitur a sociis.
  1.  The reasoning of the learned Single Judge is obviously on the basis that the activity of a profession is akin to that of a business, for if this was not the reasoning, the exception to Section 27 of the Contract Act would not even apply. Such agreements not to carry on business if goodwill of a business is sold, subject to the restriction being reasonable, are alone carved out from the general embargo embossed by Section 27 of the Contract Act.
  1. The sweep of the span of the injunction to prohibit the appellants to carry on their profession as pathologist or radiologist in any manner whatsoever would render the appellants incapable of working as a pathologist or radiologist in any capacity whatsoever, and this would be contrary to Section 27 of the Contract Act.

In Percept D’Mark (India) (P) Ltd. v. Zaheer Khan5, the Supreme Court explained the provisions of Section 27, ICA as under:

  1. If the negative covenant or obligation under Clause 31(b) is sought to be enforced beyond the term i.e. if it is enforced as against a contract entered into on 20-11-2003 which came into effect on 1-12-2003, then it constitutes an unlawful restriction on Respondent 1’s freedom to enter into fiduciary relationships with persons of his choice, and a compulsion on him to forcibly enter into a fresh contract with the appellant even though he has fully performed the previous contract, and is, therefore, a restraint of trade which is void under Section 27 of the Contract Act.
  2. Under Section 27 of the Contract Act: (a) a restrictive covenant extending beyond the term of the contract is void and not enforceable; (b) the doctrine of restraint of trade does not apply during the continuance of the contract for employment and it applies only when the contract comes to an end; and (c) As held by this Court in Gujarat Bottling Co. Ltd. v. Coca Cola Co.6, this doctrine is not confined only to contracts of employment, but is also applicable to all other contracts.

Construing the section in its literal terms, the section only deals with agreements which operate as a total bar to the exercise of a lawful business, and does not cover agreements which merely restrain freedom of action in actual exercise of a lawful business. The above principle was emphasised by the Supreme Court in Gujarat Bottling Co. Ltd. v. Coca Cola Co.7, as:

  1. There is a growing trend to regulate distribution of goods and services through franchise agreements providing for grant of franchise by the franchiser on certain terms and conditions to the franchisee. Such agreements often incorporate a condition that the franchisee shall not deal with competing goods. Such a condition restricting the right of the franchisee to deal with competing goods is for facilitating the distribution of the goods of the franchiser and it cannot be regarded as in restraint of trade.
  1. If the negative stipulation contained in paragraph 14 of the 1993 Agreement is considered in the light of the observations in Esso Petroleum Co. Ltd. v. Harper’s Garage (Stourport) Ltd.8, it will be found that the 1993 Agreement is an agreement for grant of franchise by Coca Cola to GBC to manufacture, bottle, sell and distribute the various beverages for which the trade marks were acquired by Coca Cola. The 1993 Agreement is thus a commercial agreement whereunder both the parties have undertaken obligations for promoting the trade in beverages for their mutual benefit. The purpose underlying paragraph 14 of the said agreement is to promote the trade and the negative stipulation under challenge seeks to achieve the said purpose by requiring GBC to wholeheartedly apply to promoting the sale of the products of Coca Cola. In that context, it is also relevant to mention that the said negative stipulation operates only during the period the agreement is in operation because of the express use of the words “during the subsistence of this agreement including the period of one year as contemplated in paragraph 21” in paragraph 14. Except in cases where the contract is wholly one sided, normally the doctrine of restraint of trade is not attracted in cases where the restriction is to operate during the period the contract is subsisting and it applies in respect of a restriction which operates after the termination of the contract.
  1. Shri Shanti Bhushan has submitted that these observations must be confined only to contracts of employment and that this principle does not apply to other contracts. We are unable to agree. We find no rational basis for confining this principle to a contract for employment and excluding its application to other contracts. The underlying principle governing contracts in restraint of trade is the same and as a matter of fact that courts take a more restricted and less favourable view in respect of a covenant entered into between an employer and an employee as compared to a covenant between a vendor and a purchaser or partnership agreements. 
  1. Since the negative stipulation in paragraph 14 of the 1993 Agreement is confined in its application to the period of subsistence of the agreement and the restriction imposed therein is operative only during the period the 1993 Agreement is subsisting, the said stipulation cannot be held to be in restraint of trade so as to attract the bar of Section 27 of the Contract Act. We are, therefore, unable to uphold the contention of Shri Shanti Bhushan that the negative stipulation contained in paragraph 14 of the 1993 Agreement, being in restraint of trade, is void under Section 27 of the Contract Act.

In Niranjan Shankar Golikari v. Century Spg. and Mfg. Co. Ltd.9, the Supreme Court held that restraint of trade may be good if shown to be reasonably necessary for freedom of trade. The Court has held thus:

  1. As to what constitutes restraint of trade is summarised in Halsbury’s Laws of England (3rd edn.), Vol. 38, at p. 15 and onwards. It is a general principle of the common law that a person is entitled to exercise his lawful trade or calling as and when he wills and the law has always regarded jealously any interference with trade, even at the risk of interference with freedom of contract as it is public policy to oppose all restraints upon liberty of individual action which are injurious to the interests of the State. This principle is not confined to restraint of trade in the ordinary meaning of the word “trade” and includes restraints on the right of being employed …The rule now is that restraints whether general or partial may be good if they are reasonable. A restraint upon freedom of contract must be shown to be reasonably necessary for the purpose of freedom of trade. A restraint reasonably necessary for the protection of the covenantee must prevail unless some specific ground of public policy can be clearly established against it … A person may be restrained from carrying on his trade by reason of an agreement voluntarily entered into by him with that object. In such a case the general principle of freedom of trade must be applied with due regard to the principle that public policy requires for men of full age and understanding the utmost freedom of contract and that it is public policy to allow a trader to dispose of his business to successor by whom it may be efficiently carried on and to afford to an employer an unrestricted choice of able assistants and the opportunity to instruct them in his trade and its secrets without fear of their becoming his competitors (Fitch Dewes10). Where an agreement is challenged on the ground of its being a restraint of trade the onus is upon the party supporting the contract to show that the restraint is reasonably necessary to protect his interests. Once, this onus is discharged, the onus of showing that the restraint is nevertheless injurious to the public is upon the party attacking the contract.

 Recently, the Delhi High Court in Aakash Educational Services Ltd. v. Sahib Sital Singh Bajwa11, reiterated the position of law on the scope of enforceability of negative covenants in a commercial contract, holding that once a contract is terminated, a negative covenant thereunder to restrict the trade, business or profession of any party is hit by Section 27 of ICA. The court also held that while such negative covenants may be legal during the subsistence or currency of the contract, however, post termination of the contract, barring exceptional cases, they will be unenforceable.

Partnership contracts 

A number of exceptions to Section 27, ICA have been incorporated in the Partnership Act 1932 (IPA), keeping in view the overall importance of the common partnership business. Such exceptions pertain to agreements between partners in four situations:

(a) during continuance of business;

(b) at the time of any partner ceasing to be a partner;

(c) at time of dissolution of the firm; and

(d) on sale of goodwill of the firm.

Section 11 of IPA authorises the partners to determine their mutual rights and duties themselves trough a mutual agreement, which may be express or implied. The section further explains that an agreement, whereby it is agreed that a partner shall not carry-on business other than that of the firm while he is a partner, is valid.

As per Section 36, IPA, when a partner ceases to be a partner in the firm and his accounts are settled, he may be required to make an agreement that after he ceases to be a partner, he shall not carry on any business similar to that of the firm within a specified period or within specified local limits. Such an agreement tends to protect the interest of partners still continuing the business, and therefore held to be valid.

