Op EdsOP. ED.

Introduction

More than twenty years since liberalisation, as the Indian economy matured and marched towards global competitiveness, a dire need was felt to overhaul the existing legal regime governing the corporate and commercial sector and make it more modern and robust. This led to the enactment of several new legislations and significant amendments in existing legislations impacting these sectors. These include the Companies Act, 2013[1], the Commercial Courts Act, 2015[2], statutes incorporating the Goods and Service Tax, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC)[3], the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015[4], the Specific Relief (Amendment Act), 2018[5], etc. all of which were aimed at streamlining the functioning of business, simplifying the tax structure and payment of taxes, enabling easier enforcement of contracts and quicker resolution of disputes. These legislations enabled India to leap frog its way to 77th place in the Work Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” rankings in 2019[6] from a dismal 142nd place in 2015.[7]

While the intent and substance of these legislations may be noble, there are a few transitional glitches which have impaired their effective implementation. As a matter of fact, transitions in law always bring about some uncertainties requiring judicial or parliamentary clarifications. However, the transitional phase in respect of these legislations has been more disruptive than one would have imagined.

Summary

Where an Act contains substantive, amending or repealing enactments, it commonly also includes provisions which regulates the coming into operation of those enactments and modify their effect during the period of transition.[8] These provisions generally are intended to take care of the events during the period of transition. This article undertakes a critical analysis of the transitional provisions of three recent legislations, more particularly the Goods and Service Tax Acts, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 and the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015. The article opines how the transitional provisions in these legislations have been drafted with a lack of foresight and vision, which in turn has led to multiple litigations and manifold issues in interpretation of these provisions. The article highlights the immediate need for legislative review and revision of these transitional provisions so as to infuse some much-needed clarity, avoid multiple litigations and ensure a smoother transition to a new legal and regulatory regime.

Part I Goods and Service Tax

A. Brief legislative history

India’s move towards a unified and comprehensive goods and service tax (GST) regime took concrete shape with the enactment of the Constitution (101st Amendment) Act, 2016 [9] (the “Amending Act”) notified in the Official Gazette on 8-8-2016. The Amending Act made suitable changes to the Constitution to pave way for implementation of GST.

Pursuant to the redefining of legislative powers between the State and the Centre under the aforesaid Amending Act, Parliament enacted the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017[10] (CGST), the Integrated Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017[11] (IGST) and the Union Territory Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017[12] (UGST) and the States also enacted their respective State Goods and Services Tax Acts (SGST). Consequently, GST was launched at midnight on 1-7-2017 bringing into effect all these statutes with the hope of creating a simple and integrated system of indirect taxation in India. Almost all indirect taxes (apart from customs) including excise, sales tax, service tax, etc. were sought to be done away with and subsumed under one umbrella head of “Goods and Service Tax”.

B. The transitional provision

Section 19 of the Amending Act[13] sets out the overarching transitional clause and provides as under:

  1. Transitional provisions.Notwithstanding anything in this Act, any provision of any law relating to tax on goods or services or on both in force in any State immediately before the commencement of this Act, which is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution as amended by this Act shall continue to be in force until amended or repealed by a competent legislature or other competent authority or until expiration of one year from such commencement, whichever is earlier.

The aforesaid provision is a sunset clause which mandates the State/Parliament to either repeal or amend all existing indirect tax laws (including sales tax/value added tax, excise, service tax etc.) and make them consistent with the Amending Act within a period of one year from 8-9-2016 (the date of notification of the Amending Act) after which all such laws would cease to remain operational.

 C. Cause for concern

It is pertinent to note that while the Amending Act saves the applicability of the erstwhile indirect tax laws up to 8-9-2016, there are no provisions saving actions initiated/proposed to be initiated under such laws against erring assessees. Most State Sales Tax/VAT Acts permit assessment up to 3-5 years from the date of assessable tax[14]. Similarly, the Central Excise Act, 1944[15] permits initiation of proceedings up to 2 years from the incidence of non-payment of duty[16] and up to 5 years in cases where extended period of limitation can be invoked[17]. There is no clarity on whether such right to initiate action/undertake assessment for past years (provided for under the earlier indirect tax laws) survives after GST is brought into effect.

In order to safeguard the rights of initiating actions/continuing proceedings already initiated under the erstwhile indirect tax laws, Parliament and the State Legislatures sought to incorporate wider transitional clauses in the principal Acts introducing GST. For instance, the CGST Act incorporates a wide savings clause under Section 174[18] which is similar to Clause 6 of the General Clauses Act, 1897 and provides for saving of all actions initiated, rights accrued and remedies proposed to be instituted under the repealed Central Acts including Excise Act, Chapter 5 of the Finance Act, 1994[19] (Service Tax) etc. Furthermore Section 174(3) also saves the applicability of Section 6 of the General Clauses Act, 1897[20]. Similarly, even the various SGST Acts provide for wide transitional clauses under Section 174 of their respective State GST legislation, saving all actions undertaken/proposed to be undertaken thereunder the erstwhile State tax laws including the Sales Tax/VAT Act, tax on entry of goods, etc.

Thus, on account of the absence of a wide, all encompassing transitional clause under the Amending Act, Parliament and the State Legislatures have provided for additional transitional clauses (under the head of repeal and savings clauses) in the CGST Act and respective SGST Acts. This gives rise to a debatable issue as to whether a principal Act, which owes its genesis to a constitutional Amendment Act, can incorporate provisions which not only go beyond such an Amending Act but are also seemingly in variance with the provisions of the Amending Act.

Moreover, different States have incorporated different repeal and savings clauses in their respective SGST legislations. For instance, the Value Added Tax Acts in Kerala, Karnataka and Delhi are repealed under Section 173 of the Maharashtra Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017 of their respective SGST legislations. On the other hand, the Value Added Tax Acts in Gujarat and Maharashtra do not find a mention in the list of repealed Acts under their respective SGST legislations. While the savings provisions under Section 174 of most of these SGST statutes are identical, these savings provisions only save actions undertaken/proposed to be undertaken under the repealed statutes (referred to in Section 173). Conversely, if a statute is not repealed under Section 173, actions undertaken/proposed thereunder are not saved under Section 174. Therefore, while pending and proposed actions under the State VAT Act may get saved in Kerala, Karnataka and Delhi similar actions under the Gujarat VAT Act, 2003 may not be saved based on a literal interpretation of the repeal and savings provisions of the respective SGST Acts of these States. While even the Maharashtra VAT Act, 2002 (MVAT Act) is not repealed under Section 173 of the Maharashtra Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017 (MGST Act). The MGST Act carves out an extremely wide-ranging savings provision which saves the levy, returns, assessment, reassessment, etc. of taxes under all erstwhile laws in force immediately before the enactment of the MGST Act[21]. Thus, the difference in the repeal and savings provisions in different SGST legislations is likely to lead to an unwelcome situation where the impact of GST on the applicability of erstwhile indirect tax laws will have to be looked into separately for each individual State based on its respective SGST legislation and the repeal and savings clauses incorporated therein. This, in turn leads to multiplicity in litigations and brings about ambiguity, uncertainty and inefficiency in the implementation of the GST regime.

D. Judicial opinion

A plethora of litigations in relation to the transitional issues arising pursuant to implementation of GST have been filed across various high courts. The Kerala High Court recently disposed of 3250 petitions (the lead matter being Sheen Golden Jewels (India) (P) Ltd. v. State Tax Officer[22]) upholding the right of the State Authorities to proceed against pre-existing VAT liability even after the introduction of the GST regime on the strength of the savings provision incorporated in Section 174 of the State GST Act.  A similar view was taken by the High Court of Karnataka in Prosper Jewel Arcade LLP v.  CCT[23], although on the basis of different reasoning. It was observed that it is the law applicable on the date of the taxable event which is relevant for the purpose of imposition of tax and therefore the introduction of GST cannot weigh down the legality of orders passed under the Karnataka VAT Act for taxable events of the past, even if such orders were passed after the introduction of the GST regime. The Gauhati High Court, in Laxminarayan Sahu v. Union of India[24] was called upon to determine the validity of show-cause notices issued for non-payment of service tax under the Finance Act after the introduction of GST. In conjunction with the rulings of the Karnataka High Court and the Kerala High Court, the Gauhati High Court upheld the validity of such notices. The reasoning adopted however, was that the actions under the erstwhile laws get saved under Section 6 of the General Clauses Act, 1897.  Thus, the view taken by a majority of courts, although based on different reasoning, is that the revenue authorities retain the power to levy appropriate taxes under the erstwhile indirect tax laws for events prior to the introduction of GST.

A similar challenge to the authority of the State to levy, assess and collect tax under the State GVAT Act, 2003 after the introduction of the GST regime was brought before the High Court of Gujarat[25] but vide order dated 26-2-2020 the petitions were withdrawn without any arguments on merits.

E. Analysis and way forward

Section 19 of the Amending Act sets out the date when the new GST regime comes into effect and at the same time provides for continuance of operation of provisions of erstwhile indirect laws up to a period of 1 year from 8-9-2016. The provision contains elements of both, a transitional clause and a savings clause. One of the generally accepted norms of legislative drafting is that lumping transitional and savings provisions in a single section is never a good idea[26].

As stated earlier, most taxing statutes envisage a substantial time gap between occurrence of cause of action against assessees and actual institution of proceedings. In such a scenario, if the power to initiate proceedings/levy taxes under the erstwhile laws for past events of default/past assessment years, is taken away upon the introduction of GST, it will practically create a legal vacuum in respect of levy, assessment and collection of taxes for a certain time period prior to the introduction of the GST. This would deprive the revenue of legitimate and tax arrears, interest and penalty and enable assessees to unjustifiably escape from the tax network, which certainly could not have been the legislative intent. In this background, clubbing a savings provision with a transitional clause, and failing to provide a comprehensive savings provision in the Amending Act, is absurd and irrational, more so when the country is on the cusp of a revolutionary overhaul of the entire indirect tax regime

While it may be argued that States/Centre have the right to incorporate appropriate repeal and savings provisions in their respective GST legislations, the same may lead to a lot of ambiguity and discrepancies as observed earlier. It is suggested that in order to remove any scope for ambiguities and uncertainties, it would be advisable to amend the Amending Act so as to incorporate a broad, comprehensive savings clause akin to Section 6 of the General Clauses Act in order to save actions/proposed actions under all the erstwhile indirect tax laws. Section 19 of the Amending Act ought to be immediately amended to provide for an additional savings sub-clause, which may read as under:

Section 21(2)-Notwithstanding anything contained in clause (1) above, the coming into operation of this Act shall not affect the previous operation of any enactment relating to tax on goods or services or on both in force in any State for the purpose of or the purposes of determination of the levy, returns, assessment, reassessment, appeal, revision, rectification, reference or any other proceedings initiated or proposed to be initiated under the said enactments within the period of limitation as envisaged under the said enactments.

