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Legally Speaking

The US Supreme Court appointment conundrum



The United States of America has an intense ongoing debate concerning the elevation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. President Donald Trump’s four-year tenure ends shortly— the voting through postal ballots for instance, has already begun and the results of the elections will potentially be declared sometime next month. In the United States, unlike India (and the UK) Judges are purely political appointees.

Due to Justice Ginsburg’s death, there is now a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Out of the of 8 judges who are presently serving on the US Supreme Court, 5 already are perceived as ‘conservative’ and are Republican appointees, and three are ‘liberals’ and are appointed by the Democratic Party. Of the total nine Justices in the Supreme Court, two have already been appointed by Trump. If Justice Barret’s nomination is confirmed (which barring a moral awakening in the Republican Party, it will most likely be confirmed)— then Trump would have appointed 30 percent of the Supreme Court Justices in a mere four years of his Presidency. With the expected appointment of Justice Barrett, the number would go up to 6. There are four main concerns which her appointment would create.

The first concern that the presence of a majority of conservative judges pose would come in the form of docket control. The Court is quite selective in picking which cases to hear, and on average hears less than a hundred cases a year. For a matter to be heard by the judges, at least four out of the nine judges need to concur that the matter in question involves significant questions of interpretation and therefore merits the grant of a writ of certiorari. If any such matter does not find the concurrence of four judges, the writ of certiorari is cursorily denied. With the appointment of Justice Barrett to the US Supreme Court, there is quite a likelihood that the sharpy divided 5-4 would be a thing of past as the judges of the US Supreme Court not be particularly inclined to pick on matters which align the favour to the liberal society.

The second concern is that with her appointment, the Supreme Court now has the avenue to be politically conservative at best and outrightly favour the conservatives at worst. In the past, test cases have popped up before the Court which have lead to precedents that have lasted half a century. For instance, Plessy was a test case which swung the momentum for the separate but equal laws. It is not a fantasy to envisage a situation when a similar test case may be put before the Court, which might lead to overruling of a some of the most sharply dividing social issues such as the constitutional right to privacy, or the constitutional right of a woman to have an abortion. In the recent senate confirmation hearings, Justice Barrett was asked to share her opinions on abortion and the impending Obama Healthcare case. She deflected both these questions and did not answer them conclusively. She said that she would do what the law required her to do.

The third concern is the timing of this appointment. A little less than half a decade ago, upon Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, the then President, Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland. Nonetheless then the appointment could not be finalised- largely owing to the timing of this happening in an election year. An unwritten convention was essentially formed. Four years hence, this was not seen as a concern (in some cases by those who had previously suggested that nominations should not be made in election years). This principle, then widely referred to as the ‘Biden rule’ clearly evaded Trump administration. It was also in breach of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish- that her replacement not be made before the next elections.

Fourth, her appointment raises a broader question. Should judges be appointed by the legislative or indeed the executive at all? In a democratic setup it is crucial that a balance is maintained between the branches of the Government. If judges are also political appointees, it erodes a part of this principle. It also certainly breaches the adage that justice should not only be done, but also seen to be done. The irresistible inference is that the nominated judges come from a political nomination and thus the boundaries of separation of power and judicial independence are obscured. The United States appoints judges for life- thus the implications of any appointment are in all probability be felt for decades to come.

Neither the constitutions of India and the United Kingdom’s permit any political interference in the appointments process. In fact the Supreme Court of India outrightly rejected the National Judicial Appointments Commission. Similarly, removing judges from their posts is a cumbersome process that requires majority in both the houses of Parliament and is a power rarely used. No judge has been impeached till date. This ensures that the independence of the judiciary remains intact and proper checks and balances can be nourished.

It is also crucial to remember that whilst most organs of the state have inbuilt checks and balances- courts are mostly their own conscience keepers. They must lead by example-the constitution has given them tremendous powers and as the old adage goes, with great power comes great responsibility. The Supreme Court of the United States is responsible for its own image and its own conscience. It can be conscience of Dred Scott and Plessy orit can be the conscience of Brown v Board. Either way,the world will certainly be watching the developments in the worlds biggest exporter of democracy with close interest..