Section 54 of IPA states that on dissolution of the firm, some of the partners may procure an agreement from other partner(s), the latter agreeing not to carry on business similar to that of a firm. Such an agreement shall also be valid provided the local limits or the limit of time in respect of which the restrictions are imposed, are reasonable.

As per Section 55, on the sale of goodwill there may be an agreement between the partners and the buyer of goodwill, that the partners shall not carry on any business similar to that of the firm within a specified period or within specified local limits. Such an agreement has been held to be valid.

In Hukmi Chand v. Jaipur Ice & Oil Mills Co.12, the Jaipur Bench of Rajasthan High Court has upheld the validity of the agreement entered into between a retiring partner and the other partners, wherein the former sold his share of goodwill and agreed not to carry on similar business on the adjoining plot of land, which came to his share. The Court further held that the burden of proof that the restrictions imposed in any agreement of restraint of trade are reasonable, is on the party which pleads them as reasonable. 

Contracts of service

There are also several cases where restraints are placed on personal service during the subsistence of personal service contract, and it has held that such restraint would be reasonable only during the period of such contacts and not beyond that.

 The Delhi High Court in K.D. Campus (P) Ltd. v. Metis Eduventures (P) Ltd. India13, has held that once the employer has treated the employment contract of the employee as terminated, then he cannot proceed to enforce any negative covenant as against the employee. The Court held as under:

  1. In the present case the contract of employment has admittedly been prematurely terminated. According to the plaintiff, unilaterally and illegally by the defendants No. 2 to 8. It is not the case of the plaintiff that the plaintiff, notwithstanding such unilateral and illegal termination of the contract of employment by the defendants No. 2 to 8, is continuing to treat the defendants No. 2 to 8 as in the employment of the plaintiff or is continuing to pay the emoluments which the plaintiff under the contract had agreed to pay to the defendants No. 2 to 8. Rather, it is the plea of the defendants No. 2 to 8 that their past emoluments, for the period for which they served the plaintiff, were also not paid and which compelled them to look for employment elsewhere. Once the plaintiff itself is treating the contract of employment with each of the defendants No. 2 to 8 as terminated and has stopped performing his obligations under the said contract to the defendants No 2 to 8, in my view the present case would fall in the genre of employer seeking to enforce the negative covenant after the termination of service and which is not permissible in law. 
  1. In my opinion, it is only during the period for which the employee continues to serve the employer and receives emoluments from the employer can the employer enforce the negative covenant unless it is shown that the enforcement of negative covenant beyond the period of wrongful repudiation of the contract is necessary to protect the interest of the employer. However, such restraint can be to protect any proprietary right of the employer and not to prevent competition. 
  1. The plaintiff in the present case has indeed not shown any proprietary right which may be infringed by Defendants 2 to 8 joining employment elsewhere or by indulging in the activity of teaching. Moreover, Defendants 2 to 6 who are teachers cannot be expected to teach any subject other than that in which they are qualified to teach and it is also not the plea that they are capable of getting employment elsewhere in any other capacity. We are today living in an age where employment avenues are scarce and if Defendants 2 to 8 are restrained as sought, they would necessarily be driven to idleness and a state of penury.

In Superintendence Co. of India (P) Ltd. v. Krishan Murgai14, the Supreme Court has also affirmed that any negative covenant beyond the termination of the service is void. The Court has held as under:

  1. Under Section 27 of the Contract Act, a service covenant extended beyond the termination of the service is void. Not a single Indian decision has been brought to our notice where an injunction has been granted against an employee after the termination of his employment.
  2. On a true construction of Clause 10 of the agreement, the negative covenant not to serve elsewhere or enter into a competitive business does not, in my view, arise when the employee does not leave the services but is dismissed from service. Wrongful dismissal is a repudiation of contract of service which relieves the employee of the restrictive covenant.

 Protection of trade secrets and confidential information

 In an employment contract, the employer has trade secrets and business connections, worthy of protection. In case of restraints in contracts of employment, it is necessary to show that employee has entered into a contract with a customer, or has trade secrets of the employer. An employer can lawfully prohibit his employee from accepting any position, after determination of his employment, where the employee is likely to utilise the information of trade secrets acquired by him. 

Trade combinations

 Agreements between traders to combine and regulate their business for the purpose of promoting their common interest are not considered to be against public policy and consequently not in restraint of trade. The main objective of making such agreement is to avoid competition between themselves by mechanism such as fixing minimum process, pooling their resources, regulating supply of goods and services, pooling profits and distributing the same as per some agreed formula. Similarly, if two or more persons agree to jointly carry on their business and avoid competition among themselves or even to monopolise the trade, is nothing but doing lawful act of promoting their commercial interest, and the same is valid.

Though an agreement between persons to regulate their own trade is valid, a bare agreement in restraint of competition is void. Such an agreement would be valid if it is ancillary to their commercial interest and is also consistent to public interest.

 Solus agreements

 There may be agreements where one party is to deal exclusively with the product of a particular producer or manufacturer and not to deal with any other person. Such agreements are called solus or exclusive dealing agreements. For example, a buyer of a certain commodity may agree that he will purchase all his requirements from a particular manufacturer only, or vice-versa. The validity of such agreements depends on the object of the parties. Such a type of agreement would be valid if it is reasonable for benefiting the parties to the agreement, and if such agreement aims at putting undue restrictions by one party on the other with an objective to monopolise trade, then such an agreement is void.

Exception – Sale of goodwill

Regarding the exception to the section relating to sale of goodwill, when a person sells the goodwill of his business, he may give an undertaking to the buyer of the goodwill that he will not carry on that kind of business of which the goodwill is being sold. Such an agreement puts a restraint on the seller of the goodwill, but the same is valid for the purpose of protection of interest of the buyer of goodwill, for which he has paid the consideration. When there is no sale of goodwill of a business, an agreement not to carry on such business would be against public policy and therefore void. Therefore, the scope of exception to Section 27 is limited. Further it would operate only so long as the buyer or a person deriving title from him carries on a business for lifetime. Further, the restrictive covenant would strand extinguished when the goodwill comes to an end.


  Advocate and a qualified Chartered Accountant, presently practising at Supreme Court and Delhi High Court.

1 <http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/47U3hio9>.

2 <http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/PAfjro2g>.

2 2019 SCC OnLine Del 10511

3 2018 SCC OnLine Del 11321.

4 2015 SCC OnLine Del 8337

5 (2006) 4 SCC 227.

6 (1995) 5 SCC 545

7 (1995) 5 SCC 545

8 1968 AC 269 : (1967) 2 WLR 871.

9 (1967) 2 SCR 378

10 (1921) 2 AC 158.

11 2020 SCC OnLine Del 1719

12 1980 SCC OnLine Raj 58

13 2018 SCC OnLine Del 13366

14 (1981) 2 SCC 246.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: In the notable ruling of Amazon v. Future Retail, J.R. Midha, J. of Delhi High Court considered three crucial questions:

♦ What is the legal status of an Emergency Arbitrator?

♦ Whether the Emergency Arbitrator misapplied the Group of Companies doctrine which applies only to proceedings under Section 8 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act?

♦ Whether the interim order of Emergency Arbitrator is Nullity?

Amazon.com invested Rs 1431 Crore in Future Coupons Private Limited (FCPL) based on certain special, material protective/negative rights available to FCPL in Future Retail Limited (FRL), namely, that the Retail Assets of FRL would not be alienated without the prior written consent of Amazon.com (Petitioner), and never to a Restricted Person. Further, an agreement was attained wherein it was stated FRL would be the sole vehicle for the conduct of FCPL and FRL’s conduct of business, resulting in benefit of the entire investment to FRL.

