India: Government Arbitrator? 'Default Procedure' Will Clip His Wings

Last Updated: 17 October 2014
Article by Sahil Kanuga and Vyapak Desai

The Supreme Court has:

  • acknowledged that it is a common sight that government officers are appointed as arbitrators, because of their status and position; discharge of their other duties assumes more importance and their role as arbitrators takes a back seat - this kind of behavior showing a casual approach in arbitration is anathema to the very genesis of arbitration;
  • directed that where the government assumes the authority and power to appoint the arbitral tribunal, it should be vigilant and responsible in choosing arbitrators who are in a position to conduct arbitral proceedings in an efficient manner;
  • held that the principle of 'default procedure' will apply and courts are not powerless to remedy situations arising from inaction of arbitral tribunals (in government contracts) to protect the interest of all parties.


The Supreme Court of India ("Court"), in Union of India v. U.P. State Bridge Corp Ltd1, has once again held that the appointment of an arbitrator by the court, of its own choice, departing from the arbitration clause, is not unknown and has become an acceptable proposition of law. This can now be termed as a legal principle established by a series of judgments of the Court.


In contracts involving a state related entity and a private party, the arbitrators are usually officials of the entity. While this practice of appointing a government official as an arbitrator has been frowned upon, it has been upheld. There have been numerous instances where such arbitrators have been unable to devote adequate time towards conducting arbitration proceedings or are incapable of conducting proceedings due to transfers or retirements. In such situation, would the court be able to step in and appoint an arbitrator/arbitral tribunal, departing from the agreed procedure?


The parties had entered into an agreement, inter alia, for construction of a rail bridge across the river Ganga near Patna. The general conditions of contract contained arbitration as the dispute resolution mechanism. As is common in such contracts, or members of the tribunal were to be railway authorities. Disputes arose between the parties and in arbitral tribunal was constituted in 2007. This arbitration did not complete for over 4 years and in March 2011, when a request case was filed before the Delhi High Court due to vacancy in the tribunal, the High Court gave a last chance to the tribunal to complete the arbitral proceedings within a period of 3 months with a direction to hold regular sittings at Patna. It was also stated in the order that if arbitration proceedings were not completed within the fixed period, the respondent would be at liberty to approach the Court and the Court would be constrained to pass appropriate orders in accordance w ith the Arbitration and Conciliat ion Act, 1996 ("Act").

The arbitral tribunal did not complete the proceedings within the allotted time leading the respondent to approach the Delhi High Court in terms of liberty granted. The Delhi High Court took note of the various dates or hearing fixed by the tribunal in the 3 months granted by the High Court and came to the conclusion that the delay caused in the arbitral proceedings was intentional. It held that the members of the arbitral tribunal were continuing their dilatory tactics and were violating the specific directions of the High Court. The High Court termed this attitude of the tribunal as negligent with no sanctity for any law or for the orders of the High Court. The High Court allowed the request petition and set aside the mandate of the tribunal with the appointment of a sole arbitrator by the court. The appellant challenged this order before the Court contending that it was not open to the High Court to appoint a sole arbitrator as (i) it was not empowered to constitute the arbitral tribun al on its own; and (ii) it was contrary to the arbitration clause.


The Court perused the provisions of the agreement as well as the Act. The Court was of the view that, taking into account the conduct of the arbitral tribunal from its inception and also after a life was granted by the Delhi High Court, the order of the Delhi High Court terminating the mandate of the arbitral tribunal was flawless.

The only question that remained was whether the substitute tribunal should have been appointed in terms of the agreement between the parties i.e. according to the rules applicable to the appointment of the arbitrator being replaced. The Court acknowledged that ordinarily, that would have been the position. However, referring to its earlier decision in North Eastern Railway v. Tripple Engineering Works2, the court held that this position had seen significant erosion.

  • In Ace Pipeline Contracts (P) Ltd v Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd.3 the Court held that while the contract between the parties must be adhered to, deviations in exceptional circumstances would be permissible;
  • In Datar Switchgears Ltd. v. Tata Finance Ltd4, Punj Lloyd Ltd. v. Petronet MHB Ltd5 and Union of India v. Bharat Battery Manufacturing Co. (P) Ltd6 the Court held that the filing of a petition under Section 11(6) of the Act by an aggrieved party after the expiry of the stipulated period to appoint the arbitrator would mean that the right to appoint an arbitrator was forfeited by the other party; this would contain an implication that the Court would be free to deviate from the terms of the contract;
  • The divergence in the approach to be taken by the court was resolved in Northern Railway Administration, Ministry of Railway, New Delhi v. Patel Engineering Co. Limited7, where the Court held that Section 11(6) empowered a court "to take the nece ssary measure", of course read alongwith the requirement of Section 11(8);
  • In Deep Trading Co. v. Indian Oil Corporation8 the position stated in Punj Lloyd and related cases regarding the forfeiture of rights of the party responsible for appointment of arbitrator was reiterated and the view espoused in Patel Engineering regarding compliance to the qualifications of the arbitrator pursuant to Section 11(8) was deemed to be non-mandatory in nature;
  • In Singh Builder Syndicate9, the appointment of a retired Judge contrary to the agreement requiring appointment of specified officers was held to be valid on the ground that arbitration proceedings had not concluded for a very long time making a mockery of the process.

The Court, whilst reiterating the importance of speedy conclusion of arbitration proceedings, analyzed the pillars of arbitration, being:

  • The First Pillar: Three General Principles – fair, speedy and inexpensive trial by an arbitral tribunal;
  • The Second Pillar: The General Duty of the Tribunal;
  • The Third Pillar; The General Duty of the Parties;
  • The Fourth Pillar: Mandatory and Semi Mandatory Provisions;

The Court considered that where the government has assumed the role of appointment of the Tribunal to itself and appoints persons who are not able to devote time or become incapable of acting as arbitrators due to transfers etc., the principle of 'default p rocedure' will apply, and the court may step in to appoint an arbitrator by keeping aside the procedure which is agreed by the parties. It was clarified that this would depend on the facts of a particular case, but the court was not powerless in this regard.

The Court upheld the decision of the Delhi High Court.


The Court has clearly taken heed of the ground level scenario which is emanating from the government appointing its own officers as arbitrators. While the Court has earlier frowned on this practice, it was upheld. Having a government officer as an arbitrator has not been very successful. It has led to a conundrum requiring the Court to step in and have a default procedure ready should the facts of a particular case require it.

The Court acknowledged that fair, speedy and inexpensive trial by an arbitration tribunal and party autonomy were fundamental principles of arbitration. In case of appointment of substitute arbitrators, the provisions of the arbitration clause would have to be followed in light of the principle of party autonomy. However, in certain cases, the principle of party autonomy would give way allowing the court to appoint the arbitrator.

The Court is slowly but surely clipping the wings of the government appointed arbitrators and ensuring that any default situation that arises due to this misadventure is corrected. This is being done to ensure that the principles on which arbitration is founded remain unscathed.


1 Civil Appeal No. 8860 of 2014

2 Civil Appeal No. 8860 of 2014

3 (2007) 5 SCC 304

4 (2000) 8 SCC 151

5 (2006) 2 SCC 638

6 (2007) 7 SCC 684

7 (2008) 10 SCC 240

8 (2013) 4 SCC 35

9 (2009) 4 SCC 523

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Sahil Kanuga
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.