Raunaq Jaiswal is faculty member at OP Jindal Global University. he holds a LLM from Central European University, Budapest.

Vishavjeet Chaudhary is a barrister by training, currently Delhi based Advocate specialising in criminal law and constitutional law. He holds an LLM from the University of Cambridge.

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Legally Speaking

Ensuring Fairness in the Appointment of Arbitrators

Kumar Rishabh Parth




It is very crucial to ensure that the proceedings are impartial and fair, the appointment of arbitrators should be independent and impartial, and this is a sine qua non for a dispute resolution process to be effective. It is imperative for an arbitral proceeding to be effective, and for that, the parties should hold confidence in the arbitrators who are adjudicating the dispute. The questions of independence and impartiality assume particular importance in the context of the arbitrations, where parties appoint their arbitrators. However, to preserve the “binding essence of contracts” and “party autonomy,” the Indian arbitral tribunal for the longest time neglected the implicit prejudice and procedural discrimination in the appointment procedures, especially as a result of contracts in a boilerplate format between parties with unequal bargaining power. The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 have brought various reforms to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’) which include the amendment in Part III of the Act, which deals with the “appointment of arbitrators.” Via this r, we aim to track the legislative journey and change of judicial patterns in the appointment of arbitrators and to determine whether the legal situation as it stands today is adequate to ensure consistency in the appointment process.


There is a legal maxim, “Nemo judex in causa sua” (No one should be a judge in their cause), and it will be highly immoral and partial if one of the parties own employee could act as an arbitrator. It will be against the principle of the said legal maxim. The irony is that the Indian Arbitration space is well stocked with such cases where such clauses were held valid and was upheld by the tribunal, until the Arbitration and conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 came into force. Boilerplate agreements leave no room for negotiation, such as the contracts with the State entities, which routinely provided for arbitration by a retired or serving employee of that entity in case of a dispute. Pre 2015, there was no normative framework to explicitly disqualify or any criteria to judge the independence or impartiality of the arbitrators. Most parties exploited the lacuna in the law for their benefits in superseding the bargaining power over the other party to thrust their choice of arbitrators on the other party.

Such clauses were upheld continuously by the judiciary in the garb of “Party Autonomy”, without factoring the unequal bargaining power of the parties and boilerplate nature of the contracts. The only exception to such clauses was only if the arbitrator was controlling or dealing authority concerning the subject contract, or a direct subordinate to the officer whose decision is the subject matter of the dispute, such an appointment was held invalid as per Section 12 of the Act by virtue of the decision by Hon’ble Supreme Court in Indian Oil Corp. Ltd. v. Raja Transport (P) Ltd. However, as correctly pointed out in the 246th Law Commission of India’s Report: this exception was clearly “not enough”


There was dissatisfaction expressed with the judiciary by the 246th Law Commission Report vis-à-vis appointment of arbitrators stood then. In the garb of “party autonomy” or the “binding nature of the contracts” the aspect of “procedural fairness” was lost.

There were several critical amendments proposed by the Law Commission to Section 11, 12 and 14 of the Act. The recommendations paved the way for the introduction of the “de jure” ineligibility of arbitrators in case the relationship of the arbitrator with any of the parties or counsel or subject matter of the dispute fell within categories specified in the schedule, as opposed to mere “de facto” disqualification as provided under Section 12 (3) of the unamended Act. In other words, the Law Commission recommended the introduction of specific categories of the relationship between the arbitrator and the party, counsel or subject matter, which would render such arbitrator ineligible by operation of law.


The recommendations by the Law Commission was followed, and the Act was amended accordingly in 2015 through the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 2015 and Sections 11, 12, and 14 were explicitly amended to ensure fairness in the appointment procedure of the arbitrator.