Within months of investment it was noted that the Biyanis which controls FRL breached the agreements by violating the contractual obligations, approved transaction relating to the transfer of its retail assets to Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani Group (MDA) which is a Restricted Person as per Shareholders’ Agreement between petitioner and respondents (FCPL-SHA) [Disputed Transaction].

Timeline of Events:

05-10-2020
  • Arbitration Proceedings initiated.
  • Application filed to seek an ‘Emergency Interim Relief to restrain respondents from pursuing Disputed Transaction.
06-10-2020
  • Respondent 2 raised an objection with respect to Emergency Arbitrator’s jurisdiction.
09-10-2020
  • Petitioner requested for status quo to be maintained, however, respondents declined to give any assurance during the pendency of proceedings before the Emergency Arbitrator.
13-10-2020

Emergency Arbitrator called upon both the parties to submit their response pertaining to the following 4 Supreme Court Judgments:

Respondents raised objection to Emergency Arbitrator’s Jurisdiction.

16-10-2020 Arbitrator heard all the parties.
25-10-2020

Emergency Arbitrator passed an interim order and held that:

“the Emergency Arbitrator is an Arbitral Tribunal for all intents and purposes. The Emergency Arbitrator further noted that the Emergency Arbitrators are recognized under the Indian Arbitration framework.

Arbitrator observed that the petitioner made out a strong prima facie case that respondents were in breach of the contractual obligations. Further, the arbitrator added that the petitioner would suffer irreparable injury if the interim injunction was not granted.

Conclusion of Emergency Arbitrator

Petitioner has a strong prima facie case on the merits of the dispute, the petitioner’s rights under the FCPL-SHA, the SSA, and the FRL-SHA (insofar as it has been incorporated into the FCPL SHA) have been apparently compromised by the Respondents and the Respondents have given no good legal reasons for effecting the sale of FRL’s Retail Assets to the Restricted Person behind the petitioner’s back.

Point-Wise Analysis of the crucial questions raised in the present matter:

Legal Status

 Status of an Emergency Arbitrator is solely based on the party autonomy and the powers of such an arbitrator are similar to Arbitral Tribunal to decide an interim measure. Though Arbitral Tribunal is empowered to reconsider, modify, terminate or annul the order/award of the Emergency Arbitrator.

Emergency Arbitration is a very effective and expeditious mechanism to deal with the Emergency Interim Relief Application and has added a new dimension to the protection of the rights of the parties.

With this mechanism, a litigant gets justice within 15 days, though if the order of Emergency Arbitrator is not enforced, it would make the entire mechanism redundant.

In the present matter, by agreeing to incorporate the Rules of SIAC into the arbitration agreement, parties agreed to the provisions relating to Emergency Arbitration.

Current legal framework is sufficient to recognize the Emergency Arbitration and no amendment in this regard was required.

Section 2(1)(d) defines “arbitral tribunal” to mean a sole arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators, it is wide enough to include Emergency Arbitrator.

Under Section 17(1) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, the Arbitral Tribunal has the same powers to make interim order, as the Court has, and Section 17(2) makes such interim order enforceable in the same manner as if it was an order of the Court. The Interim Order is appealable under Section 37 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act.

Whether Doctrine of Group of Companies applies only to proceedings under Section 8 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act? 

Law relating to the Group of Companies doctrine is well settled by the Supreme Court in Chloro Controls India Private Limited v. Sever N Trent Water Purification Inc., (2013) 1 SCC 641, Cheran Properties Limited v. Kasturi and Sons Limited, (2018) 16 SCC 413 and MTNL v. Canara Bank, (2020) 12 SCC 767.

Group of Companies doctrine binds the non-signatory entity where the multiple agreements reflect a clear intention of the parties to bind both the signatory and non-signatory entities within the same Group.

 Supreme Court has laid down various tests for invoking the said doctrine.

Following are the Tests:

  • direct relationship to the party signatory to the arbitration agreement,
  • direct commonality of the subject-matter and
  • the agreement between the parties being a composite transaction.
  • The transaction should be of a composite nature where performance of the mother agreement may not be feasible without aid, execution and performance of the supplementary or ancillary agreements, for achieving the common object and collectively having bearing on the dispute.
  • Besides all this, the Court has to examine whether a composite reference of such parties would serve the ends of justice.

Bench also observed that the said doctrine has been very succinctly explained in the 4th Edition of Malhotra’s Commentary on the Law of Arbitration by Justice Indu Malhotra.

Here’s a Summary for a quick glance at the principles laid down by the Supreme Court on Group of Companies doctrine:

  • As the law has evolved, it has recognised that modern business transactions are often effectuated through multiple layers and agreements. There may be transactions within a Group of Companies. The circumstances in which they have entered into them may reflect an intention to bind both signatory and non-signatory entities within the same group.
  • The Group of Companies doctrine is essentially intended to facilitate the fulfilment of a mutually held intent between the parties, where the circumstances indicate that the intent was to bind both signatories and non-signatories. The effort is to find the true essence of the business arrangement and to unravel from a layered structure of commercial arrangements, an intent to bind someone who is not formally a signatory but has assumed the obligation to be bound by the actions of a signatory.
  • Doctrine can be invoked to bind a non-signatory entity where a Group of Companies exist and the parties have engaged in conduct, such as negotiation or performance of the relevant contract or made statements indicating the intention assessed objectively and in good faith, that the non-signatory be bound and benefited by the relevant contracts.
  • Doctrine will bind a non-signatory entity where an arbitration agreement is entered into by a company, being one within a group of companies, if the circumstances demonstrate that the mutual intention of all the parties was to bind the signatories and non-signatory affiliates.
  • A non-signatory party can be subjected to arbitration where there was a clear intention of the parties to bind both, the signatory as well as the non-signatory parties who are part of Group of Companies. In other words, ―the intention of the parties‖ is a very significant feature that must be established before the scope of arbitration can be said to include the signatory as well as the non-signatory parties.
  • Direct relationship to the party signatory to the arbitration agreement, direct commonality of the subject-matter and the agreement between the parties being a composite transaction. The transaction should be of a composite nature where performance of the mother agreement may not be feasible without aid, execution and performance of the supplementary or ancillary agreements, for achieving the common object and collectively having bearing on the dispute. Besides all this, the Court has to examine whether a composite reference of such parties would serve the ends of justice.
  • Where the agreements are consequential and in the nature of a follow-up to the principal or mother agreement, the latter containing the arbitration agreement and such agreements being so intrinsically intermingled or interdependent that it is their composite performance which shall discharge the parties of their respective mutual obligations and performances, this would be a sufficient indicator of intent of the parties to refer signatory as well as non-signatory parties to arbitration. The principle of ‚composite performance would have to be gathered from the conjoint reading of the principal and supplementary agreements on the one hand and the explicit intention of the parties and the attendant circumstances on the other.
  • While ascertaining the intention of the parties, attempt should be made to give meaning and effect to the incorporation clause and not to invalidate or frustrate it by giving it a literal, pedantic and technical reading.
  • Tests laid down are:

◊ The conduct of the parties reflect a clear intention of the parties to bind both the signatory as well as the non-signatory parties.

◊ The non-signatory company is a necessary party with reference to the common intention of the parties.

◊ The non-signatory entity of the group has been engaged in the negotiation or performance of the contract.

◊ The non-signatory entity of the group has made statements indicating its intention to be bound by the contract.

◊ A direct relationship between the signatory to the arbitration agreement and the non-signatory entity of the group; direct commonality of the subject-matter and composite nature of transaction between the parties.

◊ The performance of the agreement may not be feasible without the aid, execution and performance of the supplementary or ancillary agreement for achieving the common object.

