Saturday, 18 May 2019

Supreme Court Judgment on impartiality and independence of Arbitrator


The scheme of Sections 12, 13, and 14, therefore, is that where
an arbitrator makes a disclosure in writing which is likely to give
justifiable doubts as to his independence or impartiality, the
appointment of such arbitrator may be challenged under Sections
12(1) to 12(4) read with Section 13. However, where such person
becomes “ineligible” to be appointed as an arbitrator, there is no
question of challenge to such arbitrator, before such arbitrator. In such
a case, i.e., a case which falls under Section 12(5), Section 14(1)(a) of
the Act gets attracted inasmuch as the arbitrator becomes, as a matter
of law (i.e., de jure), unable to perform his functions under Section
12(5), being ineligible to be appointed as an arbitrator. This being so,
his mandate automatically terminates, and he shall then be substituted
by another arbitrator under Section 14(1) itself. It is only if a
controversy occurs concerning whether he has become de jure unable
to perform his functions as such, that a party has to apply to the Court
to decide on the termination of the mandate, unless otherwise agreed
by the parties. Thus, in all Section 12(5) cases, there is no challenge
procedure to be availed of. If an arbitrator continues as such, being de
jure unable to perform his functions, as he falls within any of the

categories mentioned in Section 12(5), read with the Seventh
Schedule, a party may apply to the Court, which will then decide on
whether his mandate has terminated. Questions which may typically
arise under Section 14 may be as to whether such person falls within
any of the categories mentioned in the Seventh Schedule, or whether
there is a waiver as provided in the proviso to Section 12(5) of the Act.
As a matter of law, it is important to note that the proviso to Section
12(5) must be contrasted with Section 4 of the Act. Section 4 deals
with cases of deemed waiver by conduct; whereas the proviso to
Section 12(5) deals with waiver by express agreement in writing
between the parties only if made subsequent to disputes having arisen
between them.
18. On the facts of the present case, it is clear that the Managing
Director of the appellant could not have acted as an arbitrator himself,
being rendered ineligible to act as arbitrator under Item 5 of the
Seventh Schedule, which reads as under:
“Arbitrator’s relationship with the parties or counsel
xxx xxx xxx
5. The arbitrator is a manager, director or part of the
management, or has a similar controlling influence, in an
affiliate of one of the parties if the affiliate is directly
involved in the matters in dispute in the arbitration”

Whether such ineligible person could himself appoint another arbitrator
was only made clear by this Court’s judgment in TRF Ltd. (supra) on
03.07.2017, this Court holding that an appointment made by an
ineligible person is itself void ab initio. Thus, it was only on 03.07.2017,
that it became clear beyond doubt that the appointment of Shri Khan
would be void ab initio. Since such appointment goes to “eligibility”,
i.e., to the root of the matter, it is obvious that Shri Khan’s appointment
would be void. There is no doubt in this case that disputes arose only
after the introduction of Section 12(5) into the statute book, and Shri
Khan was appointed long after 23.10.2015. The judgment in TRF Ltd.
(supra) nowhere states that it will apply only prospectively, i.e., the
appointments that have been made of persons such as Shri Khan
would be valid if made before the date of the judgment. Section 26 of
the Amendment Act, 2015 makes it clear that the Amendment Act,
2015 shall apply in relation to arbitral proceedings commenced on or
after 23.10.2015. Indeed, the judgment itself set aside the order
appointing the arbitrator, which was an order dated 27.01.2016, by
which the Managing Director of the respondent nominated a former
Judge of this Court as sole arbitrator in terms of clause 33(d) of the
Purchase Order dated 10.05.2014. It will be noticed that the facts in
the present case are somewhat similar. The APO itself is of the year

2014, whereas the appointment by the Managing Director is after the
Amendment Act, 2015, just as in the case of TRF Ltd. (supra).
Considering that the appointment in the case of TRF Ltd. (supra) of a
retired Judge of this Court was set aside as being non-est in law, the
appointment of Shri Khan in the present case must follow suit.

REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 3972 OF 2019


Bharat Broadband Network Limited  Vs United Telecoms Limited 

Dated:April 16, 2019.
R.F. NARIMAN, J.

1. Leave granted.
2. The present appeals raise an interesting question as to the
interpretation of Section 12(5) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act,
1996 [“Act”].
3. The appellant, Bharat Broadband Network Ltd. [“BBNL”], had
floated a tender dated 05.08.2013 inviting bids for a turnkey project for
supply, installation, commissioning, and maintenance of GPON
equipment and solar power equipment. The respondent was the