Now an Arbitrator must disclose when s/he is approached by the parties for the appointment, regarding existence relationship or interest of any kind which is likely to give rise to justifiable doubts regarding their independence or impartiality. Disclosure is required to be made in terms of the form provided in the Sixth Schedule of the Act.

The amendment introduced such requirements to assess whether there are justifiable doubts as to the competence or impartiality of the arbitrator based on the Red and Orange lists of the IBA Guidelines on Conflicts of Interest in International Arbitration (‘IBA Guidelines’).

The fifth schedule read with Section 12(1)(b) acts as a guideline to ascertain whether circumstances are giving rise to justifiable doubts as to the independence or impartiality of the arbitrator. The fifth schedule is based on the Orange List of the IBA guidelines, which lists down less severe circumstances constituting ‘De facto’ ineligibility.

The seventh schedule incorporates disqualification categories akin to the Red List of the IBA guidelines, which leads to ‘De jure’ inability to act as an arbitrator. If the case falls within any of the categories specified in the 7th schedule, such an appointment is invalid by operation of law, and the arbitrator’s mandate stands terminated. A proviso has been added to section 12 (5), which allows a waiver of applicability of section 12 (5). However, such a waiver can only be: after the disputes having being arisen; and by an express agreement in writing (as opposed to deemed waiver by conduct as stipulated under Section 4 of the Act).

On the other hand, if the appointed person is ineligible in terms of the seventh schedule: such a person would lack inherent jurisdiction to proceed any further and hence an application for termination of mandate may be filed under Section 14(2) of the Act, directly before the Court. If the appointment clause itself fulfils the conditions for de jure ineligibility, the parties may approach the Court under Section 11 of the Act, and seek an appointment by the Court.


Post the amendments of 2015; there was a shift in the judicial trend in contrast to what has been discussed earlier as Procedural Fairness. The amendments equipped the parties with effective recourse to challenge the unfair appointment procedures in arbitration agreements. Further, the specific disclosure requirements and the categories of grounds and disqualifications given under the fifth and seventh schedule enabled an objective test for independence and impartiality of potential arbitrators. As a result of the 2015 Amendment, the parties can no longer appoint their existing employees, consultants or advisors as arbitrators. However, the de jure disqualification does not cover former or retired employees who have retired beyond three years of their nomination, and they may still be appointed as arbitrators.

It is interesting to note that post-2015 amendments that the inquiry in judicial decisions has not been limited to “who may be appointed” and has extended to “who may appoint”. Under the notion of unilateral appointment of arbitrators, only one of the parties gets the power to nominate or appoint an arbitrator. This kind of appointments has been continuously under the judicial scanner post the 2015 amendment. Though, the Seventh schedule provides the criteria for ineligibility of the “appointed arbitrator”, the listed grounds do not apply to the “appointing authority”. So, there is no direct bar on unilateral appointments under the Act. In other words, if the appointed arbitrator does not otherwise fall under any of the disqualifications specified under the seventh schedule, a strict and narrow interpretation of the provisions of the Act would lead to the conclusion that such an appointment is valid even if the arbitrator is unilaterally appointed by one of the parties. Several High Courts even post the 2015 Amendment continued to hold this view, until the Supreme Court ruling in TRF Limited vs Energo Engineering Projects Limited (“TRF LtdCase”). in 2017, finally leading to the decision in Perkins Eastman Architects DPC and another v. HSCC (India) Limited (“Perkins Eastman Case”).

TRF Limited vs Energo Engineering Projects Limited (EEPL) was the first significant judgment which dealt with the issue of unilateral appointment of arbitrators. In this case, a three bench judge of the Supreme court relied upon the principle embedded in the maxim Qui Facit Per Alium Facit Per Se (what one does through another is done by oneself), and this was to hold that once the arbitrator (the MD in this case) becomes ineligible by operation of law under Section 12(5) of the Act as amended by the 2015 amendment, his power to nominate someone else is also lost.