◊ There is a tight group structure with strong organizational and financial links so as to constitute a single economic unit or a single economic reality.

◊ The funds of one company are used to financially support or restructure other members of the group.

◊ The composite reference of disputes of fresh parties would serve the ends of justice.

Bench in view of the above, decided that the Group of Companies Doctrine is applicable to the present case and respondent 2 is a proper party to the proceedings – Why? Lets’ read the reasons:

  • Signatory and non-signatory company (FRL) belong to the same Biyanis
  • Parties Conduct reflected clear intention to bind the signatory as well as non-signatory company (FRL) of Biyanis
  • Common negotiating and legal team represented the signatory and non-signatory company (FRL).
  • Statutory disclosure made by the non-signatory company to the public.
  • Direct relationship of the non-signatory company to the signatory company of the Group, direct commonality of the subject matter and composite nature of transactions.
  • Funds of Signatory Company used to financially support the non-signatory company of the Group.
  • Agreements are so intrinsically intermingled that their composite performance only shall discharge the parties of their respective mutual obligations.
  • Common intention of all the parties, to arbitrate.
  • Supreme Court’s observation in the decision of Cheran Properties Limited v. Kasturi and Sons Limited, (2018) 16 SCC 413 would squarely apply to the present matter.

Whether the Interim Order is Nullity?

In Court’s opinion, respondent plea of Nullity is to mislead this Court.

Bench agreed with the Emergency Arbitrator that the protective rights do not amount to control of the petitioner over FRL and do not violate the law.

In the present matter, since the respondents were continuing to violate the agreement even after the Emergency Arbitrator’s decision, the petitioner approached this Court for enforcement of the interim order of the Emergency Arbitrator.

Respondents did not dispute the breach of the agreements either before the Emergency Arbitrator or before this Court.

High Court noted that the whole thrust of the respondents before this Court is that the petitioner is a trillion-dollar company and Rs 1430 crore invested by them in the present case is peanuts for them and they should forget about this money as it is worth zero today.

Bench also quoted the senior counsel for respondent 2 for the above-said observation:

“…What happens to his 1430 crores………that is worth zero today. FRL is zero. FCPL coupon business is gone. For this American behemoth, 1400 crore would be rounded off………..”

Before parting with this decision, High Court stated that Emergency Arbitrator, V.K. Rajah SC is a well-known jurist.

Conclusion

All the objections raised by the respondents were rejected with a cost of Rs 20,00,000 to be deposited by the respondents with the Prime Minister Relief Fund for being used for providing COVID vaccination to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category – senior citizens of Delhi.

Since the respondents deliberately and willfully violated the interim order, hence they are liable for the consequences enumerated in Order XXXIX Rule 2A of the Code of Civil Procedure.[Amazon.Com NV Investment Holdings LLC v. Future Coupons (P) Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine Del 1279, decided on 18-03-2021]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT): Justice Shiva Kirti Singh dismissed the petition being devoid of merits.

Facts

The facts of the case are such that the petitioner is a Multi-System Operator i.e. MSO and Respondent 1 is a Local Cable Operator i.e. LCO in Andhra Pradesh within the area of operation of the petitioner. Respondent 2 is a competing MSO of the petitioner in the same area. All the three by the nature of their business activities fall within the definition of “service provider” in terms of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1995 (TRAI Act). Hence the instant petition was filed praying to pass an order directing Respondent 1 to handover set-top boxes, viewing cards and other equipment to the Petitioner before the Tribunal.

Issue

The issue of maintainability has been raised by Respondent 1 on the ground that the petitioner and respondent are in a business relationship of a different nature than that of an MSO and LCO because successive agreements between them are not an InterConnect Agreement but only a “Digital Cable TV Signal Distribution Agreement”

Arguments

Counsel for the petitioner Upender Thakur submitted that Respondent 1 is a local cable operator and he approached the petitioner seeking supply of TV channel signals in the area of its operation i.e. Srikakulam town as per Distribution Agreements

Counsel for the respondent Nittin Bhatia and Nasir Husain submitted that this Tribunal has jurisdiction to try and adjudicate disputes between a licensor and a licensee or between two service providers or a service provider and a group of consumers. It was further submitted that since the disputes arise out of a Distribution Agreement and not from a simple Inter Connect Agreement, therefore it is not a dispute in the capacity of service providers and Clause 24 mentions that any dispute arising in relation to business will be tried only within the jurisdiction of Vishakhapatnam courts only. He further submitted that the petitioner and Respondent 1 do not have a valid interconnection agreement because in terms of relevant regulations framed by TRAI an MSO and LCO must sign either a Model Interconnection Agreement (MIA) or a Standard Interconnection Agreement (SIA) as per the format provided under the Regulations.

Observations

The Court observed that the labeling of the agreement as a “Digital Cable TV Signals Distribution Agreement” in place of a simply “Agreement” or Interconnect Agreement” does not make any difference. The subsisting agreement between the parties lays down the territory or the area and other commercial terms under which the petitioner is required to issue a tax invoice to Respondent 1 on monthly basis towards subscription as per norms. The Commission of Respondent 1 has also been determined under the Agreement with the liability to maintain proper accounts and other commercial papers. The liability of the petitioner is limited to providing of digital cable TV signals only and it is not at all concerned with the business activities of respondent 1.

Decision

The Court thus held that in the present case it is found that the Digital Cable TV Signal Distribution Agreement has the basic ingredients of an interconnection agreement executed between the petitioner and respondent 1 in their respective capacity as MSO and LCO. Hence the issue of maintainability stands no merit.

In view of the above, petition was dismissed.[Sreedevi Digital Systems Pvt. Ltd. v. Jallepalli Kurmanayakulu, 2021 SCC OnLine TDSAT 94, decided on 12-03-2021]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): Anup Thakur (Presiding Member), held that a person who purchases a fully constructed real estate property (a Villa in the present case) with eyes wide open, cannot subsequently claim what all was offered in the original brochure.

Gist of the Case

In the instant matter, appellants case was that the complainant was an individual who had bought and moved into his villa in April, 2013 with his eyes wide open, under a specific agreement.

In light of the above, complainants could not file and maintain a consumer complaint qua the common items/concerns of all the other residents of the project.

Senior Counsel for the Appellants raised the following issues:

(i) Whether after having taken possession of the Villa, it was permissible to raise grievances regarding defects, given that the complainants had purchased an already constructed villa and had thus done so with their eyes wide open;

(ii) Whether the complainant, being one individual occupying one villa from out of 97 villas and 47 apartments in a housing complex could seek reliefs affecting all other residents, through an individual consumer complaint;

(iii) a sub-issue was whether the State Commission could have granted both reliefs which were, in fact, sought as an alternative to each other.

Analysis and Decision

Bench stated that complainant’s grievance qua the clubhouse as being only for the exclusive use of the residents of the villa, to the exclusive of all others, cannot stand. As per the agreement referred above, the complainant was provided with the facility of a clubhouse and he had paid a fee for it, in a similar manner, others including the apartment owners had also paid a fee for the use of the clubhouse.

Therefore, the Commission was unable to understand regarding how the complainant, in his individual capacity was claiming exclusiveness of the clubhouse only for the residents of the villa.

With regarding making demands by referring to the brochure, Commission answered the complainant that as far as the complainant was concerned, he visited the site, the villa, liked what he saw, signed an agreement, and was given possession of that, within a few months. The complainant clearly did all this with his eyes wide open. It was therefore not for him to now refer to what all had been promised in the brochure(s) and start making demands based on that.

Bench on perusal of the record opined that the instant appeal against the impugned order of the State Commission deserved consideration and could be partly allowed.