successful L1 bidder. The appellant issued an Advance Purchase
Order [“APO”] dated 30.09.2014. Clause III.20.1 of the General
(Commercial) Conditions of Contract [“GCC”] provides for arbitration.
The said clause reads as under:
“III.20 ARBITRATION
III.20.1 In the event of any question, dispute or difference
arising under the agreement or in connection therewith
(except as to the matters, the decision to which is
specifically provided under this agreement), the same
shall be referred to the sole arbitration of the CMD, BBNL
or in case his designation is changed or his office is
abolished, then in such cases to the sole arbitration of
the officer for the time being entrusted (whether in
addition to his own duties or otherwise) with the functions
of the CMD, BBNL or by whatever designation such an
officer may be called (hereinafter referred to as the said
officer), and if the CMD or the said officer is unable or
willing to act as such, then to the sole arbitration of some
other person appointed by the CMD or the said officer.
The agreement to appoint an arbitrator will be in
accordance with the Arbitration and Conciliation Act
1996. There will be no object to any such appointment
on the ground that the arbitrator is a Government
Servant or that he has to deal with the matter to which
the agreement relates or that in the course of his duties
as a Government Servant/PSU Employee he has
expressed his views on all or any of the matters in
dispute. The award of the arbitrator shall be final and
binding on both the parties to the agreement. In the
event of such an arbitrator to whom the matter is
originally referred, being transferred or vacating his office
or being unable to act for any reason whatsoever, the
CMD, BBNL or the said officer shall appoint another
person to act as an arbitrator in accordance with terms of
the agreement and the person so appointed shall be
entitled to proceed from the stage at which it was left out
by his predecessors.”

4. Since disputes and differences arose between the parties, the
respondent, by its letter dated 03.01.2017, invoked the aforesaid
arbitration clause and called upon the appellant’s Chairman and
Managing Director to appoint an independent and impartial arbitrator
for adjudication of disputes which arose out of the aforesaid APO dated
30.09.2014. By a letter dated 17.01.2017, the Chairman and Managing
Director of the appellant, in terms of the arbitration clause contained in
the GCC, nominated one Shri K.H. Khan as sole arbitrator to
adjudicate and determine disputes that had arisen between the parties.
He also made it clear that the parties would be at liberty to file claims
and counter-claims before the aforesaid sole arbitrator.
5. On 03.07.2017, this Court, by its judgment in TRF Ltd. v. Energo
Engineering Projects Ltd., (2017) 8 SCC 377 [“TRF Ltd.”], held that
since a Managing Director of a company which was one of the parties
to the arbitration, was himself ineligible to act as arbitrator, such
ineligible person could not appoint an arbitrator, and any such
appointment would have to be held to be null and void.
6. Given the aforesaid judgment, the appellant itself having
appointed the aforesaid sole arbitrator, referred to the aforesaid
judgment, and stated that being a declaration of law, appointments of

arbitrators made prior to the judgment are not saved. Thus, the prayer
before the sole arbitrator was that since he is de jure unable to perform
his function as arbitrator, he should withdraw from the proceedings to
allow the parties to approach the High Court for appointment of a
substitute arbitrator in his place. By an order dated 21.10.2017, Shri
Khan rejected the appellant’s application after hearing both sides,
without giving any reasons therefor. This led to a petition being filed by
the appellant before the High Court of Delhi dated 28.10.2017 under
Sections 14 and 15 of the Act to state that the arbitrator has become
de jure incapable of acting as such and that a substitute arbitrator be
appointed in his place. By the impugned judgment dated 22.11.2017,
this petition was rejected, stating that the very person who appointed
the arbitrator is estopped from raising a plea that such arbitrator cannot
be appointed after participating in the proceedings. In any event, under
the proviso to Section 12(5) of the Act, inasmuch as the appellant itself
has appointed Shri Khan, and the respondent has filed a statement of
claim without any reservation, also in writing, the same would amount
to an express agreement in writing, which would, therefore, amount to
a waiver of the applicability of Section 12(5) of the Act.
7. Shri Vikramjit Banerjee, learned Additional Solicitor General
appearing on behalf of the appellant, has relied upon Sections 12 to 

of the Act, as also the judgment in TRF Ltd. (supra), and has argued
that the appointment of Shri Khan goes to eligibility to be appointed as
an arbitrator, as a result of which the appointment made is void ab
initio. Further, the judgment in TRF Ltd. (supra) is declaratory of the
law and would apply to the facts of this case. Further, since there is no
express agreement in writing between the parties subsequent to
disputes having arisen between them that Shri Khan’s appointment is
agreed upon, the proviso will not be applicable in the present case.
8. Shri Sharad Yadav, learned Senior Advocate appearing on behalf
of the respondent, has supported the reasoning of the impugned
judgment and has added that Section 12(4) makes it clear that a party
may challenge the appointment of an arbitrator appointed by it only for
reasons of which it became aware after the appointment has been
made. In the facts of the present case, since Section 12(5) and the
Seventh Schedule were on the statute book since 23.10.2015, the
appellant was fully aware that the Managing Director of the appellant
would be hit by Item 5 of the Seventh Schedule, and consequently, any
appointment made by him would be null and void. This being so,
Section 12(4) acts as a bar to the petition filed under Sections 14 and
15 by the appellant. Further, Section 13(2) makes it clear that a party
who intends to challenge the appointment of the arbitrator, shall, within

