In a recent Judgment in the matter of Dakshin Haryana Bijili case1 dated 11th December 2019, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana held that the majority award signed by the two arbitrators is the arbitration award in the eye of law and hence a delayed opinion or reasons provided by the minority/ dissenting arbitrator shall not extend the limitation provided under S.34(3) of the Act2, to challenge the arbitration award.
The appellant Dakshin Haryana Bijili Vitran Nigam Limited entered into an agreement dated 02.05.2011 whereby the Respondents M/S. Navigent Technologies Pvt Limited (Respondent) agreed to provide call center Services to the customers of the Appellant. On account of disputes arose between the parties, the matter was referred to arbitration consisting of three members, in terms of the arbitration clause. A majority award was pronounced by the Presiding arbitrator on 27.04.2018 and the dissenting award was pronounced on 12.05.2018.
An application under Section 34 of the Act was filed on 10.09.2018. The Respondent contended that the above said application seeking to set aside the award is barred by limitation since the majority award dated 27.04.2018 was delivered to the parties on the same day and hence limitation starts from the next day and limitation period would expire on 26.08.2018. Accepting the above said contention of the Respondent, the Additional District Judge dismissed above said application and hence an application under S.37 of the Act was came to be filed in the High Court challenging the above said order of the District Court. The Judgment of the High Court is the subject matter of this article.
The main contention of the appellant was that the copy of the minority award was pronounced only on 12.05.2018 and hence limitation would commence only on the date the minority award was received. The respondent contended that the limitation starts from the date of receipt of the majority award and in support of their contention, it relied on the Judgment of High Court of Delhi ACOME case3.
As per Section.31 of the Act, it is sufficient that an arbitration award is signed by the majority of the arbitrators and the reasons for the non-signing of the arbitration award is specified in the award. Hence, it can be understood that if the award is signed by majority arbitrators and communicated to the parties, it is the final award. Because in case where the minority arbitrator choose not to give their opinion unless agreed by the parties, in my view should not prevent the making of a majority award by the tribunal. By preferring not to sign the majority award or by failing or refusing to give its opinion altogether, the minority of arbitrators cannot defeat or frustrate an arbitral proceeding. That is why law states that it ”shall be sufficient” for majority of the arbitral tribunal to sign the award, so long as they disclose the reasons for the omission of signatures of the minority of arbitrators.
Similarly, in the case of Axios Navigation4 it was held “The dissenting view, if any, cannot be treated as an award. Omission of the dissenter member’s signature will not make the award invalid. But in a situation where the dissenter member is also permitted to give reasons and/or expressed his dissenting opinion separately, still the majority assenting opinion shall be treated as an award”.
Hence, law as per Section 34(3) of the 1996 Act, provides that objections can be filed within 90 days from the date of receipt of the award and for valid reasons 30 more days can be given. The Popular construction case5 and simplex infrastructure case6 the Supreme Court of India has made it clear that above said limitation cannot be extended using the limitation Act, since it is a special limitation provided in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act,1996. Hence, the limitation to challenge the majority award, which is the award in the eye of law, cannot be extended on the ground that minority award was received late.