State Commission’s Order

Firstly the OP was directed to pay a consolidated amount of Rs 2 Lakh as compensation for the defects and deficiencies in the construction. The said order was evidence-based and for the said reason it is to be upheld.

Bench in view of the above considered it just that the amount of Rs 2 lakh be paid with simple interest of 6% per annum.

Bench however did not agree with the rest of the State Commission’s Order viz.

  • restraining OP from extending the clubhouse facilities to others,
  • directing the OPs to construct 6’ feet high boundary wall on the fourth remaining side of the campus
  • directing the OPs to construct 30’ X 40’ CC road at the entrance and in the entire campus.

Commission expressed that there was nothing in the complaint petition to show that there was even a claim that all other villa residents were of the same view. Indeed, if this had been the case, the complainant would have then filed a joint complaint or have come through the Association of villa owners.

Bench appreciated that the complainants had signed the agreement, after applying their mind to the aspects of community living in a villa in a project which had 96 other villas and that they were not the original allottees; rather, they came in January 2013, saw the villa, were satisfied with what they saw and were told, and then, with eyes wide open, signed the agreement.

The agreement in itself clearly spelt out that it would alone henceforth govern the relationship between the complainant and the OP.

Clause 4 of the agreement made the above aspect abundantly clear:

“4. The purchaser has applied for allotment of Villa No. 17 in the above said scheme “Manglam’s Arpan” and the seller has agreed to allot to the purchaser Villa/Shop in the said Scheme on the following terms & conditions. All other agreements and/or arrangements or letters, assurances written, oral or implied hereto, sales brochures, newspapers advertisements, etc. before made and which are in any way contradictory to or inconsistent with this agreement shall have no effect. The sellers hereby agrees to sell Purchaser hereby agrees to purchase on terms &conditions mentioned in this Agreement.”

Bench concluded that the complainants in light of the agreement could not have laid any claim to what was promised in the brochure. Along with this, the Commission added that the complainant could not have certainly claimed anything of behalf of themselves as well as on behalf of other residents and that too since December 2012, when they were nowhere in the picture.

A narrative which goes beyond what falls in the domain of the individual complainant can still have relevance but confined strictly to what directly affects the complainant, not beyond that.

The commission while partly allowing the appeal, laid down the following directions:

(i) order of the State Commission in para 19 (a), directing the OPs to pay to the complainants a consolidated amount of Rs 2 lakh as compensation for defects and deficiencies in construction, is upheld;

(ii) This amount of Rs.2 lakh shall carry interest @ 6% p.a. from the date of the impugned order of the State Commission, till the date of actual payment;

(iii) Rest of the order of the State Commission relating to common facilities and costs is set aside.

[Manglam Build-Developers Ltd. v. Aviral Mathur, 2021 SCC OnLine NCDRC 15, decided on 12-01-2021]


Advocates who represented the parties:

For the Appellant: Sukumar Pattjoshi, Sr. Adv. with Sunil Mund, Advocate

For the Respondent: Debesh Panda, Advocate with Naman Maheshwari, Advocate

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-Judge Bench of Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, JJ., observed that

“Developer cannot compel the apartment buyers to be bound by the one-sided contractual terms contained in the Apartment Buyer‘s Agreement.”

Judgment passed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission is in Challenge

Appellant-Developer challenged the decision of NCDRC wherein refund of the amounts deposited by the Apartment Buyers was directed on account of inordinate delay in completing the construction and obtaining the Occupation Certificate.

Issues for Consideration:

  • Determination of the date from which the 42 months period for handing over possession is to be calculated under Clause 13.3, whether it would be from the date of issuance of the Fire NOC as contended by the Developer; or, from the date of sanction of the Building Plans, as contended by the Apartment Buyers;
  • Whether the terms of the Apartment Buyer‘s Agreement were one-sided, and the Apartment Buyers would not be bound by the same;
  • Whether the provisions of the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 must be given primacy over the Consumer Protection Act, 1986;
  • Whether on account of the inordinate delay in handing over possession, the Apartment Buyers were entitled to terminate the agreement, and claim a refund of the amounts deposited with interest.

Analysis

Bench made a pointwise analysis of the instant matter wherein in the first issue, the point of controversy was whether the 42 months’ period is to be calculated from the date when the Fire NOC was granted by the authority concerned as contended by the Developer; or, the date on which the Building Plans were approved as contended by the Apartment Buyers.

In accordance with Section 15 of the Haryana Fire Safety Act, 2009, it is mandatory for a Builder/Developer to obtain the approval of the Fire Fighting Scheme conforming to the National Building Code of India, and obtain a ‘No objection Certificate’ before the commencement of construction.

Clause 13.3 of the Apartment Buyer’s Agreement provides that the 42 months’ period has to be calculated from the date of approval of Building Plans and/or fulfilment of the pre-conditions imposed thereunder.

Bench opined that it was a mandatory requirement under the Haryana Fire Safety Act, 2009 to obtain the Fire NOC before the commencement of construction activity. The said requirement was stipulated in the sanctioned Building Plans, as also in the Environment Clearance.

 The 42 months‘ period in Clause 13.3. of the Agreement for handing over possession of the apartments would be required to be computed from the date on which Fire NOC was issued, and not from the date of the Building Plans being sanctioned.

In the instant matter, there was a delay of approximately 7 months in obtaining the fire NOC by Developer.

Whether the terms of the Apartment Buyer’s Agreement are one-sided?

Court observed on perusal of the clauses mentioned in the Agreement that the said clauses were wholly one-sided terms of the Agreement Buyer’s Agreement, which were entirely loaded in favour of the Developer and against the allottee at every step.

For the said issue, Court held that the terms of the Apartment Buyer‘s Agreement are oppressive and wholly one-sided, and would constitute an unfair trade practice under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

Incorporation of one-sided and unreasonable clauses in the Apartment Buyer’s Agreement constitutes an unfair trade practice under Section 2(1)(r) of the Consumer Protection Act.

Whether primacy to be given to RERA over the Consumer Protection Act?

Bench expressed that this Court has upheld the applicability of provisions of Consumer Protection Act as an additional remedy, despite the existence of remedies under special statutes, including the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

In the decision of  Emaar MGF Land Ltd. v. Aftab Singh, (2019) 12 SCC 751, it was held that the remedy under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is confined to the Complaint filed by a Consumer as defined by the Act, for defects and deficiency caused by the service provider.

In a recent decision of this Court in Imperia Structures Ltd. v. Anil Patni, (2020) 10 SCC 783, it was held that remedies under the Consumer Protection Act were in addition to the remedies available under special statutes. The absence of a bar under Section 79 of the RERA Act to the initiation of proceedings before a fora which is not a civil court, read with Section 88 of the RERA Act makes the position clear. Section 18 of the RERA Act specifies that the remedies are “without prejudice to any other remedy available”.

Whether the Apartment Buyers are entitled to terminate the Agreement or refund of the amount deposited with Delay Compensation?

Answering this issue, the Court categorised the buyer/allottees into two categories:

  • Apartment Buyers whose allotments fall in Phase 1 of the project comprised in Towers A6 to A10, B1 to B4, and C3 to C7, where the Developer has been granted occupation certificate, and offer of possession has been made
  • Apartment Buyers whose allotments fall in Phase 2 of the project, where the allotments are in Towers A1 to A5, B5 to B8, C8 to C11, where the Occupation Certificate has not been granted so far.

For category 1, it was held that such allottees (barring an exception) were obligated to take possession of the apartments, since the construction was completed, and possession offered on 28-06-2019, after the issuance of Occupation Certificate on 31-05-2019. The Developer is however obligated to pay Delay Compensation for the period of delay which has occurred from  27-11-2018 till the date of the offer of possession was made to the allottees.