15 days after becoming aware of circumstances referred to in Section
12(3), send a written statement of reasons for the challenge to the
arbitrator. Admittedly, this has not been done within the time frame
stipulated by the said Section, as a result of which, the aforesaid
petition filed by the appellant should be dismissed. Coming to the
proviso to Section 12(5), Shri Yadav argued that “express agreement in
writing” in the proviso to Section 12(5) is clearly met in the facts of the
present case. This need not be in the form of a formal agreement
between the parties, but can be culled out, as was rightly held by the
High Court, from the appointment letter issued by appellant as well as
the statement of claim filed by the respondent before the arbitrator
leading, therefore, to a waiver of the applicability of Section 12(5).
9. Pursuant to the 246th Law Commission Report, important
changes were made in the Act. Insofar as the facts of this case are
concerned, sub-section (8) of Section 11 was substituted for the earlier
Section 11(8)1, sub-section (1) of Section 12 was substituted for the
1 Subs. by Act 3 of 2016, S. 6(iv) (w.r.e.f. 23.10.2015). Prior to substitution, Section 11(8) read as:
“11. Appointment of arbitrators.—
(8) The Chief Justice or the person or institution designated by him, in appointing an
arbitrator, shall have due regard to—
(a) any qualifications required of the arbitrator by the agreement of the parties; and
(b) other considerations as are likely to secure the appointment of an independent
and impartial arbitrator.”
6
earlier Section 12(1)2 and a new Section 12(5)3 was added after
Section 12(4). The opening lines of Section 14(1)4 were also
substituted.
10. Post-amendment, the aforesaid Sections are set out, as also
Section 4 of the Act, as follows:
“4. Waiver of right to object.—A party who knows that

(a) any provision of this Part from which the
parties may derogate, or
(b) any requirement under the arbitration
agreement,
has not been complied with and yet proceeds with the
arbitration without stating his objection to such noncompliance
without undue delay or, if a time-limit is
provided for stating that objection, within that period of
time, shall be deemed to have waived his right to so
object.”
“11. Appointment of arbitrators.—
xxx xxx xxx
(8) The Supreme Court or, as the case may be, the High
Court or the person or institution designated by such
Court, before appointing an arbitrator, shall seek a
disclosure in writing from the prospective arbitrator in
terms of sub-section (1) of Section 12, and have due
regard to—
(a) any qualifications required for the arbitrator
by the agreement of the parties; and
2 Subs. by Act 3 of 2016, S. 8(i) (w.r.e.f. 23.10.2015). Prior to substitution, Section 12(1) read as:
“12. Grounds for challenge.—(1) When a person is approached in connection with his
possible appointment as an arbitrator, he shall disclose in writing any circumstances likely to
give rise to justifiable doubts as to his independence or impartiality.”
3 Ins. by Act 3 of 2016, S. 8(ii) (w.r.e.f. 23.10.2015).
4 Subs. by Act 3 of 2016, S. 9 (w.r.e.f. 23.10.2015). Prior to substitution, Section 14(1) read as:
“14. Failure or impossibility to act.—(1) The mandate of an arbitrator shall terminate if—”
7
(b) the contents of the disclosure and other
considerations as are likely to secure the
appointment of an independent and impartial
arbitrator.
xxx xxx xxx ”
“12. Grounds for challenge.—(1) When a person is
approached in connection with his possible appointment
as an arbitrator, he shall disclose in writing any
circumstances,—
(a) such as the existence either direct or
indirect, of any past or present relationship with
or interest in any of the parties or in relation to
the subject-matter in dispute, whether financial,
business, professional or other kind, which is
likely to give rise to justifiable doubts as to his
independence or impartiality; and
(b) which are likely to affect his ability to devote
sufficient time to the arbitration and in particular
his ability to complete the entire arbitration
within a period of twelve months.
Explanation 1.—The grounds stated in the Fifth
Schedule shall guide in determining whether
circumstances exist which give rise to justifiable doubts
as to the independence or impartiality of an arbitrator.
Explanation 2.—The disclosure shall be made by such
person in the form specified in the Sixth Schedule.
(2) An arbitrator, from the time of his appointment and
throughout the arbitral proceedings, shall, without delay,
disclose to the parties in writing any circumstances
referred to in sub-section (1) unless they have already
been informed of them by him.
(3) An arbitrator may be challenged only if—
(a) circumstances exist that give rise to
justifiable doubts as to his independence or
impartiality, or
(b) he does not possess the qualifications
agreed to by the parties.
(4) A party may challenge an arbitrator appointed by him,
or in whose appointment he has participated, only for