The appointment clause in the Perkins Eastman case provided for arbitration by a person nominated by the Managing Director of one of the parties (the MD here had only one capacity: “appointing authority”). The Apex court, after examining the ratio in the TRF Case noted that the MD had an interest in the outcome of the dispute, hence he was found ineligible. The Court further noted that if the interest in the outcome of the dispute, is taken to be the basis for the possibility of bias, it will always be present if one of the parties is given a unilateral right of appointment of a sole arbitrator. The Supreme Court thus held that “the person who has an interest in the outcome or decision of the dispute must not have the power to appoint a sole arbitrator.”

Hence, it was conclusively ruled by the Supreme Court that the clauses that grant the right of “unilateral appointment of the sole arbitrator” to one of the parties are invalid.


Before delving into the facts and decision rendered in the Central Organization Case, it will be apposite to refer to the ruling by the Supreme Court in Voestalpine Schinen Gmbh v Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (“Voestalpine Case”). The arbitration clause in this case envisaged a three member tribunal, who were to be nominated from the panel of 31 arbitrators maintained by Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (“DMRC”) consisting of ex-Government and Railway employees. Under the appointment clause, DMRC was empowered to shortlist 5 names from the panel and the parties were to nominate one arbitrator each from such list, and such nominated arbitrators were to nominate the presiding arbitrator. Pertinently DMRC in this matter forwarded the entire list to the petitioner, excluding the serving and retired officers of DMRC for nomination. However, the petitioner challenged the clause as violative of section 12(5) of the Act. The Court opined that the discretion given to the DMRC to choose 5 persons from the panel gave very limited choice to the petitioner and further left room for suspicion that DMRC may pick its own favourites, and thus suggested deletion of the said clause. The Court, after noting that DMRC had given a wider list to the petitioner, which excluded the serving and retired employees of DMRC, upheld the procedure of selection from the wider list so provided. The Court in this case also emphasised on the need for “broad based panels”, consisting of people from various fields, both technical and legal.

In Central Organisation Case the arbitration clause contemplated appointment of sole arbitrator from a panel proposed by of one of the parties comprising of four of its retired employees. The other party was given an option to select two out those four names; and the Managing Director of the former was finally given the power to appoint one out of the two names as the arbitrator. The Court, after discussing the law laid down in both, Voestalpine Case and Perkins Eastman, upheld the validity of the appointment clause. The court expressed the opinion that the appellant had given a “wide option” to the respondent by proposing four retired employees as nominees. The court further held that the power of the General Manager to nominate the arbitrator is counter-balanced by the power of the Respondent to select any of the two nominees from out of the four names suggested from the panel of the retired officers .

This observation by the Court appears to be in face of the rationale of Voestalpine Case, where the court invalidated the clause which restricted the choice of arbitrators from merely five names out of an entire panel of thirty one. Further, the court in Voestalpine Case had specifically noted that the proposed list did not have retired employees from DMRC, which was not the case in Central Organisation, where all the four names in the proposed list were retired employees of Central Organisation Railway.

More importantly, the court in Central Organisation, seems to have completely misread the rationale in TRF Ltd. and Perkins Eastman. The Court placed reliance on the following excerpt from TRF Ltd:

“50. …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…”

The court further reproduced the following excerpt from Perkins Eastman:

“21….The next sentences in the paragraph, further show that cases where both the parties could nominate respective arbitrators of their choice were found to be completely a different situation. The reason is clear that whatever advantage a party may derive by nominating an arbitrator of its choice would get counter balanced by equal power with the other party….”

A plain reading of the aforesaid excerpts makes it clear that the court in both, TRF Ltd. and Perkins Eastman was referring to a situation where parties could nominate respective arbitrators of their choice and that it would get counter-balanced by equal power with the other party; and not a situation where the nomination is controlled by only one of the two parties. In the latter situation, the advantage does not get counter balanced. Applying the TRF Ltd. and Perkins Eastman logic, if a party having interest in the outcome of the dispute or an ineligible person does not have the unilateral right to appoint the sole arbitrator, by the same logic, such a party should not have the right to unliterally decide on the panel out of which the arbitrator is finally appointed.