So far category 2 is concerned, it was held that such allottees are entitled to refund of entire amount deposited by them, along with compensation and interest.

In view of the above discussion, civil appeals were disposed of. [Ireo Grace Realtech (P) Ltd. v. Abhishek Khanna, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 14, decided on 11-01-2021]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Orissa High Court: K. R. Mohapatra J., dismissed the appeal being devoid of merits.

 The facts of the case are such that a ‘Request for Proposal’ (RFP) by the Respondent – Berhampur Development Authority (BDA) for development of Integrated Commercial – cum – Residential Complex in Berhampur, the Appellant had participated in the bid and became the highest bidder having quoted an amount of Rs 9.40 crore for a project based on the PPP model i.e. Public-private partnership. The Appellant Company deposited 25% of the bid amount and thereafter an LOI was issued in its favour for the remaining amount and execution of the project within 180 days, failing which the LOI was cancelled. Assailing the same, petition was filed wherein the Court directed the petitioners to pay the remaining bid amount within 2 weeks and in the meanwhile restricted the respondent company to not issue any work order to anybody in view of the said payment, failing which the order will stand vacated. The Appellant failed to make the payment subsequent to which filed a petition under Section 9 of Arbitration Act which was disposed off stating non-maintainability. Aggrieved by this order, the present appeal has been filed.

Counsel for the appellants submitted that there is an arbitration clause to resolve the dispute between the parties arising out of the contract in question. It was further submitted that W.P. (C) No.8653 of 2015 has been filed assailing the action of the Respondent in cancelling the LOI unilaterally. Thus, the pendency of the writ petition does not affect in anyway the maintainability of the petition under Section 9 of the Arbitration Act, as the cause of action for filing of both the petitions is completely different.

Counsel for the respondent submitted that neither any agreement could be executed between the parties nor could it be registered as required under Section 17 of the Registration Act, 1908 in order to make the draft agreement a concluded contract between the parties, hence Clause- 32.2 of the Part-II of the draft agreement cannot confer any right on the Appellant to invoke the arbitration clause.

The Court relied on National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation v. BSPL Infrastructure Limited, (2019) 15 SCC 25 and P.S.A. Mumbai Investments PTE. Limited v. Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, (2018) 10 SCC 525 wherein it was observed that the Appellant has not filed any written agreement and in absence of any concluded contract no right can be conferred on the parties to invoke the arbitral clause.

The relevant para is stated below:

14. Under Section 7 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 in order to convert a proposal into a promise, the acceptance must be absolute and unqualified. It is clear on the facts of this case that there is no absolute and unqualified acceptance by the Letter of Award – two or three very important steps have to be undergone before there could be said to be an agreement which would be enforceable in law as a contract between the parties.”

The Court observed “The object of Section 9 is to make interim arrangement to protect the lis before or during arbitral proceeding or at any time after making of the arbitral award. Since an interim protection has already been granted by this Court on 11.05.2015 in W.P.(C) No.8653 of 2015, a proceeding under Section 9 of the Arbitration Act is not maintainable. It is a different issue that the Appellant did not respect the interim protection granted by this Court, by complying with the condition to make it operative. Even otherwise, the demeanor of the Appellant does not entitle it to a protection under Section 9 of the Arbitration Act.”

The Court thus held that in view of the ratio decided in the judgments relied, it is crystal clear that in order to invoke the arbitration clause and make it operational, there must be a concluded contract between the parties as envisaged under Section 7 of the Contract Act, 1872 which is conspicuously absent in the case at hand

In view of the above, appeal was dismissed.[Forum Projects Private Limited v. Berhampur Development Authority, 2020 SCC OnLine Ori 925, decided on 02-12-2020]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: S.C. Gupte, J., held that a real estate developer cannot rely on usual ‘force majeure’ clause to deny possession to homebuyers.

The instant appeal challenged the Order passed by RERA Appellate Tribunal, Mumbai.

Original Complaint that was filed by the respondent was:

Respondent who was a flat purchaser and who had claimed interest from the appellant for the delay in handing over of possession of the premises, for the period from the date of possession stipulated under the agreement till the date of actual possession.

Further, it was stated that Maharashtra Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 while accepting the respondent’s claim awarded interest from January 2018; the adjudicating authority gave six months extension on a unilateral basis to the appellant by way of a grace period.

When the above-stated matter was carried in appeal by the respondent-complainant in RERA Appellate Tribunal it was held that there was no specific clause in the agreement, entitling appellant/promoter to any grace period of six months or otherwise.

Appellate Tribunal observed that the date of delivery of possession of the premises stipulated under the agreement was on or before 30 June 2017 and, accordingly, directed payment of interest from 01-07-2017 till the date of delivery of possession of the premises.

Appellant’s Counsel submitted that the agreement referred to above contained a clause that the possession date was subject inter alia to any cause beyond the control of the Developer including any order of the Centre, Local Authority or Body or due to delay in issuing completion certificate or occupation certificate by the Authorities.

It was noted from the above contention that the said clause was nothing but an ordinary force majeure clause, where the promoter cannot be faulted for the delay in delivery of possession, if such delay is caused by any reason beyond his control.

Force Majeure clause doesn’t provide for any grace period to the promoter.

Bench while considering the facts of the case stated that it is apparent from the record that the adjudicating authority was not impressed by any of the reasons submitted by the appellant towards the justification for the delay.

Adding to the above, Court found that the order of the adjudicating authority proceeded on the basis that even if facts pointed out by the Promoter were to be taken into consideration as justification for the delay, a six months’ grace period could be granted for delivery of possession to the Promoter.

“…neither the Appellate Tribunal nor the adjudicating authority found in favour of the Appellant/Promoter insofar as its case for justification of the delay was concerned.”

Hence, a grace period of six months considered by adjudicating authority was nothing but an ad-hoc measure and was rightly not accepted by the Appellate Tribunal.

Accordingly, the substantial question of law arose from Appellate Tribunal’s impugned order.

Therefore, the second appeal was dismissed. [Westin Developers (P) Ltd. v. Raymond Alexis Nunes, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 3912, decided on 04-12-2020]


Advocates who appeared for the matter:

Dakshesh Vyas a/w Dominic D’Souza and Sumit Kothari i/b. Agrud Partners, for Appellant/Applicant.

Huzefa Nasikwala a/w Sujit S. Mashal i/b. Nasikwala Law Office, for Respondent.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: R. Narayana Pisharadi, J., while observing the instant matter asked the trial court to reconsider the question whether the suit document is a bond or an agreement.

The instant suit was filed for the realisation of money and certain other reliefs. The claim for money was based on the document allegedly executed by the first defendant in favour of the plaintiff.

When the said document was tendered in evidence, the defendants raised an objection to the marking of the document on the ground that it is a bond and it is an insufficiently stamped document.

Trial Court in its decision had found that the suit document was only an agreement and not a bond.

Defendants had also raised an objection contending that the document was a mortgage deed and it should be compulsorily registrable.

Analysis

Section 2(a) of the Kerala Stamp Act, 1959 defined a bond as follows:

“(a) ‘bond’ includes —
(i) any instrument whereby a person

obliges himself to pay money to another, on condition that the obligation shall be void if a specified act is performed, or is not performed, as the case may be;

(ii) any instrument attested by a witness and not payable to order or bearer, whereby a person obliges himself to pay money to another; and

(iii) any instrument so attested, whereby a person obliges himself to deliver grain or other agricultural produce to another;”

It was observed that the above-stated definition is identical to the definition of bond in Section 2(5) of the Indian Stamp Act, 1899. The said definition includes all types of instruments.