reasons of which he becomes aware after the
appointment has been made.
(5) Notwithstanding any prior agreement to the contrary,
any person whose relationship, with the parties or
counsel or the subject-matter of the dispute, falls under
any of the categories specified in the Seventh Schedule
shall be ineligible to be appointed as an arbitrator:
Provided that parties may, subsequent to disputes
having arisen between them, waive the applicability of
this sub-section by an express agreement in writing.”
“13. Challenge procedure.—(1) Subject to sub-section
(4), the parties are free to agree on a procedure for
challenging an arbitrator.
(2) Failing any agreement referred to in sub-section (1),
a party who intends to challenge an arbitrator shall,
within fifteen days after becoming aware of the
constitution of the arbitral tribunal or after becoming
aware of any circumstances referred to in sub-section (3)
of Section 12, send a written statement of the reasons
for the challenge to the arbitral tribunal.
(3) Unless the arbitrator challenged under sub-section
(2) withdraws from his office or the other party agrees to
the challenge, the arbitral tribunal shall decide on the
challenge.
(4) If a challenge under any procedure agreed upon by
the parties or under the procedure under sub-section (2)
is not successful, the arbitral tribunal shall continue the
arbitral proceedings and make an arbitral award.
(5) Where an arbitral award is made under sub-section
(4), the party challenging the arbitrator may make an
application for setting aside such an arbitral award in
accordance with Section 34.
(6) Where an arbitral award is set aside on an application
made under sub-section (5), the Court may decide as to
whether the arbitrator who is challenged is entitled to any
fees.”

“14. Failure or impossibility to act.—(1) The mandate
of an arbitrator shall terminate and he shall be
substituted by another arbitrator, if—
(a) he becomes de jure or de facto unable to
perform his functions or for other reasons fails
to act without undue delay; and
(b) he withdraws from his office or the parties
agree to the termination of his mandate.
(2) If a controversy remains concerning any of the
grounds referred to in clause (a) of sub-section (1), a
party may, unless otherwise agreed by the parties, apply
to the Court to decide on the termination of the mandate.
(3) If, under this section or sub-section (3) of Section 13,
an arbitrator withdraws from his office or a party agrees
to the termination of the mandate of an arbitrator, it shall
not imply acceptance of the validity of any ground
referred to in this Section or sub-section (3) of Section
12.”
11. Section 12(5) has been earlier dealt with in three Supreme Court
judgments. In Voestalpine Schienen GmbH v. Delhi Metro Rail
Corporation Ltd., (2017) 4 SCC 665, this Court went into the
recommendations of the aforesaid Law Commission Report, and
referred in great detail to the law before the amendment made in
Section 12 and then held:
“23. It also cannot be denied that the Seventh Schedule
is based on IBA guidelines which are clearly regarded as
a representation of international based practices and are
based on statutes, case law and juristic opinion from a
cross-section on jurisdiction. It is so mentioned in the
guidelines itself.”
xxx xxx xxx
“25. Section 12 has been amended with the objective to
induce neutrality of arbitrators viz. their independence

and impartiality. The amended provision is enacted to
identify the “circumstances” which give rise to “justifiable
doubts” about the independence or impartiality of the
arbitrator. If any of those circumstances as mentioned
therein exists, it will give rise to justifiable apprehension
of bias. The Fifth Schedule to the Act enumerates the
grounds which may give rise to justifiable doubts of this
nature. Likewise, the Seventh Schedule mentions those
circumstances which would attract the provisions of subsection
(5) of Section 12 and nullify any prior agreement
to the contrary. In the context of this case, it is relevant to
mention that only if an arbitrator is an employee, a
consultant, an advisor or has any past or present
business relationship with a party, he is rendered
ineligible to act as an arbitrator. Likewise, that person is
treated as incompetent to perform the role of arbitrator,
who is a manager, director or part of the management or
has a single controlling influence in an affiliate of one of
the parties if the affiliate is directly involved in the matters
in dispute in the arbitration. Likewise, persons who
regularly advised the appointing party or affiliate of the
appointing party are incapacitated. A comprehensive list
is enumerated in Schedule 5 and Schedule 7 and
admittedly the persons empanelled by the respondent
are not covered by any of the items in the said list.”
12. In HRD Corporation v. GAIL (India) Ltd., (2018) 12 SCC 471,
this Court, after setting out the amendments made in Section 12 and
the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Schedules to the Act, held as follows:
“12. After the 2016 Amendment Act, a dichotomy is made
by the Act between persons who become “ineligible” to
be appointed as arbitrators, and persons about whom
justifiable doubts exist as to their independence or
impartiality. Since ineligibility goes to the root of the
appointment, Section 12(5) read with the Seventh
Schedule makes it clear that if the arbitrator falls in any
one of the categories specified in the Seventh Schedule,
he becomes “ineligible” to act as arbitrator. Once he