The decision in Central Organization is not merely contradictory to Perkins Eastman with respect to unilateral appointments, but has also diluted the principle of neutrality of panels given under the Voestalpine Case, which had ruled against giving limited options to the other party while making appointments from a panel, and had further recommended the parties, particularly PSU’s and government authorities to maintain “broad based” panels.

In context of appointments from panel maintained by one of the parties, the decision by a single bench of Delhi High Court in Larson & Turbo Ltd. vs. PWD is worth discussing. The arbitration clause in this case contemplated appointment of sole arbitrator from a panel of arbitrators maintained by PWD, and accordingly a retired director of PWD was appointed as the sole arbitrator. The judgement in this case seems to have been reserved before Perkins Eastman, and hence no reliance has been placed on it to strike down the unilateral appointment. The court in this case noted that the appointed arbitrator was otherwise qualified under the seventh schedule. However, the court looked into the procedure of empanelment of arbitrators by the PWC to ascertain his independence and impartiality.Under the empanelment procedure, certain conditions for empanelment were specified by the PWD, viz:

“That the applicant has not appeared for private party and against the government interest before any Arbitrator of PWD/CPWD or DDA.”

“ The Officer to be empanelled should not have taken any commercial employment and have not appeared before any Arbitrator for CPWD/PWD Delhi or DDA in favour of any party and against the Govt.”

The Court after taking note of the conditions observed that the persons who are empanelled, are required to display a certain kind of trait or be imbued with attributes that are antithetical to the appointment of an impartial and an independent arbitrator, and terminated the mandate under of the arbitrator under Section 14(1)(a) of the Act. This case is another example of purposive interpretation of the Act.


The Indian arbitration space has shown a great deal of progress in making the arbitration procedure fair as well as efficacious through legislative reforms. The objective criteria under the fifth and seventh schedule have brought in a fair amount of objectivity in judging the independence and impartiality of arbitrators. Most of the PSUs and government authorities have amended the dispute resolution clauses in their contracts to do away with clauses that prescribed appointment of existing employees, consultants or advisors as the arbitrators. In a country like India, where ad-hocism in arbitration is a norm, these reforms are a welcome step in ensuring confidence of parties in the arbitral process. To bring about long term and systematic changes, institutionalized arbitration in India needs to be encouraged and strengthened. Further, a perusal of the judicial decisions post the 2015 Amendment reveals that the there is a fair amount of subjectivity shown by courts in interpreting the rigor of section 12(5) of the Act read with the seventh schedule. The contradictory position arising out decisions in TRF Case, Perkins Eastman on one handand Central Organisation Case on the other, needs to be settled by a larger bench, or through a statutory amendment. In the meanwhile, the parties, especially PSUs and government authorities should maintain “broad based” panels, with people from diverse backgrounds acting as arbitrators, in line with the ratio of the Voestapaline Case.

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Legally Speaking

Arbitration Ordinance 2020: One step forward, several steps back

The Ordinance has reversed the effect of the 2015 amendments to the Act which had done away with the automatic stay on enforcement of arbitral awards upon a challenge being made under Section 34 of the Act. Most certainly, a regressive step, the Ordinance has inserted a further proviso to Section 36(3) of the Act, by which an award shall be ‘unconditionally’ stayed pending disposal of the challenge under Section 34.

Satvik Varma



The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, (“Ordinance”) promulgated recently is best described as bitter-sweet. On one hand, it has substituted section 43J of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“Act”) by noting that the “qualifications, experience and norms for accreditation of arbitrators shall be such as may be specified by regulations.” Consequently, the Eighth Schedule of the Act has been omitted. While stipulations in the Schedule, as regards minimum qualifications and eligibility requirements for arbitrators, were perhaps necessary, this Schedule was subject to rigorous academic debate inter-alia for taking-away party autonomy in relation to appointment of foreign arbitrators in India-seated arbitrations. Notably, section 43J and the Eight Schedule had been introduced only in 2019 with a view to make India a hub of domestic and international arbitration and for the faster resolution of commercial disputes. The stipulations perhaps didn’t help.