Petitioner’s Senior Counsel submitted that the suit document comes under Clause (ii) mentioned above. But, learned counsel for the first respondent would contend that in order to attract Clause (ii) of Section 2(a) of the Act, the obligation created by the document shall be to pay a definite or specified amount and not something to be determined by the Court.

Further, it was submitted that in the instant case the document does not create an obligation to pay a definite or specified amount and therefore, it is not a bond but only agreement.

Suit document is styled as an agreement. But, for finding out the true character of the instrument, one has to read the instrument as a whole and then find out the dominant purpose. The test is not what the document calls itself or what form it adopts but what is the true meaning and effect of the terms contained therein.

Delhi High Court’s decision in Hamdard Dawakhana (Wakf),1967 SCC OnLine Del 36, the full bench of the court considered the distinction between the bond and an agreement. In this decision, it was observed that it is trite to say that every bond is an agreement and so is the case with a mortgage or sale or exchange but what the court has to see is whether that agreement has acquired the character of a “bond”.

Distinguishing Feature of a Bond

Bond has an obligation to pay money created by the instrument itself.

A document which evidences acknowledgement of an antecedent obligation or a pre-existing liability would not normally become a bond.

The real test to decide whether a particular document is a bond or not is to find out, after reading the document as a whole, whether an obligation is created by the document itself or whether it is merely an acknowledgment of a pre-existing liability.

Where the obligation is a pre-existing one, the subsequent document or the document executed subsequently, giving the nature of the obligation or the terms and conditions of the contract, shall be a mere agreement.

Trial Court failed to take into consideration the fact that, as per the terms of the document, a liability is created for a fixed amount, that is, the amount borrowed and 10% of that amount. Adding to this, it also did not consider whether the stipulation in the document is sufficient to treat it as a bond. Principles mentioned in the Supreme Court cases have also not been referred by the trial court.

High Court allowed the original petition and further stated that the trial court shall consider the question of whether the suit document is a bond or an agreement. [A.V. Ravi v. M.M. Abdulkhadar,  2020 SCC OnLine Ker 8185, decided on 01-12-2020]

Cabinet DecisionsLegislation Updates

Union Cabinet has given its approval for the Agreement between the Republic of India and the Federative Republic of Brazil on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters has to be signed.

The Agreement aims to enhance effectiveness of both the countries in investigation and prosecution of crime through cooperation and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. In the context of transnational crime and its linkages to terrorism, the proposed Agreement will provide a broad legal framework for bilateral cooperation with the Federative Republic of Brazil in investigation and prosecution of crime as well as in tracing, restraint and confiscation of proceeds and instruments of crime as well as the fund meant to finance terrorist acts.


Cabinet

[Source: PIB]

[Press Release dt. 22-01-2020]

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Malaysia Court of Appeal: A Full Bench of Hamid Sultan Bin Abu Backer, Hanipah Binti Farikullah, Kamaludin Bin Md Said, JCA overturned a decision of a High Court which ordered a tenant to vacant possession and pay double rental to the new owner of a land due to the non-existence of any legal tenancy agreement between the two.  

The appellant/defendant had been a tenant of the land the respondent/plaintiff bought at an auction on 12-09-2019 and hence, the validity of the tenancy agreement was called into question. The defendant contested that the tenancy agreement was until 14-10-2019 but there was no legal proof to support that claim. Essentially, there was no legal backing behind the defendant’s claims while the argument of the plaintiff was bolstered by Section 28(4) of the Civil Law Act, 1956 which allows for entitlement to double rental in case there is no valid tenancy agreement.

The Court of Appeals, however, found no basis for allowing the double rental. On one hand, the respondent does not want to recognise the appellant as a tenant and on the other, he wants double rental based on a tenancy agreement with the previous owner. Stating the same, the Court set aside the judgment of the High Court and said that the appellant should give up possession on the agreed date along with full but not double rental. The Court issues no order as to costs. [Abad Arena Juara Sdn Bhd v. Rajesh A/L Jaikishan, Appeal Civil No. N-04(NCVC)(W)-659-12 of 2018, decided on 26-07-2019]

Cabinet DecisionsLegislation Updates

The Union Cabinet approved the signing of the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) and Protocol between the Republic of India and the Republic of Chile for the elimination of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion and avoidance with respect to taxes on income.

Major impact:

The DTAA will facilitate elimination of double taxation. Clear allocation of taxing rights between Contracting States through the Agreement will provide tax certainty to investors & businesses of both countries while augmenting the flow of investment through fixing of tax rates in source State on interest, royalties and fees for technical services. The Agreement and Protocol implements minimum standards and other recommendations of G-20 OECD Base Erosion Profit Shifting (BEPS) Project. Inclusion of Preamble Text, a Principal Purpose Test, a general anti-abuse provision in the Agreement along with a Simplified Limitation of Benefits Clause as per BEPS Project will result in curbing of tax planning strategies which exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules.

Implementation Strategy and Targets:

After Cabinet approval, necessary formalities for bringing the Agreement and Protocol into force will be completed. Implementation would be watched and reported by the Ministry.


Cabinet

[Press Release dt. 27-11-2019]

[Source: PIB]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: K.R. Shriram, J., dismissed a criminal appeal filed against the order of the trial court whereby the accused was acquitted of the charge under Section 138 (dishonour of cheque) of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

The appellant had initiated a complaint under Section 138 against the accused alleging dishonour of cheque issued by him in favour of the appellant. It was alleged that the subject cheque was issued by the accused for payment of outstanding liability in relation to purchase of grapes from the appellant. The accused did not deny the purchase of grapes; he, however, contended that the subject cheque was given only as a security cheque and the outstanding payment was already made in three installments. The accused was tried for the offence as aforesaid. At the conclusion of the trial, the accused was found not guilty and was, therefore, acquitted. Aggrieved, the appellant preferred the instant appeal.

 The High Court reiterated the well-settled law that it is settled law that the important ingredient for the offence punishable under Section 138 is that cheque must have been issued for the discharge in whole or in part of any debt or other liability. If the cheque is not issued for the discharge of any debt or other liability, Section 138 can not be invoked.

Perused the facts of the instant case, the Court found that the appellant, in his cross-examination, had admitted that the cheque issued was only for guarantee. Relying on its earlier decisions, the Court noted that if the cheque is issued only as security for performance of a certain contract or an agreement and not towards the discharge of any debt or other liability, offence punishable under Section 138 is not made out.

Following the aforenoted position of law, and noting the admission of the appellant in his cross-examination, the Court concluded that there could be no other conclusion that the cheque was not issued for the discharge of any debt or other liability. The important ingredient for the offence punishable under Section 138, therefore, was missing.

Moreover, it was found that the appellant had been giving different dates on which the cheque was issued, which shows that he was economical with the truth. Reiterating that a person, who’s case is based on falsehood, has no right to approach the Court, the High Court dismissed the instant appeal. [Shantaram Namdeo Sathe v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 4354, decided on 15-11-2019]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumers Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): The Bench comprising of Justice R.K. Agrawal (President) and M. Shreesha (Member) while addressing a complaint filed under the Consumer Protection Act stated that:

“Complainants cannot be made to wait indefinitely for possession of the unit, as the construction is yet to be completed even after a period of more than 6 years has lapsed from the date of booking.”

The present complaint was filed against the “Developer” and “Construction Company” under Section 21(a)(i) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

In accordance with the facts of the case, Complainant had been looking for residential accommodation in Gurgaon, wherein he wanted to reside after his return from Tokyo, Japan. Complainant on his return to India booked a residential apartment of 5450 sq. ft. and paid an amount of Rs 4,12,98,926 by 03-09-2015.