becomes ineligible, it is clear that, under Section 14(1)
(a), he then becomes de jure unable to perform his
functions inasmuch as, in law, he is regarded as
“ineligible”. In order to determine whether an arbitrator is
de jure unable to perform his functions, it is not
necessary to go to the Arbitral Tribunal under Section 13.
Since such a person would lack inherent jurisdiction to
proceed any further, an application may be filed under
Section 14(2) to the Court to decide on the termination of
his/her mandate on this ground. As opposed to this, in a
challenge where grounds stated in the Fifth Schedule are
disclosed, which give rise to justifiable doubts as to the
arbitrator’s independence or impartiality, such doubts as
to independence or impartiality have to be determined as
a matter of fact in the facts of the particular challenge by
the Arbitral Tribunal under Section 13. If a challenge is
not successful, and the Arbitral Tribunal decides that
there are no justifiable doubts as to the independence or
impartiality of the arbitrator/arbitrators, the Tribunal must
then continue the arbitral proceedings under Section
13(4) and make an award. It is only after such award is
made, that the party challenging the arbitrator’s
appointment on grounds contained in the Fifth Schedule
may make an application for setting aside the arbitral
award in accordance with Section 34 on the aforesaid
grounds. It is clear, therefore, that any challenge
contained in the Fifth Schedule against the appointment
of Justice Doabia and Justice Lahoti cannot be gone into
at this stage, but will be gone into only after the Arbitral
Tribunal has given an award. Therefore, we express no
opinion on items contained in the Fifth Schedule under
which the appellant may challenge the appointment of
either arbitrator. They will be free to do so only after an
award is rendered by the Tribunal.”
xxx xxx xxx
“14. The enumeration of grounds given in the Fifth and
Seventh Schedules have been taken from the IBA
Guidelines, particularly from the Red and Orange Lists
thereof. The aforesaid guidelines consist of three lists.
The Red List, consisting of non-waivable and waivable
guidelines, covers situations which are “more serious”

and “serious”, the “more serious” objections being nonwaivable.
The Orange List, on the other hand, is a list of
situations that may give rise to doubts as to the
arbitrator’s impartiality or independence, as a
consequence of which the arbitrator has a duty to
disclose such situations. The Green List is a list of
situations where no actual conflict of interest exists from
an objective point of view, as a result of which the
arbitrator has no duty of disclosure. These Guidelines
were first introduced in the year 2004 and have
thereafter been amended, after seeing the experience of
arbitration worldwide. In Part 1 thereof, general
standards regarding impartiality, independence and
disclosure are set out.”

“17. It will be noticed that Items 1 to 19 of the Fifth
Schedule are identical with the aforesaid items in the
Seventh Schedule. The only reason that these items also
appear in the Fifth Schedule is for purposes of disclosure
by the arbitrator, as unless the proposed arbitrator
discloses in writing his involvement in terms of Items 1 to
34 of the Fifth Schedule, such disclosure would be
lacking, in which case the parties would be put at a
disadvantage as such information is often within the
personal knowledge of the arbitrator only. It is for this
reason that it appears that Items 1 to 19 also appear in
the Fifth Schedule.”
13. In TRF Ltd. (supra), this Court referred to Section 12(5) of the
Act in the context of appointment of an arbitrator by a Managing
Director of a corporation, who became ineligible to act as arbitrator
under the Seventh Schedule. This Court held:
“50. First, we shall deal with Clause (d). There is no
quarrel that by virtue of Section 12(5) of the Act, if any
person who falls under any of the categories specified in
the Seventh Schedule shall be ineligible to be appointed
as the arbitrator. There is no doubt and cannot be, for the

language employed in the Seventh Schedule, the
Managing Director of the Corporation has become
ineligible by operation of law. It is the stand of the
learned Senior Counsel for the appellant that once the
Managing Director becomes ineligible, he also becomes
ineligible to nominate. Refuting the said stand, it is
canvassed by the learned Senior Counsel for the
respondent that the ineligibility cannot extend to a
nominee if he is not from the Corporation and more so
when there is apposite and requisite disclosure. We think
it appropriate to make it clear that in the case at hand we
are neither concerned with the disclosure nor objectivity
nor impartiality nor any such other circumstance. We are
singularly concerned with the issue, whether the
Managing Director, after becoming ineligible by operation
of law, is he still eligible to nominate an arbitrator. At the
cost of repetition, we may state that when there are two
parties, one may nominate an arbitrator and the other
may appoint another. That is altogether a different
situation. If there is a clause requiring the parties to
nominate their respective arbitrator, their authority to
nominate cannot be questioned. What really in that
circumstance can be called in question is the procedural
compliance and the eligibility of their arbitrator depending
upon the norms provided under the Act and the
Schedules appended thereto. But, here is a case where
the Managing Director is the “named sole arbitrator” and
he has also been conferred with the power to nominate
one who can be the arbitrator in his place. Thus, there is
subtle distinction……”

“54. In such a context, the fulcrum of the controversy
would be, can an ineligible arbitrator, like the Managing
Director, nominate an arbitrator, who may be otherwise
eligible and a respectable person. As stated earlier, we
are neither concerned with the objectivity nor the
individual respectability. We are only concerned with the
authority or the power of the Managing Director. By our
analysis, we are obligated to arrive at the conclusion that
once the arbitrator has become ineligible by operation of
law, he cannot nominate another as an arbitrator. The