On the other hand, the Ordinance has reversed the effect of the 2015 amendments to the Act which had done away with the automatic stay on enforcement of arbitral awards upon a challenge being made under section 34 of the Act. Most certainly, a regressive step, the Ordinance has inserted a further proviso to section 36(3) of the Act, by which an award shall be “unconditionally” stayed pending disposal of the challenge under section 34, “where the Court is satisfied that a prima facie case is made out, (a) that the arbitration agreement or contract which is the basis of the award, or (b) the making of the award, was induced or effected by fraud or corruption.” To avoid the flurry of litigation, that had followed the 2015 amendment, the Ordinance clarifies that the proviso shall be retrospective in nature and shall be applicable to “all court cases arising out of or in relation to arbitral proceedings, irrespective of whether the arbitral or court proceedings were commenced prior to or after the commencement of the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015.”

The insertion of this proviso raises many legal questions foremost being that could not the relief which the proviso seeks to provide be achieved without the Ordinance?

Let us begin by examining fraud which is defined under section 17 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 (“Contract Act”) and section 447 of the Companies Act, 2013. Both these sections provide an inclusive definition which encompasses acts of deception, concealment of facts, and inducement with the intent of wrongful gain or causing wrongful loss. Additionally, per section 19 of the Contract Act, any party whose consent to an agreement was caused by such fraud may, at such party’s option, deem such agreement to be void and thus, such party would not be obligated to perform its obligations under the said agreement. Similar protection is also afforded under section 18 of the Specific Relief Act which provides for exceptions to performance in cases of fraud, mistake of fact or misrepresentation.

In such case, if a dispute were to arise between the parties, and if such agreement were to include an arbitration clause, the parties would, likely, proceed to have the same resolved through arbitration. During the arbitral proceedings the party raising the issue of fraud simpliciter or corruption in inducement of the contract or the arbitration agreement could plead the same before the tribunal, which can adjudicate on the same.

At the same time, one shouldn’t lose sight that the Supreme Court in A. Ayyasamy v. A Paramasivam & Ors. held that a reference to arbitration may be refused by the Court if (i) the Court finds serious allegations of fraud which virtually make a case of a criminal offence, (ii) where the allegations of fraud are so complicated that it becomes essential that such complex issues can be decided only by civil court on appreciation of voluminous evidence, (iii) where serious allegations of forgery/fabrication of documents in support of the plea of fraud.

If, however, the tribunal determines the arbitration agreement or contract was not induced or effected by fraud or corruption, then the tribunal would adjudicate the dispute and eventually pass an award. In such instance, it is still open to the aggrieved party to challenge the award under section 34(2)(a)(ii) of the Act, and also under section 34(2)(b)(ii) as it would be open to such party to contend that the award is in conflict with the public policy of India. Thus, again, to this extent, the existing provisions covered such situations.

But where the plea of fraud or corruption has been refused by the arbitral tribunal after evaluating the material produced before it, then will not the Court hearing challenge to the award be reappreciating the evidence contrary to the law as enumerated by the Supreme Court in the celebrated decision of Associate Builders v. DDA which has stipulated that the Court cannot sit in appeal over the award by reassessing or reappreciating evidence? This principle now forms the bedrock of multiple subsequent decisions of the Supreme Court such as Ssangyong Engg & Construction Co. Ltd. v. NHAI and Parsa Kente Collieries Ltd. v. Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd. In fact, post the 2015 amendment to the Act, section 34 has been amended to preclude a review on merits or reappreciation of evidence. It, therefore, begs the question- how is the Court to establish, even prima facie, that there was any fraud? Will this not, therefore create an anomalous situation for Courts who cannot look beyond the arbitral record or review the case on the merits of the dispute, including on the ground of an erroneous application of the law?