 Part II Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016

A. Legislative history

In order to address the concerns of an inadequate framework governing bankruptcy in India, a Bankruptcy Law Reforms Committee (BLRC) was constituted in October 2014 and tasked with drafting a single unified framework which provides for a quick and effective insolvency process for individuals, partnerships, companies, etc. In November 2015, the BLRC came out with a report which proposed a complete institutional overhaul of the existing framework and suggested a quick, time-bound, creditor controlled and regulator driven insolvency process[27].  This led to the enactment of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.

B. Transitional provisions

The enactment of the Insolvency Code led to repeal and amendments of several enactments in order to unify a fragmented network of laws dealing with insolvency. The repealed enactments include the Presidency-Towns Insolvency Act, 1909[28], the Provincial Insolvency Act, 1920[29] and the Sick Industrial Companies Act, 1985[30]. Unlike the repeal and savings provision of the Amending Act heralding GST, Section 243 of the IBC[31] provides for an exhaustive savings clause clearly specifying what is proposed to be saved under the repealed statutes.

In addition to repeal of the aforesaid statutes, the Insolvency Code also provided for amendments to approximately 11 other statutes, most significant amongst those being amendments to the Companies Act, 2013.[32]

Since the CA 2013 and the IBC function in overlapping areas, more particularly in the area of winding up of companies, there is a likelihood of transitional conflict over the pending cases with regard to the appropriate forum as well as the applicable statute. In order to deal with such conflict, the Central Government notified the Companies (Transfer of Pending Proceedings) Rules, 2016[33] (the “Rules”) in exercise of powers under Section 434 of the CA, 2013[34] and Section 239 of the IBC[35]. The Rules provide for the bifurcation of proceedings between the CA, 1956[36]/CA, 2013 and the IBC and between Court and National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT). So far as treatment of pending winding-up petitions is concerned, based on the nature stage of the proceedings, some winding-up petitions were to be retained by the High Court while others were to be transferred to NCLT[37]

 C. Cause for concern

The aforesaid Rules brought into place a splintered structure for dealing with the transition of various proceedings from the CA 1956/CA 2013 to the IBC. The overlapping of jurisdiction as well as subject-matter is riddled with severe concerns and needs to be addressed urgently.

The constitutional validity of these Rules was challenged by Nissan Motor India and Renault Nissan Automotive before the High Court of Madras. It was alleged that on account of operation of the Rules, winding-up petitions filed against these companies in the High Court were transferred to the NCLT in spite of the fact that the entire pleadings were already over, and the matter was about to conclude, thereby causing severe prejudice to these companies. The High Court granted an interim order in favour of the companies by staying the NCLT proceedings against them.[38]

Furthermore, there is no clarity on a scenario where multiple proceedings in respect of the same company have arisen before different forums. For instance, in a situation where a notice for winding-up petition has been served upon the respondent prior to 15-12-2016, the same is retained by the Court for adjudication as per the stipulations under the Rules and is not transferred to the Tribunal. Now, if a fresh petition for winding up against the same company is filed by a financial or operational creditor or the corporate debtor itself under the provisions of IBC, it gives rise to several questions including:

  • Whether such a fresh petition is maintainable notwithstanding the pendency of another winding-up petition against the same company in the Court?
  • If maintainable, whether the parallel proceedings before the Tribunal under the IBC and those before the court under the Companies Act, 1956 can proceed simultaneously?
  • If simultaneous proceedings are permitted, would the proceedings under the Companies Act, 1956 stall in the event of a moratorium under Section 14 of the IBC[39]? On the other hand, would proceedings under IBC stall in the event a winding-up order is passed under Companies Act, 1956 on account of the operation of a moratorium under Section 446 of the Companies Act?
  • If simultaneous proceedings are not permitted, which statute is to be given a primacy over the conduct of winding-up proceedings?

D. Judicial opinion

The aforementioned issue as to whether the IBC can be triggered in the face of a pending winding-up petition has led to wide-spread litigations seeking judicial clarification on the quandary being faced by all stakeholders in an insolvency proceeding.

The NCLT Benches at Chennai (Alcon Laboratories (India) (P) Ltd. v. Vasan Health Care (P) Ltd.[40]) and Ahmedabad (SBI v. Alok Industries Ltd. [41]) took the view that the pendency of a winding-up petition cannot be a bar under the Code for initiating a corporate insolvency resolution process unless a winding-up order is passed by the  High Court or Official liquidator is appointed.   On the other hand, the Hon’ble NCLT Bench at Delhi (Nauvata Engg. (P) Ltd. v. Punj Llyods Ltd.[42]) took the view that in cases where winding-up petitions are pending against a company, it would not be conducive for the NCLT to trigger insolvency resolution process against that very company and therefore, the proceedings instituted earlier in point of time may constitute a better basis for adjudication. On account of the aforesaid divergent views taken by coordinate benches of the NCLT, a Special Bench at NCLT, Delhi referred the issue to a larger Bench in Union Bank of India v. Era Infra Engg. Ltd.[43]. The Hon’ble three-member larger Bench came to the conclusion that there is no bar on NCLT against triggering an insolvency resolution process even when a winding-up petition is pending, unless an official liquidator is appointed and winding-up order is passed.

Apart from various NCLT Benches, the issue has also been raised before the  High Court of Bombay on several occasions. In Ashok Commercial Enterprises v. Parekh Aluminex Ltd.[44] the  Court was pleased to pass a winding-up order notwithstanding the pendency of the IBC proceedings, observing that as per the Rules, not all winding-up proceedings are to be transferred to NCLT. The legislative intent was that two sets of winding-up proceedings would be heard by two different forum i.e. one by NCLT and another by the High Court depending upon the date of service of petition.

On the other hand, in Jotun India (P) Ltd. v. PSL Ltd.[45], the Bombay High Court observed that there was no bar on NCLT from proceeding with an application filed by a corporate debtor under Section 10 of IBC[46] even though a winding-up petition was admitted against the same corporate debtor in the High Court. It was observed that “Till the company is ordered to be wound up i.e. the final order is passed, NCLT can entertain a petition or an application.

In order to address the ambiguities arising as a consequence of divergent judicial opinions, the Insolvency Law Committee in its report of March 2018 proposed amendments to the CA, 2013 to clarify that there was no bar on the application of the Code to winding-up petitions pending under prior legislations before any court of law. However, to avoid duplication of proceedings, it was suggested that the leave of the High Court or NCLT, if applicable, under Section 446 of the CA, 1956[47] or Section 279 of the CA, 2013[48], must be obtained, for initiating corporate insolvency resolution process (CIRP) under the Code, if any petition for winding up is pending in any High Court or NCLT against the corporate debtor.[49]

In pursuance of the aforesaid recommendation, Section 434 of the Companies Act, 2013[50] was amended with effect from 6-6-2018[51] and a proviso was added permitting parties to approach the High Court and request for transfer of a pending winding-up proceeding to the NCLT under the IBC regime. However, it is pertinent to note the amendment is not in consonance with the recommendation of the Committee. The recommendation of the Committee was to seek permission of the High Court/NCLT, if applicable, for initiation of CIRP under the Code. Therefore, the recommendation presupposes the grant of permission for even initiation of CIRP. However, the amendment proposes that the High Court is to be approached only for the purpose of seeking a transfer of proceedings and not for initiation of CIRP per se.

Pursuant to the amendment to Section 434 of the CA, 2013 the Supreme Court in Forech India Ltd. v. Edelweiss Asset Reconstruction Co. Ltd.[52], somewhat settled the issue with regard to the apparent transitional conflict between the IBC and the Companies Act holding that an insolvency resolution may be filed against a corporate debtor notwithstanding the pendency of a winding-up petition before the High Court, since proceedings under IBC are independent proceedings. It further gave liberty to the party that had filed the pending petition before the  High Court to seek transfer of the petition to NCLT in accordance with the amendment to Section 434 of the Companies Act, 2013.

While the aforesaid judgment lends clarity on the right to initiate CIRP under the IBC during the pendency of a winding-up proceedings in the High Court under the CA 1956, there is no clarity on the probable issues that are bound to arise as a consequence of the duality in proceedings under the IBC and the Companies Act. Questions with regard to the impact of moratorium period on the winding-up proceedings in the High Court, potential revival of winding-up proceedings at the end of the moratorium period in case of failure of resolution, etc. remain unanswered. Furthermore, there is no clarity with regard to the stage of winding-up proceedings at which fresh applications may be made under the IBC and proceedings before the High Courts may be allowed to be transferred to the NCLT. In Sicom Ltd. v. Hanung Toys & Textiles  Ltd.[53], the High Court of Delhi observed that if the process is at a nascent stage and only a provisional liquidator is appointed, proceedings before the High Court may be transferred to the NCLT, but if the proceedings are at an advanced stage and the chances of insolvency resolution process are bleak, proceedings are not to be transferred to the NCLT.  Recently, the Supreme Court, in the case of Action Ispat and Power Pvt. Ltd. v. Shyam Metalics and Energy Ltd.[54] held that even post-admission and appointment of Official Liquidator transfer of winding up petition to NCLT may be permitted, if no irreversible steps have been taken in relation to the properties of the company in liquidation i.e. so long as no actual sale of movable or immovable properties has taken place.

E. Analysis and way forward

The Rules failed to clarify if fresh proceedings could be initiated under the IBC even where there were pending winding-up proceedings against the same debtor company being heard by Court and left the same to judicial discretion. After divergent views taken by different forums, the Supreme Court in Forech International case[55] (supra) finally took the position that the pendency of winding-up proceedings under the CA, 1956/CA, 2013 has no bearing on fresh proceedings under the IBC. However, this stand taken by the Supreme Court does not appear to be in tune with legislative intent and raises other important issues as a consequence.

First and foremost, it is questionable as to what purpose the savings provision in the Rules retaining certain proceedings in the High Court would serve if the legislative intent was to anyway permit fresh proceedings under the IBC notwithstanding the pending proceedings in the High Court. The interpretation sought to be given by the Supreme Court destroys the very purpose and essence of saving proceedings under the Rules.