arbitrator becomes ineligible as per prescription
contained in Section 12(5) of the Act. It is inconceivable
in law that person who is statutorily ineligible can
nominate a person. Needless to say, once the
infrastructure collapses, the superstructure is bound to
collapse. One cannot have a building without the plinth.
Or to put it differently, once the identity of the Managing
Director as the sole arbitrator is lost, the power to
nominate someone else as an arbitrator is obliterated.
Therefore, the view expressed by the High Court is not
sustainable and we say so.”
14. From a conspectus of the above decisions, it is clear that Section
12(1), as substituted by the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment)
Act, 2015 [“Amendment Act, 2015”], makes it clear that when a
person is approached in connection with his possible appointment as
an arbitrator, it is his duty to disclose in writing any circumstances
which are likely to give rise to justifiable doubts as to his independence
or impartiality. The disclosure is to be made in the form specified in the
Sixth Schedule, and the grounds stated in the Fifth Schedule are to
serve as a guide in determining whether circumstances exist which
give rise to justifiable doubts as to the independence or impartiality of
an arbitrator. Once this is done, the appointment of the arbitrator may
be challenged on the ground that justifiable doubts have arisen under
sub-section (3) of Section 12 subject to the caveat entered by subsection
(4) of Section 12. The challenge procedure is then set out in
Section 13, together with the time limit laid down in Section 13(2).
What is important to note is that the arbitral tribunal must first decide
on the said challenge, and if it is not successful, the tribunal shall
continue the proceedings and make an award. It is only post award
that the party challenging the appointment of an arbitrator may make
an application for setting aside such an award in accordance with
Section 34 of the Act.
15. Section 12(5), on the other hand, is a new provision which
relates to the de jure inability of an arbitrator to act as such. Under this
provision, any prior agreement to the contrary is wiped out by the nonobstante
clause in Section 12(5) the moment any person whose
relationship with the parties or the counsel or the subject matter of the
dispute falls under the Seventh Schedule. The sub-section then
declares that such person shall be “ineligible” to be appointed as
arbitrator. The only way in which this ineligibility can be removed is by
the proviso, which again is a special provision which states that parties
may, subsequent to disputes having arisen between them, waive the
applicability of Section 12(5) by an express agreement in writing. What
is clear, therefore, is that where, under any agreement between the
parties, a person falls within any of the categories set out in the
Seventh Schedule, he is, as a matter of law, ineligible to be appointed
as an arbitrator. The only way in which this ineligibility can be removed, again, in law, is that parties may after disputes have arisen between
them, waive the applicability of this sub-section by an “express
agreement in writing”. Obviously, the “express agreement in writing”
has reference to a person who is interdicted by the Seventh Schedule,
but who is stated by parties (after the disputes have arisen between
them) to be a person in whom they have faith notwithstanding the fact
that such person is interdicted by the Seventh Schedule.
16. The Law Commission Report, which has been extensively
referred to in some of our judgments, makes it clear that there are
certain minimum levels of independence and impartiality that should be
required of the arbitral process, regardless of the parties’ agreement.
This being the case, the Law Commission then found:
“59. The Commission has proposed the requirement of
having specific disclosures by the arbitrator, at the stage of
his possible appointment, regarding existence of any
relationship or interest of any kind which is likely to give
rise to justifiable doubts. The Commission has proposed
the incorporation of the Fourth Schedule, which has drawn
from the Red and Orange lists of the IBA Guidelines on
Conflicts of Interest in International Arbitration, and which
would be treated as a “guide” to determine whether
circumstances exist which give rise to such justifiable
doubts. On the other hand, in terms of the proposed
section 12 (5) of the Act and the Fifth Schedule which
incorporates the categories from the Red list of the IBA
Guidelines (as above), the person proposed to be
appointed as an arbitrator shall be ineligible to be so
appointed, notwithstanding any prior agreement to the
contrary. In the event such an ineligible person is purported

to be appointed as an arbitrator, he shall be de jure
deemed to be unable to perform his functions, in terms of
the proposed explanation to section 14. Therefore, while
the disclosure is required with respect to a broader list of
categories (as set out in the Fourth Schedule, and as
based on the Red and Orange lists of the IBA Guidelines),
the ineligibility to be appointed as an arbitrator (and the
consequent de jure inability to so act) follows from a
smaller and more serious sub-set of situations (as set out
in the Fifth Schedule, and as based on the Red list of the
IBA Guidelines).
60. The Commission, however, feels that real and genuine
party autonomy must be respected, and, in certain
situations, parties should be allowed to waive even the
categories of ineligibility as set in the proposed Fifth
Schedule. This could be in situations of family arbitrations
or other arbitrations where a person commands the blind
faith and trust of the parties to the dispute, despite the
existence of objective “justifiable doubts” regarding his
independence and impartiality. To deal with such situations,
the Commission has proposed the proviso to section 12
(5), where parties may, subsequent to disputes having
arisen between them, waive the applicability of the
proposed section 12 (5) by an express agreement in
writing. In all other cases, the general rule in the proposed
section 12 (5) must be followed. In the event the High
Court is approached in connection with appointment of an
arbitrator, the Commission has proposed seeking the
disclosure in terms of section 12 (1), and in which context
the High Court or the designate is to have “due regard” to
the contents of such disclosure in appointing the arbitrator.”
(emphasis in original)
Thus, it will be seen that party autonomy is to be respected only in
certain exceptional situations which could be situations which arise in
family arbitrations or other arbitrations where a person subjectively
commands blind faith and trust of the parties to the dispute, despite the
existence of objective justifiable doubts regarding his independence
and impartiality.
17. The scheme of Sections 12, 13, and 14, therefore, is that where
an arbitrator makes a disclosure in writing which is likely to give
justifiable doubts as to his independence or impartiality, the
appointment of such arbitrator may be challenged under Sections
12(1) to 12(4) read with Section 13. However, where such person
becomes “ineligible” to be appointed as an arbitrator, there is no
question of challenge to such arbitrator, before such arbitrator. In such
a case, i.e., a case which falls under Section 12(5), Section 14(1)(a) of
the Act gets attracted inasmuch as the arbitrator becomes, as a matter
of law (i.e., de jure), unable to perform his functions under Section
12(5), being ineligible to be appointed as an arbitrator. This being so,
his mandate automatically terminates, and he shall then be substituted
by another arbitrator under Section 14(1) itself. It is only if a
controversy occurs concerning whether he has become de jure unable
to perform his functions as such, that a party has to apply to the Court
to decide on the termination of the mandate, unless otherwise agreed
by the parties. Thus, in all Section 12(5) cases, there is no challenge
procedure to be availed of. If an arbitrator continues as such, being de
jure unable to perform his functions, as he falls within any of the