It has been averred that, Flat Buyer’s Agreement was executed between the Developer and Complainant on 19-02-2013 and as per Clause 12 of the agreement, the possession of the apartment was to be delivered within 36 months with an additional grace period of 6 months, which ended on 19-08-2016.

Adding to the above, in December 2015, the complainant visited the site to see the development work and was shocked to see that the construction work had been completely stopped since January 2015. Complainant visited the corporate office of the developer and was informed that due to disputes with Construction Company, they had terminated the contract with them. The complainant was further assured that a new construction company would complete the balance work and the complainant shall receive the possession in terms of the agreement by February 2016 or at least within the extended period.

Again in January, 2017 complainant was disappointed to observe that no work was being carried out and he was assured by the officials of the “Developer” that the new construction company would complete the balance work. Once again in April 2018, on visiting the construction site he found that the site office was locked.

Thus, on multiple failures by the developer to respect the agreement in regard to the construction of the flat, Complainant had to send a legal notice to the Opposite Parties and further vexed with the attitude of the OP’s, the complainant approached the Commission.

Siddharth Yadav and Wasim Ashraf, Counsel appearing on behalf of the Complainants argued that despite repeated attempts to contact the “Developer” and seeking information regarding the progress of construction, there was no response for the same.

Commission in view of the above, relied on the decisions of the Supreme Court case in Pioneer Urban Land & Infrastructure Ltd. v. Govindan Raghavan, (2019) 5 SCC 725 and Kolkata West International City (P) Ltd. v. Devasis Rudra, (2019) CPJ 29 (SC), and opined in regard to the instant case that, “Complainants cannot be made to wait indefinitely for possession of the unit, as the construction is yet to be completed even after a period of more than 6 years has lapsed from the date of booking.”

Further, the Commission added to its observation that, there has been a deficiency of service on behalf of the OP’s. However, since the amounts were paid to the “Developer” the liability is fastened on the developer and not the “Construction Company”.

With the above, Complainant is allowed in part directing the “Developer” to refund 4,12,98,926 with interest at 12% p.a. from the respective dates of deposit till the date of realisation. [Alok Kumar v. Golden Peacock Residency (P) Ltd., 2019 SCC OnLine NCDRC 314, decided on 06-09-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Orissa High Court: Biswanath Rath, J. dismissed an arbitration appeal filed under Section 37(1) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

The appellant in his appeal, challenged the judgment of the District Judge, Sambalpur in Arbitration Petition No. 2 of 2004 dated 27-11-2006 where the District Judge while dismissing the Arbitration Petition confirmed the award passed by the learned Arbitrator involving Arbitration Case No. 2 of 2001

Learned counsel for the appellant, S. Mohanty, restricted his submission to the extent that for the receipt of the payment on the final bill without protest and having no claim any further involving the contract, whether the Arbitrator, as well as the District Judge, arrived in right conclusion involving the award and judgment therein? In filing the written note of argument, the learned counsel extended his claim to the interest part also.

The Court upheld the Arbitrator’s findings that the appellant has got the work executed through the claimant unnecessarily delayed the payment of final bill and that sole object behind the same was to ensure that in future the claimant would not make any claim against the respondent as in course of the execution of the work, the respondent had committed breach of contract and caused undue harassment to the claimant. In the contract, there was no provision for obtaining any such no claim undertaking from the contractor before payment of the final bill.

Relying on Asian Techs Ltd. v. Union of India, (2009) 10 SCC 354, the Court found that the final protest was received by the respondent under protest and therefore, the contract was not concluded. In view thereof, the Court found no scope for interfering on this aspect particularly exercising power under Section 37 of the Act.

On the issue of payment of interest, the Court relied upon Jiprakash Associates Ltd. (Jal) v. Tehri Hydro Development Corporation India Ltd., 2019 SCC Online SC 143 and Sree Kamatchi Amman Constructions v. Divisional Railway Manager (Works), (2010) 8 SCC 767 and held that unless and until there was an agreement, a party was not entitled to pre and pendente lite interest.

In view of the above, the Court found no scope for interfering in the aspect pertaining to payment of interest and dismissed the arbitration appeal.[Mahanadi Coal Fields Ltd. v. Kishorilal Loomba and Sons, 2019 SCC OnLine Ori 188, decided on 13-05-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: Sanjay K. Agarwal, J. allowed a petition filed by an advocate against the order of Judicial Magistrate (First Class) whereby cognizance was taken against him, along with other accused persons, for the offences punishable under Section 420 read with Section 120-B IPC.

The petitioner was working as a Notary, and while discharging his duties under the provisions of the Notaries Act, 1952 and the Rules made thereunder, he authenticated an Agreement in presence of two witnesses. Thereafter, the complainant filed a complaint against accused persons including the petitioner, alleging the commission of the abovesaid offences. Subsequently, the Judicial Magistrate passed the impugned order.

Abhishek Sinha, Advocate for the petitioner contended that such a cognizance taken was expressly barred by the provisions contained in Section 13(1) of the Notaries Act which are mandatory in nature.

The High Court was of the view that the use of negative form provides a mandatory character to the provisions of Section 13(1). Section 13(1) clearly bars the act of taking cognizance of any offence against the Notary in exercise or purported exercise of his function under the Act except upon a complaint in writing made by an officer authorised by Central Government or State Government by general or special order. In the present case, the petitioner, while authenticating the said Agreement was performing his statutory duty within the provisions of Section 8(1)(a). Therefore the Court was of the view that the bar under Section 13(1) would squarely be attracted. In the absence of a complaint as provided for under Section 13(1), it was held that order of the Judicial Magistrate was unsustainable and was thereby set aside to the extent applicable on the petitioner. The petition was thus allowed. [Rajkumar Mishra v. Gurjeet Kaur Bajwa, 2019 SCC OnLine Chh 48, decided on 13-05-2019]

Legislation UpdatesNotifications

G.S.R.282(E) — In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 3 of the Repatriation of Prisoners Act, 2003 (49 of 2003), the Central Government hereby directs that the provisions of the said Act shall apply to the Federal Republic of Brazil. The full text of the Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Persons signed by the Republic of India and the Federal Republic of Brazil on 15.10.2013 is given below. The Agreement was ratified by the Republic of India on 1.1.2014 and by the Federal Republic of Brazil on 24.10.2018. The Instruments of Ratification were exchanged on 24.1.2019.

AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE REPUBLIC OF INDIA AND FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF BRAZIL ON THE TRANSFER OF SENTENCED PERSONS

The Republic of India and the Federative Republic of Brazil hereinafter referred to as the Contracting States;

Desiring to facilitate the social rehabilitation of sentenced persons into their own countries; and

Considering that this objective should be fulfilled by giving foreigners, who have been convicted and sentenced as a result of their commission of a criminal offence, the opportunity to serve their sentences within their own society;

Have agreed as follows:

ARTICLE 1

Definitions

For the purpose of this Agreement:
(a) “Judgment” means a decision or order of a court or tribunal imposing a sentence;
(b) “Receiving State” means a State to which the sentenced person may be, or has been, transferred in order to serve his sentence;
(c) “Sentence” means any punishment or measure involving deprivation of liberty ordered by a court or tribunal for a determinate period of time, in the exercise of its criminal jurisdiction;
(d) “Sentenced person” means a person who is serving a definitive and enforceable sentence in the transferring State under a judgment passed by a criminal court in the Contracting States;
(e) “Transferring State” means the State in which the sentence was imposed on the person who may be, or has been transferred.

Note: Please follow the link for detailed notification – Notification

[Notification dt. 02-04-2019]

Ministry of Home Affairs