In this blog, we have been writing about the concept of default rules for the past decade. In many posts, we have lamented the absence of this useful concept in analysing various provision in Indian Contract Law. Finally, a recent three judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Dyna Technologies v. Cromption Greaves (SC: 2019) has expressly recognised the concept of default rules. The Supreme Court stated:
"29. Similar to the position under the Model Law, India also adopts a default rule to provide for reasons unless the parties agree otherwise. As with most countries like England, America and Model Law, Indian law recognizes enforcement of the reasonless award if it has been so agreed between the parties.
30. There is no gainsaying that arbitration proceedings are not per se comparable to judicial proceedings before the Court. A party under Indian Arbitration Law can opt for an arbitration before any person, even those who do not have prior legal experience as well. In this regard, we need to understand that the intention of the legislature to provide for a default rule, should be given rational meaning in light of commercial wisdom inherent in the choice of arbitration."
With the introduction of the concept, hopefully there will be more clarity on the classification of various contract law rules as default and mandatory.
The case dealt with the issue relating to the interpretation of Section 31(3) of the 1996 Act, which provided: "(3) The arbitral award shall state the reasons upon which it is based, unless- (a) the parties have agreed that no reasons are to be given, or (b) the award is an arbitral award on agreed terms under section 30.” (Section 31(3) has remained unamended since enactment of the 1996 Act.)
The Supreme Court held that the requirement of reasons in Section 31(3) meant that the reasoning should be intelligible and adequate. The court also held that in addition to intelligibility and adequacy, a reasoned award should be proper. However, the court took pains to clarify that propriety or pervasity in the reasoning of the award should be judged "strictly on the grounds provided in Section 34".
On intelligibility, the court held that if the award suffers from unintelligibility, it is "equivalent of providing no reasons at all".
On adequacy, the court stated that the validity of the award should be tested on the touchstone of "degree of particularity of reasoning having regard to the nature of issues" that the tribunal had to decide. The court was not in favour of any precise formulation of the concept of "degree of particularity" but clarified that even if "there were gaps in the reasoning for the conclusions reached by the Tribunal, the Court needs to have regard to the documents submitted by the parties and the contentions" so as to ensure that "awards with inadequate reasons are not set aside in a casual and cavalier manner".
Distinguishing between the tests for setting aside the award suffering from inadequacy of reasoning and unintelligibility, the court held that unlike inadequacy in reasoning, even "ordinarily unintelligible awards" could be set aside, the only restriction being where parties agree that no reasoning is required.
These aspects have been dealt with in Paras 35 and 36 of the court's decision.
The court also provided guidance on how an award suffering from the aforesaid infirmities could be dealt with. The court stated that Section 34(4) can be used in cases where there is "complete pervasity in reasoning" (by which the award could be challenged under Section 34) so as to cure the defects (Para 38). Even so, the court did not want to apply the said provision on facts considering that it had taken 25 years for the adjudication of the dispute. On facts, the Supreme Court set aside the award for want of reasons.
It is also to be noted that Section 34(4) can be used when there is a request from a party [See, Kinnari Mullick and Ors. vs. Ghanshyam Das Damani (20.04.2017 - SC) : MANU/SC/0514/2017]. The SC did not take the said decision into consideration. It should not be taken that the decision of the SC in the case under discussion in any away deviates from the requirements under Section 34(4) as clarified in Kinnari Mullick, where another three Judge Bench of the SC held:
"In any case, the limited discretion available to the Court Under Section 34(4) can be exercised only upon a written application made in that behalf by a party to the arbitration proceedings. It is crystal clear that the Court cannot exercise this limited power of deferring the proceedings before it suo moto. Moreover, before formally setting aside the award, if the party to the arbitration proceedings fails to request the Court to defer the proceedings pending before it, then it is not open to the party to move an application Under Section 34(4) of the Act. For, consequent to disposal of the main proceedings Under Section 34 of the Act by the Court, it would become functus officio. In other words, the limited remedy available Under Section 34(4) is required to be invoked by the party to the arbitral proceedings before the award is set aside by the Court."