categories mentioned in Section 12(5), read with the Seventh
Schedule, a party may apply to the Court, which will then decide on
whether his mandate has terminated. Questions which may typically
arise under Section 14 may be as to whether such person falls within
any of the categories mentioned in the Seventh Schedule, or whether
there is a waiver as provided in the proviso to Section 12(5) of the Act.
As a matter of law, it is important to note that the proviso to Section
12(5) must be contrasted with Section 4 of the Act. Section 4 deals
with cases of deemed waiver by conduct; whereas the proviso to
Section 12(5) deals with waiver by express agreement in writing
between the parties only if made subsequent to disputes having arisen
between them.
18. On the facts of the present case, it is clear that the Managing
Director of the appellant could not have acted as an arbitrator himself,
being rendered ineligible to act as arbitrator under Item 5 of the
Seventh Schedule, which reads as under:
“Arbitrator’s relationship with the parties or counsel
xxx xxx xxx
5. The arbitrator is a manager, director or part of the
management, or has a similar controlling influence, in an
affiliate of one of the parties if the affiliate is directly
involved in the matters in dispute in the arbitration”

Whether such ineligible person could himself appoint another arbitrator
was only made clear by this Court’s judgment in TRF Ltd. (supra) on
03.07.2017, this Court holding that an appointment made by an
ineligible person is itself void ab initio. Thus, it was only on 03.07.2017,
that it became clear beyond doubt that the appointment of Shri Khan
would be void ab initio. Since such appointment goes to “eligibility”,
i.e., to the root of the matter, it is obvious that Shri Khan’s appointment
would be void. There is no doubt in this case that disputes arose only
after the introduction of Section 12(5) into the statute book, and Shri
Khan was appointed long after 23.10.2015. The judgment in TRF Ltd.
(supra) nowhere states that it will apply only prospectively, i.e., the
appointments that have been made of persons such as Shri Khan
would be valid if made before the date of the judgment. Section 26 of
the Amendment Act, 2015 makes it clear that the Amendment Act,
2015 shall apply in relation to arbitral proceedings commenced on or
after 23.10.2015. Indeed, the judgment itself set aside the order
appointing the arbitrator, which was an order dated 27.01.2016, by
which the Managing Director of the respondent nominated a former
Judge of this Court as sole arbitrator in terms of clause 33(d) of the
Purchase Order dated 10.05.2014. It will be noticed that the facts in
the present case are somewhat similar. The APO itself is of the year