Secondly, the Rules were amended vide Notification dated 29-6-2017[56]. Pursuant to the same a proviso was added under Section 5 of the Rules clearly laying down that where a winding-up petition is retained by the High Court in accordance with the Rules, all other winding-up petitions against the same company pending on the cut-off date would also be retained by the High Court, regardless of service/non-service of such petitions.[57] The proviso appears to indicate that the legislative intent is to ensure that once the High Court is seized of a winding-up matter of a particular debtor company in accordance with the Rules, it should operate as the sole forum to adjudicate upon all winding-up petitions pertaining to such debtor company. However, the  Supreme Court has taken a different view which appears to be contrary to legislative intent.

Furthermore, even from a practical perspective, this duality in regime for dealing with winding-up matters has harsh consequences for all stakeholders involved. Petitioner creditors who have spent a considerable amount of time and resources in a winding-up petition may have to restart all over again and prove their claims before the insolvency resolution professsional and the Committee of creditors.  Corporate debtors may be burdened with the task of defending themselves in two parallel proceedings of a similar nature. Even resolution applicants will be circumspect and cautious in submitting resolution plans during the moratorium period under the IBC, if faced with the prospect of revival of a winding-up petition against the corporate debtor under the CA, 1956/CA, 2013, after the end of the moratorium period/approval of the resolution plan.

In order to avoid multiple proceedings, ensure a smooth transition and avoid the risk of contrary orders by different forums in parallel winding-up petitions, it would be advisable to suitably amend the Rules in such a manner that the transitional/savings provision in the Rules operate upon the debtor company as a whole and not only upon a particular winding-up proceeding against that debtor company. In other words, once winding proceedings against a particular debtor company are retained by the High Court in terms of the Rules, all other pending winding-up petitions, if any, as well as fresh proceedings under the IBC in respect of the same debtor company ought to be consolidated and continued before the said High Court. Furthermore, in order to ensure that the benefit of a time-bound process is not lost out in the course of a winding-up proceeding, it would be apt to amend the law in a manner so as to ensure that all pending winding–up proceedings are completed within a period of one year from a particular cut-off date, failing which the proceedings pertaining to the corporate debtor concerned would automatically be transferred to the Tribunal. In light of the aforesaid, it would be appropriate to suitably amend Rule 5 of the Transfer Rules and add an additional proviso, in the following manner:

Provided also that where a petition relating to winding up of a company is not transferred to the Tribunal under this rule and remains in the High Court and where there is another petition under clause (e) of Section 433 of the Act for winding up against the same company pending as on 15-12-2016 or a fresh petition under Sections 7, 9 or Section 10 of the 1BC is initiated in respect of the same company after 15-12-2016, such other petitions shall not be transferred to or heard by the Tribunal, even if the petition has not been served on the respondent.

 Provided that all pending winding-up petitions pending and retained before the High Court pursuant to the commencement of these Rules shall be disposed of by the Hon’ble Court by (cut-off date) failing which such proceedings shall be converted to IBC proceedings and transferred to the Tribunal.[58]

A legislative clarification in accordance with the aforesaid terms will ensure that winding-up proceedings in the High Court do not get delayed indefinitely. Moreover, certainty in forum of adjudication will also resolve jurisdictional conflict, reduce the burden on NCLTs and ensure finality and conclusiveness in adjudication of winding-up matters.

Part III –Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015

 A. Legislative history

The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 (the “Amendment Act”) was enacted on the basis of the proposals made by the Law Commission of India in its 246th Report on “Amendments to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996”[59].  The Commission was tasked with reviewing the provisions of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (the “Act”) in view of the several inadequacies observed in the functioning of the Act, which included exorbitant costs, protracted proceedings, excessive court intervention, etc. In order to address these issues and promote India as an arbitration friendly regime, the Commission recommended ample amendments to the Act.

The amendments are promising and in sync with the larger objectives of bringing about expediency, transparency and efficiency in arbitral proceedings. However, as was the case with GST and the IBC, the lack of clarity in transitional provisions led to a flurry of litigations on technical and transitional issues, which somewhat constricted the impact and essence of the Amendment Act.

 B. Transitional provisions

The transitional provision, provided for under Section 26 of the Amendment Act[60], reads as under:

  1. Act not to apply to pending arbitral proceedings.—Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the arbitral proceedings commenced, in accordance with the provisions of Section 21 of the principal Act, before the commencement of this Act unless the parties otherwise agree but this Act shall apply in relation to arbitral proceedings commenced on or after the date of commencement of this Act.

 On a prima facie reading, it appears as though the Amendment Act is to apply prospectively to arbitrations commencing after the date of enforcement of the Amendment Act i.e. 23-10-2015. However, there is no clarity on whether the Amendment Act applies to court proceedings emanating from arbitral proceedings commenced under the Act prior to 23-10-2015. The Act envisages court intervention at various stages before, during and after the commencement of arbitral proceedings.[61] Considering the same, it is baffling as to how and why the Amendment Act is silent on the said issue.

It is pertinent to note that the Law Commission of India, which proposed the amendments in the Act had recommended the insertion of Section 85-A, a comprehensive transitory provision that provided clarity to the effect that the Amendment Act was prospective in nature and was to apply only to fresh arbitrations and to fresh applications filed before the court or a tribunal after the date of enforcement of the Amendment Act. However, for some inexplicable reason, the proposed Section 85-A never found its way into the Act and instead the legislature enacted Section 26 in the Amending Act.

 C. Cause for concern

The lack of clarity in Section 26 of the Amendment Act highlights the apparent lack of legislative foresight to consider three peculiar but extremely foreseeable issues:

  • Applicability of the Amendment Act to court proceedings initiated prior to 23-10-2015 under the Act;
  • Applicability of the Amendment Act to court proceedings initiated/proposed to be initiated on/after 23-10.- the Act,
  • Applicability of the Amendment Act to fresh applications before the Arbitral Tribunal for pending arbitrations initiated prior to 23-10-2015; (for instance whether an application filed under Section 17 of the Act[62] after 23-10-2015 in a pending arbitration which has commenced prior to 23-10-2015 would be governed by the old provision or the amended provision)

Since the Amendment Act has made some significant and substantial changes in the arbitration regime, the aforesaid issues have caused confusion and chaos in pending arbitrations. The lack of procedural clarity has led to multiple litigations for determining the appropriate applicable provisions under the Act in pending arbitrations at the cost of the merits of disputes being sidetracked. This in turn has caused unnecessary delays in arbitrations, which ironically, was one of the primary issues sought to be addressed by the Amendment Act.

D. Judicial opinion

One of the foremost issues that has arisen on account of the ambiguity in Section 26 of the Amendment Act is with regard to the applicability of Section 36 as substituted under the Amendment Act to (1) court proceedings initiated prior to the enforcement of Amendment Act; and (2) court proceedings initiated after the enforcement of the Amendment Act.

Prior to the Amendment Act, Section 36 provided that an arbitral award shall be enforced only after the time-limit for filing an application for setting aside the award under Section 34 of the Act has expired, or such application having been made has been refused. Thus, this implied that there would be an automatic stay on enforcement of the award as soon as an application is filed under Section 34 for setting aside the award. The Amendment Act sought to do away with such automatic stay on enforcement by appropriately substituting Section 36. The substituted Section 36 provided that in order to stay enforcement of an arbitral award, it was necessary for the party seeking to set aside the award to file a separate application for stay of enforcement. Further, upon filing of the application, the stay is not to be granted as a matter of right, but the Court “may” in its discretion grant such a stay, subject to such conditions, and on recording of specific reasons.

In light of such substitution of Section 36, various courts have given divergent opinions with regard to the application of substituted Section 36 to court proceedings initiated/proposed to be initiated in respect of arbitrations which took place prior to the enforcement of the Amendment Act i.e. prior to 23-10-2015.

The view taken in Electrosteel Castings Ltd. v. Reacon Engineers (India) (P) Ltd.[63], and Ardee Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd. v. Anirudh Bhatia[64] was that that if an arbitration has commenced before 23-10-2015, the entire gamut court proceedings in respect of such arbitrations will be governed under the old regime and will not be covered by the Amendment Act. As a consequence, the unsubstituted Section 36 would continue to apply to such court proceedings, and this would amount to an automatic stay on enforcement of award pursuant to filing of a Section 34 petition. On the other hand, a starkly contrasting view was taken in New Tirupur Area Development Corporation Ltd. v. Hindustan Construction Co. Ltd. and Rendezvous Sports World v. Board of Control for Cricket in India[65] (Bombay High Court) that that the Amending Act will be applicable to all court proceedings pending on 23-10-2015 or filed after 23-10-2015 in relation to arbitration proceedings initiated prior to the enforcement date of the Amendment Act. As a consequence, Section 36 in its substituted form would be applicable to such court proceedings and there would be no automatic stay on enforcement of an arbitral award.

The divergent views taken by different high courts culminated into a series of special leave petitions before the  Supreme Court of India, which heard these petitions together with the lead matter being Board of Control for Cricket in India v. Kochi Cricket (P) Ltd.[66]

Analysing the language of Section 26 of the Amending Act, the Supreme Court came to the conclusion that a careful reading of the section indicates that :-(1) the Amendment Act will not apply to arbitrations that commenced prior to 23-10-2015, unless the parties agree; but (2) the Amendment Act will apply to court proceedings initiated after 23-10-2015 emanating from arbitrations that commenced prior to 23-10-2015.

With regard to the question as to whether the Amendment Act will retrospectively apply to court proceedings initiated before 23-10-2015, the Court observed that Section 36 embodies the procedure of enforcement. The same being procedural in nature any change/amendment in Section 36 does not affect any accrued/vested substantive rights of the judgment-debtor and therefore, the substituted Section 36 ought to be applied retrospectively. The Court further opined that if the substituted Section 36 is not applied retrospectively, it would defeat the very object of the Amendment Act, which is to ensure speedy dispute resolution and reduce court interference at various stages.

