Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Period of Limitation for Enforcement of Foreign Awards in India.

Below is a guest from Vaisakh Shaji. Vaisakh, in this post discusses the unsettled position on application of limitation in enforcing foreign awards in India. 

The question of limitation for enforcement of foreign award is still an unsettled one. The High Courts of Bombay, Delhi & Madras in separate instances have dealt this issue but a different interpretation by each of the courts has added uncertainty.

The Bombay High Court in Noy Vallesina vs Jindal Drugs Limited[1] held that the provision for limitation as provided under article 136 and 137 of the Limitation Act would apply for enforcement of foreign award under Part II Chapter 1 of the Act.

The Court dealt with various contentions regarding the scope of limitation for enforcement of Foreign Award. The parties relied on section 43(1) of the Act which provides that Limitation Act will apply to proceedings made in arbitration as it applies to proceedings in a court. Further the definition of Court in various parts of the Act contemplates the Principal Civil Court of original jurisdiction in a district or the High Court exercising ordinary original civil jurisdiction. By referring to various Supreme Court cases, it was argued that when an application is contemplated by any law to a Civil Court then the provisions of the Limitation Act are applicable.

The Court drew attention to section 46 of the Act, which reads as, “Any foreign award which would be enforceable under this Chapter..[..]” And held that when a foreign award is yet to be found enforceable by a competent court, it cannot be relied on for any purpose in India. The award is not binding on the parties, until it is found to be enforceable in India for the purpose of executing it as a decree or for any other purpose such as using it as defence, set off etc.

The Court further held that, looking at the scheme of sections 47, 48 and 49 of the Act, the principal civil court as defined under explanation to section 47 records a finding that the award is enforceable, that award is deemed to be a decree of that court i.e it is at that point of time that the award becomes a decree of the civil court.

Further, in order to attract application of Article 136 of the Limitation Act, the decree or order of which execution is sought must be a decree or order of any civil court. And necessarily, section 136 would become applicable only after the foreign award is deemed to be a decree of the principal civil court which records finding that the award is enforceable in India. Therefore, once enforceability of foreign award is satisfied by the court under section 49, such decree can be enforced within twelve years.

Secondly, on the issue of making an application for execution of a foreign award, there is no provision given under the Limitation Act. Hence the Court held that, such application will be governed by the residuary Article 137 of the Limitation Act and therefore such application has to be made within a period of three years from the time the right to apply accrues to the party.

Therefore, as per the Court, first a party get a time period of three years to make an application under Article 137 of the Limitation Act, and in the second stage, once the application is determined by the civil court to be enforceable in India, such decree can be executed within a period of twelve years as provided under Article 136 of the Limitation Act.
On the other hand, the Madras High Court in Compania Naviera vs Bharat Refineries Ltd[2], held that a foreign award is already stamped as a decree and the party having a foreign award can straight away apply for enforcement and in such circumstances, the party having a foreign award has twelve years like that of a decree-holder. The Court did not address the issue of limitation for making an application to a civil court under Article 137 of the Limitation Act as decided in Noy Vallesina. Further, it did not clearly determine from what stage the period of limitation would commence.

The Delhi High Court in Hindustan Petroleum vs M/s Videocon Industries Ltd[3] took a different view. The Court held that no limitation period is provided under section 48 of the Act. It stated that the period of limitation provided under Section 34 of the Act in Part I come under the chapter Recourse against Arbitral Award. A similar provision is not provided for under Part II.

Secondly, section 34 provides for a mandatory period of limitation to challenge a domestic award and no such period of limitation is provided for an application under section 48 of the Act. Hence a proceeding is to be launched under section 34 to assail the limitation period, whereas under section 48 it can only be initiated once its enforcement is sought. The Court therefore held that, section 34 is proactive whereas section 48 is reactionary in nature. Further the Court held that the language of section 48 shows that it provides for initiation of independent proceedings for assailing a foreign award before a competent authority/ court and as such proceedings under section 48 cannot be one to assail the foreign award, i.e. to seek the setting aside of the award.

In each of the cases discussed above, the courts have taken different interpretations. The Supreme Court has not specifically dealt with this issue yet. It would be interesting to see if this issue is settled in the near future. Or else, will remain unsettled; similar to the issue regarding multi-tier arbitration as decided by the Supreme Court in Centrotrade Minerals vs Hindustan Cooper Ltd[4] in which a reference to a larger bench is still pending due to difference of opinion by the two-judge bench.

In Conclusion, it can be stated that, as the issue stands today, it will be open to parties to adopt a reasoning which they find suitable based on facts and circumstances.

[1] 2006 (3) ARBLR 510 (Bom)
[2] AIR 2007 Mad 251.
[3] 2012 (3) ARBLR 194 (Delhi)
[4] 2006 (4) ALT 18 (SC) 

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