The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 (2015 Amendment) came into force with effect from October 23, 2015. Although this amendment was enacted to remove controversies and iron out wrinkles in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, (Parent Act), it has in fact, given rise to its own set of controversies. One of the burning issues was the applicability of the 2015 Amendment. Section 26 of the 2015 Amendment provides for its applicability, and reads as follows:
- Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the arbitral proceedings commenced, in accordance with the provisions of Section 21 of the principal Act, before the commencement of this Act unless the parties otherwise agree but this Act shall apply in relation to arbitral proceedings commenced on or after the date of commencement of this Act.
One would believe that the above provision would have settled any issue of applicability of the 2015 Amendment. It has instead given rise to more litigation,[i] which has now been partially addressed by the Supreme Court.[ii]
The controversy in all the litigation that came up before the High Courts, and which also saw conflicting points of view, was around the applicability of the amended Section 36 of the Parent Act. In the pre-amendment era, when an award debtor challenged an award under Section 34, the award creditor was prevented from enforcing the award until a determination had been made by a court on the challenge, because of an ‘automatic stay’ on the operation of the award.
In order to overcome this, and for the benefit of award creditors, Section 36 of the Parent Act, was amended to do away with this ‘automatic stay’. It required the challenging party to separately apply for a stay and also required the court to direct the award debtor to deposit the award amount, so as to avoid frivolous challenges. The question for the courts has been the applicability of the amended Section 36 to Section 34 applications that were filed before and after the 2015 Amendment came into force.