Thus, pursuant to the aforesaid judgment, the position with regard to the applicability of the Amended Act was clarified in the following manner:

  • The Amended Act will not apply to arbitration proceedings instituted prior to 23-10-2015 unless parties agree otherwise.
  • The Amended Act will apply to all court proceedings instituted on or after 23-10-2015 in relation to arbitration proceedings which commenced prior to 23-10-2015
  • Section 36 as substituted under the Amended Act will apply retrospectively to all court proceedings instituted before 23-10-2015 in relation to arbitration proceedings which commenced prior to 23-10-2015

E. Analysis and way forward

While the aforesaid judgment rendered by the Supreme Court rendered some much-needed clarity on the interpretation of Section 26 of the Amendment Act, the issue was rekindled when in 2017, a High-Level Committee headed by Justice (Retd.) B.N. Srikrishna suggested that the Amendment Act should apply only to arbitral proceedings commenced on or after the enforcement of the Amendment Act and to court proceedings arising out of or in relation to such arbitral proceedings.[67] The proposal found its way in the Arbitration Amendment Bill, 2018 which provided for insertion of Section 87 in the principal Act[68] as per which, in the absence of an agreement between the parties, the Amendment Act shall not apply to: (1) arbitral proceedings that have commenced prior to 23-10-2015; and (2) court proceedings arising out of or in relation to such arbitral proceedings irrespective of whether such court proceedings are commenced prior to or after 23-10-2015. The said Bill received assent from the President on 9-8-2019 and led to the enactment of Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2019. (2019 Amendment Act).  As a consequence, the Act stood amended with effect from 30-8-2019 (date of notification in Official Gazette) with a newly inserted Section 87 which specified that:

Unless the parties otherwise agree, the amendments made to this Act by the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 shall—

(a) not apply to––

(i) arbitral proceedings commenced before the commencement of the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015;

(ii) court proceedings arising out of or in relation to such arbitral proceedings irrespective of whether such court proceedings are commenced prior to or after the commencement of the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015;

(b) apply only to arbitral proceedings commenced on or after the commencement of the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 and to court proceedings arising out of or in relation to such arbitral proceedings.

The aforesaid legislative clarification with regard to the applicability of 2015 Amendment  completely diluted the ratio of the Kochi Cricket case[69] and reversed the position in respect of applicability of the 2015 Amendment Act. In other words, pursuant to the 2015 Amendment Act would no longer apply to any proceedings under the Act initiated prior to 23-10-2015, regardless of whether such proceedings were arbitral proceedings or court proceedings in relation to such arbitral proceedings.  This led to a scathing criticism of the 2019 Amendment Act, which was derided by jurists and practitioners for completely watering down the beneficial impact of the 2015 Amendment Act, which aimed at reducing court interference and improving the speed and efficacy of proceedings under the Act. The constitutional validity of Section 87 of the 2019 Amendment Act was subsequently challenged in the case of Hindustan Construction Company v. Union of India[70] and vide a unanimous verdict of a 3-judge bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, the said Section was set aside on the ground of being manifestly arbitrary, and the position as propounded by the Kochi Cricket case was restored.

Thus, as seen in the case of other legislations, failure to draft a conspicuous transitional provision in the Arbitration Amendment Act, 2015 led to confusion regarding the applicability of the amendments proposed therein, which in turn led to multiple litigations as discussed hereinabove. While the dust seems to have been finally settled on the issue with the Supreme Court’s seminal verdict in the Hindustan Construction Company case, one cannot help but ponder how a needless squandering of judicial time and resources could have been avoided with clear, concise and unambiguous legislative drafting.

 Conclusion

Transitional provisions in a legislation play a key role in regulating its coming into operation and effect. A carefully worded transitional provision is therefore an indispensable necessity to ensure a smooth change in a legal regime with minimum disruption of existing rights and liabilities. Transitional provisions, may affect relatively few cases, but they are extremely complicated; and they can be important to the cases affected.[71] The absence of clarity in transitional provisions causes chaos and confusion leading to multiple litigations requiring the judiciary to draw inferences based on apparent legislative intent.

The newly enacted commercial legislations in India aim at making business easier, transparent, and efficient by providing for simplicity in taxation structure, facilitating easy exits and offering a speedier mode for dispute resolution. However, loosely worded transitional provisions in these legislations coupled with baffling judicial opinions have substantially diluted the impact of positive changes sought to be brought about by these legislations. The colossal litigations that have arisen in respect of these transitional provisions stand as a testimony to the poor draftsmanship. As discussed in the chapters hereinabove, the judiciary often outweighs practical considerations in the eagerness to give effect to the so-called object and purpose of a newly enacted legislation. Based on the developments so far, it appears as though the judiciary as well as the Government are bent upon simply ensuring quick operationalisation of these legislations at the cost of their effective implementation. Such an approach will defeat the very purpose and essence of these legislations. It is imperative for India to immediately address these transitional issues through appropriate legislative amendments and clarifications, failing which, the true potential of these newly enacted legislations are likely to get sidetracked in the face of a convoluted web of unnecessary and avoidable litigations.


* Advocate, High Court of Gujarat.

[1]  http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/A5aqjfDv.

[2]  http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/7566Y3w5.

[3] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/86F742km.

[4]  http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/9ajA4z9b.

[5]  http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/0mV0KcW4.

[6]  http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings

[7] World Bank Group Project Report, Doing Business 2015: Going Beyond Efficiency, 12th Edition, sourced from: http://www.doingbusiness.org/content/dam/doingBusiness/media/Annual-Reports/English/DB15-Full-Report.pdf

[8]  Francis Bennion, Bennion on Statutory Interpretation, 14th Edn., LexisNexis, p. 442 (as cited in Union of India v. Filip Tiago De Gama of Vedem Vasco, (1990) 1 SCC 277

[9] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/4386Cb1k.

[10] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/ZN57RKH6.

[11] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/ADSpTtpt.

[12] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/ni9RfDmQ.

[13] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/4386Cb1k.

[14] See Gujarat Value Added Tax Act, 2003-, S.38(9); Karnataka Value Added Tax, 2003-,S. 40 http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/0s79tGDg.

[15] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/E4zd0gLl.

[16] See Central Excise Act, 1944, S. 11-A(1) 

[17] See Central Excise Act, 1944, S. 11-A(4) 

[18] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/1OzBQOxZ.

[19] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/EO3l1CkL.

[20] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/r556YlOs.

[21] See Maharashtra Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017, S. 174(g)

[22] 2019 SCC OnLine Ker 973

[23] 2018 SCC OnLine Kar 3887

[24] 2018 SCC OnLine Gau 1457

[25] Preston India (P) Ltd. v. State of Gujarat, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 3048

[26]  Prof. Henlen Xanthaki, Thornton’s Legislative Drafting, Bloomsbury Professional, 5th Edn., 2013 (as cited in Sheen Golden Jewels (India) (P) Ltd. V. State Tax Officer, supra note 22, para 98).

[27] <https://ibbi.gov.in/BLRCReportVol1_04112015.pdf>.

[28] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/k84vmP4Y.

[29]  http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/f2dr6UL1 S. 243, IBC, 2016.

[30] Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Repeal Act of 2003 notified on 1-12-2016

[31] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/30VFrXzu.

[32] S. 255 of the Code read with Sch. 11, provides for about 36 amendments to the Companies Act, 2013.

[33] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/bK498A3y.

[34] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/z7lc38J9.

[35] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/rYQ78CX4

[36] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/pm3Rt2A0

[37] See Rr. 4 and 5 of the Companies (Transfer of Pending ProFceedings) Rules, 2016

[38] https://barandbench.com/madras-hc-stays-winding-up-proceedings-in-nissan-renault-case/.

[39] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/e2E5pU46.

[40]  2017 SCC OnLine NCLT 547

[41] 2017 SCC OnLine NCLT 7586

[42] 2017 SCC OnLine NCLT 16255

[43] 2018 SCC OnLine NCLT 813

[44] 2017 SCC OnLine Bom 421

[45] 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 1952  .

[46] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/Kp5IKPzm.

[47] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/Q8FHMgT3.

[48] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/8et977Qj.

[49] Report of the Insolvency Committee, March 2018, Para 25.7 accessed at: http://www.mca.gov.in/Ministry/pdf/ReportInsolvencyLawCommittee_12042019.pdf.

[50] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/z7lc38J9.

[51] Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Second Amendment) Act, 2018 http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/4mkp5CaB, S. 39 – Amendment of Section 434 of CA 2013: “Provided further that any party or parties to any proc eedings relating to the winding up of companies pending before any Court immediately before the commencement of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, may file an application for transfer of such proceedings and the Court may by order transfer such proceedings to the Tribunal and the proceedings so transferred shall be dealt with by the Tribunal as an application for initiation of corporate insolvency resolution process under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.”

[52] (2019) 18 SCC 549

[53]  2019 SCC OnLine Del 10399

[54] 2020 SCCOnline SC 1025

[55] (2019) 18 SCC 549

[56] Companies (Transfer of Pending Proceedings) Second Amendment Rules, 2017, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Notification dated 29-6-2017

[57] R. 5 http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/bK498A3y; The proviso states that “Provided also that where a petition relating to winding up of a company is not transferred to the Tribunal under this rule and remains in the High Court and where there is another petition under cl. (e) of Section 433 of the Act for winding up against the same company pending as on 15-12-2016, such other petition shall not be transferred to the Tribunal, even if the petition has not been served on the respondent..”

[58] The portion highlighted in bold is the suggested amendment

[59] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/N7O69Zxv.

[60] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/9ajA4z9b.

[61] See, S. 8 (reference to arbitration) , S. 9 (grant of interim measures) , S. 11 (appointment of arbitrator) , S. 34 (Setting aside of arbitral award), S. 36 (enforcement of awards)

[62] http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/27KJ0N1c.

[63] 2016 SCC OnLine Cal 1257

[64] 2017 SCC OnLine Del 6402

[65] 2016 SCC OnLine Bom 16027

[66] (2018) 6 SCC 287

[67] Report of the High Level Committee to Review the Institutionalisation of Arbitration Mechanism in India

accessed at <http://legalaffairs.gov.in/sites/default/files/Report-HLC.pdf>.

[68] Unless parties agree otherwise the Amendment Act, 2015 shall not apply to the following:

(1) arbitral proceedings that have commenced prior to the Amendment Act, 2015 coming into force i.e. prior to 23-10-2015; (2) -court proceedings arising out of or in relation to such arbitral proceedings irrespective of whether such court proceedings are commenced prior to or after the commencement of the Amendment Act, 2015.

[69] (2018) 6 SCC 287 

[70] 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1520, Decided on 27th November, 2019

[71] Craies on Legislation, Sweet & Maxwell, South Asian Edn. 2010, p. 399 (cited in Sheen Golden Jewels (India) (P) Ltd. v. State Tax Officer, supra note 22,para 97).