2014, whereas the appointment by the Managing Director is after the
Amendment Act, 2015, just as in the case of TRF Ltd. (supra).
Considering that the appointment in the case of TRF Ltd. (supra) of a
retired Judge of this Court was set aside as being non-est in law, the
appointment of Shri Khan in the present case must follow suit.
19. However, the learned Senior Advocate appearing on behalf of the
respondent has argued that Section 12(4) would bar the appellant’s
application before the Court. Section 12(4) will only apply when a
challenge is made to an arbitrator, inter alia, by the same party who
has appointed such arbitrator. This then refers to the challenge
procedure set out in Section 13 of the Act. Section 12(4) has no
applicability to an application made to the Court under Section 14(2) to
determine whether the mandate of an arbitrator has terminated as he
has, in law, become unable to perform his functions because he is
ineligible to be appointed as such under Section 12(5) of the Act.
20. This then brings us to the applicability of the proviso to Section
12(5) on the facts of this case. Unlike Section 4 of the Act which deals
with deemed waiver of the right to object by conduct, the proviso to
Section 12(5) will only apply if subsequent to disputes having arisen
between the parties, the parties waive the applicability of sub-section
22
(5) of Section 12 by an express agreement in writing. For this reason,
the argument based on the analogy of Section 7 of the Act must also
be rejected. Section 7 deals with arbitration agreements that must be
in writing, and then explains that such agreements may be contained in
documents which provide a record of such agreements. On the other
hand, Section 12(5) refers to an “express agreement in writing”. The
expression “express agreement in writing” refers to an agreement
made in words as opposed to an agreement which is to be inferred by
conduct. Here, Section 9 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 becomes
important. It states:
“9. Promises, express and implied.—In so far as a
proposal or acceptance of any promise is made in words,
the promise is said to be express. In so far as such
proposal or acceptance is made otherwise than in words,
the promise is said to be implied.”
It is thus necessary that there be an “express” agreement in writing.
This agreement must be an agreement by which both parties, with full
knowledge of the fact that Shri Khan is ineligible to be appointed as an
arbitrator, still go ahead and say that they have full faith and
confidence in him to continue as such. The facts of the present case
disclose no such express agreement. The appointment letter which is
relied upon by the High Court as indicating an express agreement on
the facts of the case is dated 17.01.2017. On this date, the Managing
Director of the appellant was certainly not aware that Shri Khan could
not be appointed by him as Section 12(5) read with the Seventh
Schedule only went to the invalidity of the appointment of the
Managing Director himself as an arbitrator. Shri Khan’s invalid
appointment only became clear after the declaration of the law by the
Supreme Court in TRF Ltd. (supra) which, as we have seen
hereinabove, was only on 03.07.2017. After this date, far from there
being an express agreement between the parties as to the validity of
Shri Khan’s appointment, the appellant filed an application on
07.10.2017 before the sole arbitrator, bringing the arbitrator’s attention
to the judgment in TRF Ltd. (supra) and asking him to declare that he
has become de jure incapable of acting as an arbitrator. Equally, the
fact that a statement of claim may have been filed before the arbitrator,
would not mean that there is an express agreement in words which
would make it clear that both parties wish Shri Khan to continue as
arbitrator despite being ineligible to act as such. This being the case,
the impugned judgment is not correct when it applies Section 4,
Section 7, Section 12(4), Section 13(2), and Section 16(2) of the Act to
the facts of the present case, and goes on to state that the appellant
cannot be allowed to raise the issue of eligibility of an arbitrator, having
itself appointed the arbitrator. The judgment under appeal is also

incorrect in stating that there is an express waiver in writing from the
fact that an appointment letter has been issued by the appellant, and a
statement of claim has been filed by the respondent before the
arbitrator. The moment the appellant came to know that Shri Khan’s
appointment itself would be invalid, it filed an application before the
sole arbitrator for termination of his mandate.
21. The learned Additional Solicitor General appearing on behalf of
the appellant has relied upon All India Power Engineer Federation v.
Sasan Power Ltd., (2017) 1 SCC 487, and referred to paragraph 21
thereof, which reads as follows:
“21. Regard being had to the aforesaid decisions, it is
clear that when waiver is spoken of in the realm of
contract, Section 63 of the Contract Act, 1872 governs.
But it is important to note that waiver is an intentional
relinquishment of a known right, and that, therefore,
unless there is a clear intention to relinquish a right that
is fully known to a party, a party cannot be said to waive
it. But the matter does not end here. It is also clear that if
any element of public interest is involved and a waiver
takes place by one of the parties to an agreement, such
waiver will not be given effect to if it is contrary to such
public interest. This is clear from a reading of the
following authorities.”
This judgment cannot possibly apply as the present case is governed
by the express language of the proviso to Section 12(5) of the Act.
Similarly, the judgments relied upon by the learned Senior Advocate
appearing on behalf of the respondent, namely, Vasu P. Shetty v.

Hotel Vandana Palace, (2014) 5 SCC 660, and BSNL v. Motorola
India (P) Ltd., (2009) 2 SCC 337 [“BSNL”], for the same reason,
cannot be said to have any application to the express language of the
proviso to Section 12(5). It may be noted that BSNL (supra) deals with
Section 4 of the Act which, as has been stated hereinabove, has no
application, and must be contrasted with the language of the proviso to
Section 12(5).
22. We thus allow the appeals and set aside the impugned judgment.
The mandate of Shri Khan having terminated, as he has become de
jure unable to perform his function as an arbitrator, the High Court may
appoint a substitute arbitrator with the consent of both the parties.
23. Vide order dated 25.01.2018, we had issued notice in the Special
Leave Petition as well as notice on the interim relief prayed for by the
appellant. Since there was no order of stay, the arbitral proceedings
continued even after the date of the impugned judgment, i.e.,
22.11.2017, and culminated in two awards dated 11.07.2018 and
12.07.2018. We have been informed that the aforesaid awards have
been challenged by the appellant by applications under Section 34 of
the Act, in which certain interim orders have been passed by the Single
Judge of the High Court of Delhi. These awards, being subject to the

result of this petition, are set aside. Consequently, the appellant’s
Section 34 proceedings have been rendered infructuous. It will be
open to the appellant to approach the High Court of Delhi to reclaim
the deposit amounts that have been made in pursuance of the interim
orders passed in the Section 34 petition filed in the High Court of Delhi.
……........................... J.
(R.F. NARIMAN)
……........................... J.
(VINEET SARAN)
New Delhi;
April 16, 2019.

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