The issue of time as essence in construction contracts is controversial and is frequently litigated. The law on the subject is largely unsatisfactory. In a paper titled "The Law on Time as Essence in Construction Contracts: A Critique" published in Volume 8 Issue 1 of the RGNUL Financial and mercantile Law Review (here), the law on the subject is critically evaluated. The paper argues that the precedent on the issue, Hind Construction Contractors v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1979 SC 720 ("Hind Construction"), was wrongly decided and requires reconsideration. It also argues that:
- Hind Construction is no more relevant to the current times and provides incentives to inefficient contractors leading to delay in project completion;
- Contracting parties do not appear to have circumvented the adverse effect produced by Hind Construction through the use of appropriate language in their contracts despite various decisions following the said decision; and
- One of such reasons for the phenomena appears to be a lack of direction by courts as to what contracting language could constitute future courts to construe a contractual condition providing that time is of the essence as such.
Abstract of the Paper is provided below:
"The concept of time as essence in construction contracts is a controversial topic. Even though parties routinely provide in their agreements that time is of the essence, these clauses inevitably figure in construction disputes. Arbitral tribunals and courts have mostly decided such disputes holding those clauses to be of no legal effect, mainly by relying on the decision of a three-judge bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Hind Construction Contractors v. State of Maharashtra. This paper argues that Hind Construction was wrongly decided, that it is not good law and that it requires reconsideration given the changing times. The paper further notes that parties do not appear to have circumvented the adverse effect of Hind Construction. Usually, in such situations, there is a change in contracting behaviour by the use of appropriate contracting language. Perhaps, this is due to the lack of direction by courts as to what appropriate language could be used in contracts to make time as the essence of the contract. This paper concludes by suggesting possible methods by which courts and arbitral tribunals could validly enforce time-as-essence clauses."
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