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: J.R. Midha, J., dismisses the suit filed regarding the rollout of 5G technology on observing that the suit was filed with the motive of gaining publicity and also the Court reasoned out various defects in the plaint.

I.A. No. 6905/2021 under Section 149 of CPC

Plaintiffs submitted that if the justice dispensation system requires 15-20 years for settlement of a suit, Court has lost the moral as well as legal right to require the Court fees to be paid upfront at the beginning of the suit.

Plaintiffs sought time to pay the Court fees under Section 149 read with Section 148 CPC because of COVID-19 constraints.

Court while allowing the above application and granting deferment for whatever period of time this Court deemed it fit that the quantum of Court fees as yet to be decided by this Court, thereby allowing fair opportunity to plaintiffs.

Findings

Plaintiffs valued the suit for purpose of jurisdiction at Rs 2 crore.

Law is well-settled that the valuation of the suit for the purpose of jurisdiction and Court fees has to be same.  

Section 149 of Code of Civil Procedure empowers this Court to extend the time to pay the deficient Court-fees. However, the challenge sought by the plaintiffs into the validity of the Court fees Act is not permissible under Section 149 CPC. Therefore, no case for determination of the Court fees was made out.

Bench held that the application was misconceived, frivolous and unsustainable. The law with respect to valuation and computation of Court-fees is well settled. However, the plaintiffs have taken a stand not to pay the Court-fees in utter disregard of well-settled law.

I.A. No. 6909/2021 under Section 80(2) of CPC

Plaintiffs sought dispensation from issuing notice to the State entities under Section 80(1) of CPC on the ground that same was an empty formality.

Plaintiff submitted that since the 5G roll out has not actually happened, though – equally damaging – trials involving the human population have started (which is not the same as doing trials on pigs and/ or rats, and/or in an empty Thar Desert, or on the employees of the private defendants) – so that not even one single human life is lost by these trials, the plaintiffs are agreeable if this Court, while waiving the requirement of Section 80(1) of the CPC, grants a fair opportunity to the State Defendants to show cause as to why no interim relief be granted.

Findings

It was stated that serving notice under Section 80(1) CPC to the Government is mandatory before institution of the suit against the Government.

In the Supreme Court decision of State of Andhra Pradesh v. Gundugola Venkata Suryanarayana Garu, AIR 1965 SC 11, wherein it was observed that the object of the notice under Section 80(1) CPC is to give an opportunity to the Government to reconsider the matter and to make amends and settle the claim out of Court. The Supreme Court further observed that failure to serve a notice complying with the requirements of the statute will entail dismissal of the suit

In the State of A.P. v. Pioneer Builders, A.P., (2006) 12 SCC 119, the Supreme Court held that service of notice under Section 80 is a condition precedent for the institution of a suit against the Government. The Supreme Court further observed that the object of Section 80 is the advancement of justice for securing public good by avoidance of unnecessary litigation.

Another, Supreme Court decision in State of Kerala v. Sudhir Kumar Sharma, (2013) 10 SCC 178, the Supreme Court observed that a suit filed without compliance of Section 80(1) of the Code of Civil Procedure cannot be regularized by simply filing an application under Section 80(2) of the Code of Civil Procedure

In view of the above discussion, it was held that notice under Section 80(1) is an empty formality that is contrary to the well-settled law and hence rejected.

I.A. No. 7001/2021 under Section 91(1)(b) of CPC

Plaintiff sought leave to institute the suit stating that the matter concerned public health and EMF radiation caused by cellular telecommunication technology must have caused harm to many members of general public.

I.A. No. 7002/2021 under Order VIII Rule 1 of CPC

Further, the plaintiff sought leave to sue on the ground that colossal harm is eminent to general public by the rollout of 5G Technology and the suit involved issues regarding the public health of the present as well as future generations.

Findings

Court found the plaintiff’s suit defective and not maintainable for the following reasons:

  • Order VI Rule 2(1) of the Code of Civil Procedure: Plaintiffs did not comply the said provision by not filing the statement in concise form and also by incorporating the evidence in the plaint.
  • Plaintiffs did not comply with Order VI Rule 9 of the Code of Civil Procedure and reproduced the documents in the plaint which was not supposed to be done.
  • Plaint stuffed with unnecessary scandalous frivolous and vexatious averments that are liable to be struck down under Order VI Rule 16 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
  • No compliance of Order I Rule 3 of CPC in joining 33 defendants in the suit.
  • Plaint not verified under Order VI Rule 5 of the CPC.
  • Plaintiffs have no personal knowledge of the averments made in the plaint and the suit is solely based upon information and legal advice.
  • Plaintiffs never approached the defendants claiming any right, hence maintainability of declaratory reliefs was doubtful.
  • The twin requirements of Section 39 of Specific Relief Act are the existence of an obligation of the defendant towards the plaintiff and the breach thereof by the defendant. Both these requirements are not fulfilled.
  • Suit has not been valued properly for the purpose of Court fees.
  • No mandatory notice given under Section 80(1) of CPC.

Bench also remarked that the observation of Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw in one of the cases that: This is a classic textbook case of, how not to draft a plaint, which should be taught in law colleges and to young lawyers so that such bloopers in drafting of pleadings, damaging to one’s own client, are avoided.’ is fully applicable in the present matter

Conclusion

High Court concluded stating that the plaintiffs abused and misused the process of law which resulted in a waste of judicial time. Hence, Rs 20 lakhs as costs were imposed on the plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs filed the suit only to gain publicity which was evident from the fact that plaintiff 1 circulated the video conferencing link of the Court on her social media accounts which resulted in disruption of Court proceedings.

“Court proceedings were disrupted thrice by the unknown miscreants who continued the disruptions despite repeated warnings.”

Court issued notice to such miscreants and listed matter for reporting compliance on 05-07-2021.[Juhi Chawla v. Science and Engineering Research Board,  2021 SCC OnLine Del 3030, decided on 04-06-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the plaintiffs:

Deepak Khosla, Advocate along with Juhi Chawla Mehta, plaintiff 1 and Veeresh Malik, plaintiff 2.

For the Defendants:

Tushar Mehta, SGI with Amit Mahajan CGSC, Kanu Aggarwal and Dhruv Pande, Advocates for D-2/DoT/UOI

Anurag Ahluwalia, CGSC with Abhigayn Siddhant and Nitnem Singh Ghuman, Advocates for D-7/Indian Council of Medical Research

Arjun Mitra, Advocate for D-23/Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology Delhi

Kapil Sibal, Senior Advocate with Manjul Bajpai and Shashwat Bajpai, Advocates for D-25, D-26, D-27 and D-29/Cellular Operators Association of India.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Punjab and Haryana High Court: Arvind Singh Sangwan, J., addressed the instant petition regarding a new concept of contractual Live-In-Relation wherein the petitioners had sought issuance of direction for the protection of their life and liberty.

Petitioner 1, namely Moyana Khatun was aged about 18 years, whereas, petitioner 2, namely Labh Singh was aged about 19 years and in pursuance to a deed of Live-In-Relationship dated 04-03-2021, which had been executed between the petitioners, wherein, petitioner 1 was referred to as the ‘Female Partner’ and petitioner 2 was referred to as the ‘Male Partner’. Certain terms and conditions had been settled in the said deed of live-in-relationship by way of mutual consent.

The contents of the deed were such that:

  • both the parties had agreed that their live-in-relationship was not ‘Marital Relationship’;
  • that the parties will fully cooperate with each other without any dispute and issue and will not claim anything against each other;
  • if any of the parties backs out from the aforesaid deed, the other party will have a right to approach a competent Court of law for implementation of the same.
  • that the parties are entitled and will be at liberty to terminate this deed any time after giving one month’s notice to other party.

However, it was also stated that on attaining marriageable age the parties were agree to solemnize the marriage. The petitioners contended that the live-in-relationship deed was executed between the parties at Patiala in presence of witnesses though neither the original deed was attached nor names of the witnesses were described; only a typed copy signed as a true copy by the counsel was attached.

Reliance was placed on Simran Kaur v. State of Punjab, 2018 SCC OnLine P&H 6710, wherein, the petition relating to live-in-relationship couples was disposed of with a direction to the Senior Superintendent of Police to provide protection to the couple.

Counsel for state, DAG Joginder Pal Ratra argued that such deed of live-in-relationship is impermissible in law when the parties had not attained marriageable age under Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. It also submitted that Section 5 (iii) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 prohibits marriage of a girl below 18 years and boy below 21 years of age and prescribes punishment for two years for contravention of Section 5 (iii) of the Act.

It was also submitted by the state that Section 26 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, also provides that an agreement in restraint of marriage is a void agreement and therefore, it cannot be enforced as per Section 14 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963. Thus, the Live-In-Relationship agreement set up by petitioners being void agreement could not be accepted.

The Bench opined that the deed being impermissible in law, no benefit could be claimed by the petitioners. Petitioner 2 was held to be incompetent to have a live-in-relationship since he had not attained marriageable age. The Bench held that the petition was without any merit as the terms and conditions of live-in-relationship relied upon, especially stating that it was not a ‘Marital Relationship’ was nothing but the misuse of the process of law as it could not be morally accepted in society. [Moyna Khatun v. State of Punjab, CRWP-2421-2021, decided on 10-03-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


Appearance before the Court by:

For the Petitioner: Adv. Sushil K. Sharma,

For The Respondent: DAG Joginder Pal Ratra

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of UU Lait and Indira Banerjee, JJ has explained that Section 12 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963 has to be construed in a liberal, purposive manner that is fair and promotes justice.

“A contractee who frustrates a contract deliberately by his own wrongful acts cannot be permitted to escape scot free.”

While hearing a case relating to sale of land in the year 1984, the Court held that Section 12 of the Specific Relief Act is to be construed and interpreted in a purposive and meaningful manner to empower the Court to direct specific performance by the defaulting party, of so much of the contract, as can be performed, in a case like this.

“To hold otherwise would permit a party to a contract for sale of land, to deliberately frustrate the entire contract by transferring a part of the suit property and creating third party interests over the same.”

The Court explained that the relief of specific performance of an agreement, was at all material times, equitable, discretionary relief, governed by the provisions of the Specific Relief Act 1963. Even though the power of the Court to direct specific performance of an agreement may have been discretionary, such power could not be arbitrary. The discretion had necessarily to be exercised in accordance with sound and reasonable judicial principles.

After the amendment of Section 10 of the Specific Relief Act, the words “specific performance of any contract may, in the discretion of the Court, be enforced” have been substituted with the words “specific performance of a contract shall be enforced subject to …”. Hence,

“the Court is, now obliged to enforce the specific performance of a contract, subject to the provisions of sub-section (2) of Section 11, Section 14 and Section 16 of the S.R.A. Relief of specific performance of a contract is no longer discretionary, after the amendment.”

Referring to suits relating to sale of land, the Court explained that

“an agreement to sell immovable property, generally creates a right in personam in favour of the Vendee. The Vendee acquires a legitimate right to enforce specific performance of the agreement.”

The Court ordinarily enforces a contract in its entirety by passing a decree for its specific performance. However, Section 12 of the Specific Relief Act carves out exceptions, where the Court might direct specific performance of a contract in part.

Further, where a party to the contract is unable to perform the whole of his part of the contract, the Court may, in the circumstances mentioned in Section 12 of the Specific Relief Act, direct the specific performance of so much of the contract, as can be performed, particularly where the value of the part of the contract left unperformed would be small in proportion to the total value of the contract and admits of compensation.

The Court may, under Section 12 of the Specific Relief Act direct the party in default to perform specifically, so much of his part of the contract, as he can perform, provided the other party pays or has paid the consideration for the whole of the contract, reduced by the consideration for the part which must be left unperformed.

[B. Santoshamma v. D. Sarala, CIVIL APPEAL NO.3574 OF 2009, decided on 18.09.2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Refusing to hold an action instituted under section 31 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963 as an action in rem, the 3-judge bench of RF Nariman, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee, JJ has held that the proceeding under section 31 is with reference to specific persons and not with reference to all who may be concerned with the property underlying the instrument, or “all the world”.

“, the cancellation of the instrument under section 31 is as between the parties to the action and their privies and not against all persons generally, as the instrument that is cancelled is to be delivered to the plaintiff in the cancellation suit. A judgment delivered under section 31 does not bind all persons claiming an interest in the property inconsistent with the judgment, even though pronounced in their absence.”

Explaining the meaning of the expression “any person against whom a written instrument is void or voidable…” under Section 31(1), the Court said that the expression “any person” does not include a third party, but is restricted to a party to the written instrument or any person who can bind such party. Importantly, relief under section 39 of the Specific Relief Act, 1877 would be granted only in respect of an instrument likely to affect the title of the plaintiff, and not of an instrument executed by a stranger to that title. The expression “any person” in this section includes a person seeking derivative title from his seller.

“The principle behind the section is to protect a party or a person having a derivative title to property from such party from a prospective misuse of an instrument against him.”

Further, when a written instrument is adjudged void or voidable, the Court may then order it to be delivered up to the plaintiff and cancelled. Hence, the action under section 31(1) is strictly an action inter parties or by persons who obtained derivative title from the parties, and is thus in personam.

An action that is started under section 31(1) cannot be said to be in personam when an unregistered instrument is cancelled and in rem when a registered instrument is cancelled. The suit that is filed for cancellation cannot be in personam only for unregistered instruments by virtue of the fact that the decree for cancellation does not involve its being sent to the registration office – a ministerial action which is subsequent to the decree being passed.

“Thus, the factum of registration of what is otherwise a private document inter parties does not clothe the document with any higher legal status by virtue of its registration.”

It further explained that when it comes to cancellation of a deed by an executant to the document, such person can approach the Court under section 31, but when it comes to cancellation of a deed by a non-executant, the non-executant must approach the Court under section 34 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963. Cancellation of the very same deed, therefore, by a non-executant would be an action in personam since a suit has to be filed under section 34. However, cancellation of the same deed by an executant of the deed, being under section 31, would somehow convert the suit into a suit being in rem. All these anomalies only highlight the impossibility of holding that an action instituted under section 31 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963 is an action in rem.

[Deccan Paper Mills Co. Ltd. v. Regency Mahavir Properties, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 655, decided on 19.08.2020]

Op EdsOP. ED.

The law relating to specific performance as engrafted in the Specific Relief Act, 1963 (“the Act”) is an extremely important facet of civil law. The Act inter alia covers most aspects pertaining to performance of contracts as also injunctive reliefs which can be granted and claimed.

This article shall acquaint and take you through the basic principles and important aspects to be borne in mind while seeking specific performance of contracts in relation to immoveable property and related aspects.

In respect of moveable property, the general rule is that specific relief is refused as there is a presumption that the failure to perform can be compensated in terms of money in view of Section 10 of the Act as unamended. Even though Section 10 of the Act now stands amended, it does not mean that specific performance for moveables will be ordinarily granted. The law will still provide and presume that breach of a contract in respect of moveables can be compensated and therefore refuse performance. The exception to this will be amongst others when the moveable property is not an ordinary article of commerce, or is of special value or interest to the plaintiff, or consists of goods which are not easily obtainable in the market.

Nature of Specific Performance 

Specific performance is an equitable relief granted by the Court to enforce contractual obligations between the parties. It is a remedy in performance as opposed to a claim sounding in damages for breach of contract where pecuniary compensation is granted as relief for failure to carry out the terms of the contract.

What are the factors a Court considers when decoding to grant or refuse specific performance 

Section 10 of the Act as now amended[4] emphasises that specific performance is usually to be granted and denied only in circumstances as set out in Sections 11, 14 and 16 of the Act[5].

Section 10 of the Act as amended by the Specific Relief (Amendment) Act, 2018 seeks to make a departure and is an attempt to reduce the discretion of the Courts relating to enforcement of specific performance of contracts in keeping with the Statement of Objects and Reasons for the amending Act of 2018[6].

Similarly, Section 20 of the Act as it stood earlier provided that the grant of relief was discretionary. It provided as under:

“20. Discretion as to decreeing specific performance.—(1) The jurisdiction to decree specific performance is discretionary, and the court is not bound to grant such relief merely because it is lawful to do so; but the discretion of the court is not arbitrary but sound and reasonable, guided by judicial principles and capable of correction by a court of appeal….”

However with the amendment to Section 20 by the Amendment Act in 2018, it now also seeks to take away the discretion to an extent[7].

Despite the amendments as above, the Courts still consider the following well-settled criteria and principles while granting or denying specific performance.

1. Readiness and Willingness.

Section 16(c)[8] of the Act makes it mandatory for the plaintiff to prove that he has already performed or was always ready and willing to perform the essential terms of the contract which were to be performed by him.

Section 16(c) of the Act as amended by the Specific Relief (Amendment) Act, 2018 no longer requires the plaintiff to plead readiness and willingness as it was earlier mandated by a mantra in the plaint. However, in my view it is still mandatory for the plaintiff to prove that he has already performed or was always ready and willing to perform the essential terms of the contract which were to be performed by him. This cannot be done unless the plaintiff seeking performance also makes necessary averments in the plaint showing and disclosing facts which disclose the readiness and willingness and or performance. It is settled law that evidence cannot be contrary to pleadings and therefore it would still be necessary to have sufficient pleadings which would enable the Court to infer the ingredients of the amended Section 16 i.e. proof of readiness and willingness or performance.

The obligation cast by Section 16(c) of the Act upon the plaintiff to prove that he has already performed or was always ready and willing to perform essential terms of the contract which were to be performed by him have been emphasised by the Supreme Court in the following judgments:

Mehboob-ur-Rehman v. Ahsanul Ghani[9]

“14. Though, with the amendment of the Specific Relief Act, 1963 by Act  18 of 2018, the expression “who fails to aver and prove” is substituted by the expression “who fails to prove” and the expression “must aver” stands substituted by the expression “must prove” but then, the position on all the material aspects remains the same that, specific performance of a contract cannot be enforced in favor to the person who fails to prove that he has already performed or has always been ready and willing to perform the essential terms of the contract which are to be performed by him, other than the terms of which, the performance has been prevented or waived by the other party.”

        (emphasis supplied)

Umabai v. Nilkanth Dhondiba Chavan[10]

“30. It is now well settled that the conduct of the parties, with a view to arrive at a finding as to whether the plaintiff-respondents were all along and still are ready and willing to perform their part of contract as is mandatorily required under Section 16(c) of the Specific Relief Act must be determined having regard to the entire attending circumstances. A bare averment in the plaint or a statement made in the examination-in-chief would not suffice. The conduct of the plaintiff-respondents must be judged having regard to the entirety of the pleadings as also the evidences brought on records.     

(emphasis supplied)

2. Conduct Unblemished.

It is necessary that a plaintiff’s conduct in performance of the contract or attempting to fulfil the same shows an unwavering intention of wanting to perform. The Supreme Court has in para 12 of its judgment in  Aniglase Yohannan v. Ramlatha[11] held that:

“12. The basic principle behind Section 16(c) read with Explanation (ii) is that any person seeking benefit of the specific performance of contract must manifest that his conduct has been blemishless throughout entitling him to the specific relief. The provision imposes a personal bar. The Court is to grant relief on the basis of the conduct of the person seeking relief. If the pleadings manifest that the conduct of the plaintiff entitles him to get the relief on perusal of the plaint he should not be denied the relief.”

                    (emphasis supplied)

3. Readiness must be shown throughout up to the date of the decree.

A plaintiff in order to succeed must prove facts which would show his readiness and willingness at all times. It is not enough to show the readiness uptil the time of the plaint but the conduct must be such as discloses readiness and willingness at all times from the time of the contract till the suit and up to the decree. This principle was laid down in the following judgements:

Gomathinayagam Pillai v. Palaniswami Nadar[12]

“6. But the respondent has claimed a decree for specific performance and it is for him to establish that he was, since the date of the contract, continuously ready and willing to perform his part of the contract. If he fails to do so, his claim for specific performance must fail. As observed by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Ardeshir Mama v. Flora Sassoon[13]:

“In a suit for specific performance, on the other hand, he treated and was required by the Court to treat the contract as still subsisting. He had in that suit to allege, and if the fact was traversed, he was required to prove a continuous readiness and willingness, from the date of the contract to the time of the hearing, to perform the contract on his part. Failure to make good that averment brought with it the inevitable dismissal of his suit.”

The respondent must in a suit for specific performance of an agreement plead and prove that he was ready and willing to perform his part of the contract continuously between the date of the contract and the date of hearing of the suit.”           

(emphasis supplied)

Vijay Kumar v. Om Parkash[14]

7. In order to obtain a decree for specific performance, the plaintiff has to prove his readiness and willingness to perform his part of the contract and the readiness and willingness has to be shown through out and has to be established by the plaintiff.

      (emphasis supplied)

J.P.Builders v. A. Ramadas Rao[15]

“27. It is settled law that even in the absence of specific plea by the opposite party, it is the mandate of the statute that the plaintiff has to comply with Section 16(c) of the Specific Relief Act and when there is non-compliance with this statutory mandate, the court is not bound to grant specific performance and is left with no other alternative but to dismiss the suit. It is also clear that readiness to perform must be established throughout the relevant points of time. “Readiness and willingness” to perform the part of the contract has to be determined/ascertained from the conduct of the parties.”

                    (emphasis supplied)

4. It is not necessary that the plaintiff must tender the money due under a contract.

Although one of the factors showing the readiness and willingness may be the ability of a plaintiff to make payment that cannot be a factor by itself to disentitle the plaintiff the grant of relief.

A. Kanthamani v. Nasreen Ahmed [16]

“24. The expression “readiness and willingness” has been the subject-matter of interpretation in many cases even prior to its insertion in Section 16(c) of the Specific Relief Act, 1963. While examining the question as to how and in what manner, the plaintiff is required to prove his financial readiness so as to enable him to claim specific performance of the contract/agreement, the Privy Council in a leading case which arose from the Indian courts (Bombay) in Bank of India Ltd. v. Jamsetji A.H. Chinoy[17]  , approved the view taken by Chagla, Actg. C.J., and held inter alia that:

it is not necessary for the plaintiff to produce the money or vouch a concluded scheme for financing the transaction to prove his readiness and willingness.

25. The following observations of the Privy Council are apposite: (Jamsetji case[18] , SCC OnLine PC)

“… Their Lordships agree with this conclusion and the grounds on which it was based. It is true that Plaintiff 1 stated that he was buying for himself, that he had not sufficient ready money to meet the price and that no definite arrangements had been made for finding it at the time of repudiation. But in order to prove himself ready and willing a purchaser has not necessarily to produce the money or to vouch a concluded scheme for financing the transaction. … Their Lordships would only add in this connection that they fully concur with Chagla, Actg. C.J. when he says:

‘In my opinion, on the evidence already on record it was sufficient for the court to come to the conclusion that Plaintiff 1 was ready and willing to perform his part of the contract. It was not necessary for him to work out actual figures and satisfy the court what specific amount a bank would have advanced ……’.”                

(emphasis supplied)

Boramma v. Krishna Gowda[19]

“10.   Ms. Agarwal has read to us the statement of PW 2.  In the cross- examination, PW2 stated that he had not offered at any time to Boramma the amount and that he had not deposited any amount in court.  Explanation to clause (c)  of Section 16 makes it clear that where a contract involves the payment of money, it is not essential for the plaintiff to actually tender to the defendant or to deposit in court any money, except when so directed by the court.                                                          

(emphasis supplied)

Azhar Sultana v. B. Rajamani[20]

“31. We are, however, in agreement with Mr. Lalit that for the aforementioned purpose, it was not necessary that the entire amount of consideration should be kept ready and the plaintiff must file proof in respect thereof. ”                               

(emphasis supplied)

Apart from the aforesaid the following must also be borne in mind while conducting a suit for performance.

5. The plaintiff must seek appropriate relief.

It often happens that a contract is terminated and that fact gives rise to a cause of action to file a suit for performance. In such cases the failure to apply to have the termination set aside would be fatal to performance as without an appropriate relief to set aside the termination it would be deemed the plaintiff has accepted the same and then cannot sue for performance of a contract treated as at an end by his conduct.

In I.S. Sikandar v. K. Subramani[21],the  Supreme Court held that on failure to pray for and seek to declare that a termination was wrongful the further relief to perform the terminated agreement could not be granted:

“37. As could be seen from the prayer sought for in the original suit, the plaintiff has not sought for declaratory relief to declare the termination of agreement of sale as bad in law. In the absence of such prayer by the plaintiff the original suit filed by him before the trial court for grant of decree for specific performance in respect of the suit scheduled property on the basis of agreement of sale and consequential relief of decree for permanent injunction is not maintainable in law.”                     

(emphasis supplied)

The provisions of Section 22[22] must also be considered when seeking relief in cases where the plaintiff is not in possession of the land or property in dispute.

Adcon Electronics (P) Ltd. v. Daulat[23]

16. In a suit for specific performance of contract for sale of immovable property containing a stipulation that on execution of the sale deed the possession of the immovable property will be handed over to the purchaser, it is implied that delivery of possession of the immovable property is part of the decree of specific performance of contract. But in this connection it is necessary to refer to Section 22 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963. ……….

17. It may be seen that sub-section (1) is an enabling provision. A plaintiff in a suit of specific performance may ask for further reliefs mentioned in clauses (a) and (b) thereof. Clause (a) contains reliefs of possession and partition and separate possession of the property, in addition to specific performance. The mandate of sub-section (2) of Section 22 is that no relief under clauses (a) and (b) of sub-section (1) shall be granted by the court unless it has been specifically claimed. Thus it follows that no court can grant the relief of possession of land or other immovable property, subject-matter of the agreement for sale in regard to which specific performance is claimed, unless the possession of the immovable property is specifically prayed for.”

­­6. Who are the necessary parties to a suit for specific performance.

It is not unusual that during the pendency of an action or even before in case a party to the contract creates third party rights then such persons claiming title from one of the contracting parties becomes a necessary party. Who would be appropriate parties to a suit for performance would depend on the facts of a case, Order I Rule 10 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 and Section 19[24] of the Act which provides an indication. The Supreme Court in Kasturi case[25] has succinctly laid down the principles to consider i.e. who should be a necessary party in a suit for performance.

Kasturi v. Iyyamperumal [26]

“7.  In our view, a bare reading of this provision, namely, second part of Order 1 Rule 10 sub-rule (2) CPC would clearly show that the necessary parties in a suit for specific performance of a contract for sale are the parties to the contract or if they are dead, their legal representatives as also a person who had purchased the contracted property from the vendor. In equity as well as in law, the contract constitutes rights and also regulates the liabilities of the parties. A purchaser is a necessary party as he would be affected if he had purchased with or without notice of the contract, but a person who claims adversely to the claim of a vendor is, however, not a necessary party. From the above, it is now clear that two tests are to be satisfied for determining the question who is a necessary party. Tests are — (1) there must be a right to some relief against such party in respect of the controversies involved in the proceedings; (2) no effective decree can be passed in the absence of such party.

                               *                                   *                                   *

10. That apart, from a plain reading of Section 19 of the Act we are also of the view that this section is exhaustive on the question as to who are the parties against whom a contract for specific performance may be enforced.

                                  *                                   *                                   *

15…Therefore, in our view, a third party or a stranger to the contract cannot be added so as to convert a suit of one character into a suit of different character.”

        (emphasis supplied)

7. The proper form of decree.

In cases where there is a transfer of the suit property by the contracting party and then the party in default suffers a decree for performance the proper form of a decree is as laid down in Durga Prasad v. Deep Chand[27] where it was held that the defendant and the transferee must join in the performance.

The principle was again applied recently in Vijay A. Mittal v. Kulwant Rai.[28]

38. The question arose before this Court in Durga Prasad v. Deep Chand  as to what form of decree should be passed in the case of specific performance of contract where the suit property is sold by the defendant i.e. the owner of the suit property to another person and later he suffers a decree for specific performance of contract directing him to transfer the suit property to the plaintiff in term of contract.

39. The learned Judge, Vivian Bose, J. examined this issue and speaking for the Bench in his inimitable style of writing, held as under: (Durga Prasad case[30] )

“Where there is a sale of the same property in favour of a prior and subsequent transferee and the subsequent transferee has, under the conveyance outstanding in his favour, paid the purchase-money to the vendor, then in a suit for specific performance brought by the prior transferee, in case he succeeds, the question arises as to the proper form of decree in such a case. The practice of the courts in India has not been uniform and three distinct lines of thought emerge. According to one point of view, the proper form of decree is to declare the subsequent purchase void as against the prior transferee and direct conveyance by the vendor alone. A second considers that both vendor and vendee should join, while a third would limit execution of the conveyance to the subsequent purchaser alone. According to the Supreme Court, the proper form of decree is to direct specific performance of the contract between the vendor and the prior transferee and direct the subsequent transferee to join in the conveyance so as to pass on the title which resides in him to the prior transferee. He does not join in any special covenants made between the prior transferee and his vendor; all he does is to pass on his title to the prior transferee.”

8. Limitation for an action.

The prescribed period of limitation for a suit of specific performance is three years from the date fixed for performance or if no such date is fixed, when the plaintiff has notice that performance is refused[31].

Rathnavathi v. Kavita Ganashamdas[32]

“42. A mere reading of Article 54 of the Limitation Act would show that if the date is fixed for performance of the agreement, then non-compliance with the agreement on the date would give a cause of action to file suit for specific performance within three years from the date so fixed. However, when no such date is fixed, limitation of three years to file a suit for specific performance would begin when the plaintiff has noticed that the defendant has refused the performance of the agreement.

43. The case at hand admittedly does not fall in the first category of Article 54 of the Limitation Act because as observed supra, no date was fixed in the agreement for its performance. The case would thus be governed by the second category viz. when the plaintiff has a notice that performance is refused.

44. As mentioned above, it was the case of the plaintiff that she came to know on 2-1-2000 and 9-1-2000 that the owner of the suit house along with the so-called intending purchaser are trying to dispossess her from the suit house on the strength of their ownership over the suit house. This event was, therefore, rightly taken as starting point of refusal to perform the agreement by Defendant 2, resulting in giving notice to Defendant 2 by the plaintiff on 6-3-2000 and then filing of suit on 31-3-2000.”

9. Court Passing the decree retains control over the decree even after the decree is passed.

This principle enables the Court to provide assistance to the successful Plaintiff even after the decree to effectuate complete satisfaction of the relief claimed and prevent it from being rendered useless.

The Supreme Court has in Hungerford Investment Trust Ltd. v. Haridas Mundhra[33] explained the power of the Court in the following terms:

“22. It is settled by a long course of decisions of the Indian High Courts that the Court which passes a decree for specific performance retains control over the decree even after the decree has been passed. In Mahommadalli Sahib v. Abdul Khadir Saheb[34],it was held that the Court which passes a decree for specific performance has the power to extend the time fixed in the decree for the reason that Court retains control over the decree, that the contract between the parties is not extinguished by the passing of a decree for specific performance and that the contract subsists notwithstanding the passing of the decree. In Pearisundari Dassee v. Hari Charan Mozumdar Chowdhry[35],the Calcutta High Court said that the Court retains control over the proceedings even after a decree for specific performance has been passed, that the decree passed in a suit for specific performance is not a final decree and that the suit must be deemed to be pending even after the decree…….Fry in his book[36]on specific performance stated the law in England as follows:

“It may and not unfrequently does happen that after judgment has been given for the specific performance of a contract, some further relief becomes necessary, in consequence of one or other of the parties making default in the performance of something which ought under the judgment to be performed by him or on his part; as for instance, where a vendor refuses or is unable to execute a proper conveyance of the property or a purchaser to pay the purchase money . . . .

There are two kinds of relief after judgment for specific performance of which either party to the contract may, in a proper case, avail himself —

(i) He may obtain (on motion in the action) an order appointing a definite time and place for the completion of the contract by payment of the un-paid purchase-money and delivery over of the executed conveyance and title deeds, or a period within which the judgment is to be obeyed, and if the other party fails to obey the order, may thereupon at once issue a writ of sequestration against the defaulting party’s estate and effects. . . . . . .

(ii) He may apply to the Court (by motion in the action) for an order rescinding the contract. On an application of this kind, if it appears that the party moved against has positively refused to complete the contract, its immediate rescission may be ordered; otherwise, the order will be for rescission in default of completion within a limited time . . . . . .”

All the aforesaid principles would apply with equal force to a party seeking specific performance in an arbitration.


* Advocate, High Court, Bombay. Assisted by Arjun Prabhu, Mayur Agarwal and Sheetal Parkash. Author can be reached at karlshroff@gmail.com.

[1] Specific Relief Act, 1963    

[2] Section 10 (prior to its amendment). Cases in which specific performance of contract enforceable.—Except as otherwise provided in this Chapter, the specific performance of any contract may, in the discretion of the court, be enforced……

Explanation.—Unless and until the contrary is proved, the court shall presume—

(i) that the breach of a contract to transfer immovable property cannot be adequately relieved by compensation in money; and

(ii) that the breach of a contract to transfer moveable property can be so relieved except in the following cases—

(a) where the property is not an ordinary article of commerce, or is of special value or interest to the plaintiff, or consists of goods which are not easily obtainable in the market;

(b) where the property is held by the defendant as the agent or trustee of the plaintiff.

[3] As amended by the Specific Relief (Amendment) Act, 2018

[4] As amended by the Specific Relief (Amendment) Act, 2018

[5] Section10. Specific performance in respect of contracts. — The specific performance of a contract shall be enforced by the court subject to the provisions contained in sub-section (2) of Section 11, Section 14 and Section 16

[6] Statement of Objects and Reasons of Amending Act 18 of 2018.—The Specific Relief Act, 1963 was enacted to define and amend the law relating to certain kinds of specific relief. It contains provisions, inter alia, specific performance of contracts, contracts not specifically enforceable, parties who may obtain and against whom specific performance may be obtained, etc. It also confers wide discretionary powers upon the courts to decree specific performance and to refuse injunction, etc. As a result of wide discretionary powers, the courts in majority of cases award damages as a general rule and grant specific performance as an exception.

(2) The tremendous economic development since the enactment of the Act have brought in enormous commercial activities in India including foreign direct investments, public private partnerships, public utilities infrastructure developments, etc.; which have prompted extensive reforms in the related laws to facilitate enforcement of contracts, settlement of disputes in speedy manner. It has been felt that the Act is not in tune with the rapid economic growth happening in our country and the expansion of infrastructure activities that are needed for the overall development of the country.

(3) In view of the above, it is proposed to do away with the wider discretion of courts to grant specific performance and to make specific performance of contract a general rule than exception subject to certain limited grounds.

[7] Section 20. Substituted performance of contract.— (1) Without prejudice to the generality of the provisions contained in the Indian Contract Act, 1872 (9 of 1872), and, except as otherwise agreed upon by the parties, where the contract is broken due to non-performance of promise by any party, the party who suffers by such breach shall have the option of substituted performance through a third party or by his own agency, and, recover the expenses and other costs actually incurred, spent or suffered by him, from the party committing such breach.

(2) No substituted performance of contract under sub-section (1) shall be undertaken unless the party who suffers such breach has given a notice in writing, of not less than thirty days, to the party in breach calling upon him to perform the contract within such time as specified in the notice, and on his refusal or failure to do so, he may get the same performed by a third party or by his own agency:

Provided that the party who suffers such breach shall not be entitled to recover the expenses and costs under sub-section (1) unless he has got the contract performed through a third party or by his own agency.

(3) Where the party suffering breach of contract has got the contract performed through a third party or by his own agency after giving notice under sub-section (1), he shall not be entitled to claim relief of specific performance against the party in breach.

(4) Nothing in this section shall prevent the party who has suffered breach of contract from claiming compensation from the party in breach.

[8] 16. Personal bars to relief – Specific performance of a contract cannot be enforced in favor of a person –

(a) – (b)      *                          *                            *

(c)   who fails to prove that he has performed or has always been ready and willing to perform the essential terms of the contract which are to be performed by him, other than terms the performance of which has been prevented or waived by the defendant.

Explanation. – For the purposes of clause (c) –

(i)  where a contract involves the payment of money, it is not essential for the plaintiff to actually tender to the defendant or to deposit in court any money except when so directed by the Court.

(ii)   the plaintiff must prove performance of, or readiness and willingness to perform, the contract according to its true construction.

[9] 2019 SCC OnLine SC 203  

[10] (2005) 6 SCC 243  

[11] (2005) 7 SCC 534 

[12] (1967) 1 SCR 227  

[13] 1928 SCC OnLine PC 43    

[14] 2018 SCC OnLine SC 1913 

[15] (2011) 1 SCC 429  

[16] (2017) 4 SCC 654  

[17] 1949 SCC OnLine PC 81 

[18]. Bank of India Ltd. v. Jamsetji A.H. Chinoy, 1949 SCC OnLine PC 81

[19] (2000) 9 SCC 214  

[20] (2009) 17 SCC 27  

[21] (2013) 15 SCC 27  at page 38 

[22] Section 22. Power to grant relief for possession, partition, refund of earnest money, etc.— (1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, any person suing for the specific performance of a contract for the transfer of immovable property may, in an appropriate case, ask for—

(a) possession, or partition and separate possession, of the property, in addition to such performance; or

(b) any other relief to which he may be entitled, including the refund of any earnest money or deposit paid or   made by him, in case his claim for specific performance is refused.

(2) No relief under clause (a) or clause (b) of sub-section (1) shall be granted by the court unless it has been specifically claimed:

Provided that where the plaintiff has not claimed any such relief in the plaint, the court shall, at any stage of the proceeding, allow him to amend the plaint on such terms as may be just for including a claim for such relief.”

[23] (2001) 7 SCC 698 

[24] Section 19. Except as otherwise provided by this Chapter, specific performance of a contract may be enforced against.—

(a) either party thereto;

(b) any other person claiming under him by a title arising subsequently to the contract, except a transferee for value who has paid his money in good faith and without notice of the original contract;

(c) any person claiming under a title which, though prior to the contract and known to the plaintiff, might have been displaced by the defendant.

[25] Kasturi v. Iyyamperumal, (2005) 6 SCC 733  

[26] Ibid

[27] 1954 SCR 360   

[28] (2019) 3 SCC 520 

[29] 1954 SCR 360  

[30] Ibid

[31] Article 54 of the Limitation Act, 1963 

For specific performance of a contract. Three years The date fixed for the performance, or, if no such date is fixed, when the plaintiff has notice that performance is refused.

[32] (2015) 5 SCC 223 

[33] (1972) 3 SCC 684 

[34] 1927 SCC OnLine Mad 135  

[35] ILR (1888) 15 Cal 211

[36] Fry on Specific Performance, 6th Edn., p. 546

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, JJ, while deciding the question whether a vendee who does not perform one of his promises in a contract can obtain the discretionary relief of specific performance of that very contract, has held,

“A party cannot claim that though he may not perform his part of the contract he is entitled to specific performance of the same.”

Stating that the relief of specific performance is discretionary, the Court said merely because the plaintiff is legally right, the Court is not bound to grant him the relief. The Court explained that Section 16(c) of the Specific Relief Act, 1963 clearly lays down that

“the specific performance of a contract cannot be enforced in favour of a person who fails to prove that he has performed or was always ready and willing to perform the essential terms of the contract which were to be performed by him.”

Further, the Court noticed that Explanation (ii) to Section 16(c) of the Specific Relief Act lays down   that it is incumbent on the party, who wants to enforce the specific performance of a contract, to aver and prove that he has performed or has always been ready and willing to perform the essential terms of the contract.

Considering that the relief of specific performance under Section 20 is discretionary, the Court said,

“Sub clause(c) of sub­section (2) of Section 20 provides that even if the contract is otherwise not voidable but the circumstances make it inequitable to enforce specific performance, the Court can refuse to grant such discretionary relief. Explanation (2) to the Section provides that the hardship has to be considered at the time of the contract, unless the hardship is brought in by the action of the plaintiff.”

[Surinder Kaur v. Bahadur Singh, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1167, decided on 11.09.2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of Biswajit Basu, J. dismissed a civil revision pertaining to grant of relief under Section 6 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963.

The suit under the said section was filed by the petitioner alleging that he was the tenant in the suit property. That he was dispossessed from the same without his consent and without due process of law. The suit was filed for the relief of reclaiming the possession. The trial court, vide the order impugned, dismissed the suit of the petitioner herein. Aggrieved thereby, the instant revision was filed.

The High Court perused the record. It was observed that Section 6 provides a special and speedy remedy for a particular kind of grievance to place back in possession a person who had been evicted from the immovable property of which he had been in a possession, otherwise than by process of law. Therefore, possession of the plaintiff over the immovable property on the date of dispossession is the condition precedent to invoke jurisdiction of Section 6. Investigation into the title favouring such possession is irrelevant in the proceeding of such nature. In the facts of the present case, it was clear that the petitioner was not in possession of the suit property on the date on which the unlawful dispossession was alleged. Therefore, the Court held that no interference was called for in the order impugned passed by the trial court. The revision petition was accordingly dismissed. [Ramesh Chand Koiri v. Chandan Koiri,2018 SCC OnLine Cal 6471, dated 19-09-2018]