Even prior to the Ordinance, in every situation it would be open to a party to seek a stay, subject to such conditions as the Court may deem fit, under section 36(3) of the Act, subject to satisfying the Court that a prima facie case is made out. Therefore, would not the extent provisions, prior to the Ordinance, have adequately protected the party seeking a stay on an award’s enforcement? Interestingly enough, the Court whilst determining whether to grant such stay would of course need to take a prima facie decision.

The above analysis now takes us to the point reiterated by the Supreme Court that fraud itself is not always possible to establish by positive and tangible proof, as by its very nature it is secretive, and in most cases circumstantial evidence is the only way to establish the existence of fraud. In the Alva Aluminium Limited, Bangkok v. Gabriel India Limited, judgment the Supreme Court has held that a heavy duty lies upon a party who wishes to rescind a contract on the ground of fraud, and not just does the fraud need to be specifically pleaded, but the fraud shall also have to be established on the entire bundle of facts. In the context of arbitrations, the Supreme Court recently held in Avitel Post Studioz Limited v. HSBC PI Holdings (Mauritius) Limited, that serious allegations of fraud only arise if the following two test are satisfied: “The first test is satisfied only when it can be said that the arbitration clause or agreement itself cannot be said to exist in a clear case in which the court finds that the party against whom breach is alleged cannot be said to have entered into the agreement relating to arbitration at all. The second test can be said to have been met in cases in which allegations are made against the State or its instrumentalities of arbitrary, fraudulent, or malafide conduct, thus necessitating the hearing of the case by a writ court in which questions are raised which are not predominantly questions arising from the contract itself or breach thereof, but questions arising in the public law domain.”

More recently, in Deccan Paper Mills Co. Ltd. v. Regency Mahavir Properties & Ors., the Supreme Court clarified the question of arbitrability of disputes involving allegations of fraud and reiterated its previous view that if the dispute between parties fell within section 17 of the Contract Act, or involved fraud in the performance of the contract amounting to deceit, such would be a civil wrong and would be arbitrable. Furthermore, simply because a particular transaction may have certain criminal elements, it would not ipso-facto mean that the subject-matter thereof is non-arbitrable.

Regrettably, the Ordinance does not provide any checks and balances against unscrupulous litigants from repeatedly raising the plea of fraud or corruption with a view to escape their obligations. Of course, the burden of proof would always be on the party alleging fraud or corruption, and in the case of multi-member tribunals this burden would be more onerous. However where the tribunal consists of a sole arbitrator, false pleas of corruption are likely to be taken thereby tarnishing the very basis that arbitration rests upon- a voluntary, binding, speedy and cost effective dispute redressal mechanism. One way to ensure that such a situation is avoided is to devise a system of deterrence- primarily through a regimen of imposing heavy costs against those who take mischievous pleas. Section 31A of the Act empowers the arbitrators in this regard.

As detailed above, sufficient provisions existed for an award debtor to approach the Court under the pre-Ordinance regime for seeking stay of the arbitral award if it could be demonstrated that there existed a case of fraud or corruption. The Ordinance and the re-introduction of a provision of automatic stay, has once again taken the law of arbitration back to the pre-2015 Amendment scenario, where upon an automatic stay being granted, the award holder would continue to have to await the disposal of the challenge to the award before being able to enjoy the fruits of the award. Also, will not the stay of an award “unconditionally” create its own challenges especially in situations where the Court while disposing off a section 34 challenge holds that no fraud, as alleged, is made out?

As observed, “the dispute resolution process has a huge impact on the Indian economy and global perception on “doing business” in India.” The current government is keen to push our nation to achieve the goal of becoming a hub for international commercial arbitration. To achieve this, we need to move towards an approach of minimal judicial interference with arbitral awards and speedy resolution of challenges in Court to such awards. Of course this requires a strong pool of arbitrators and it would also be wise to move towards institutional arbitrations as opposed to the largely ad-hoc arbitrations which we currently follow. Hopefully, the soon to be established Arbitration Council of India will work towards accomplishing all of the above. Till then, legislation, in the form of the present Ordinance, need to be avoided as the cure cannot be worse than the problem itself.

Even prior to the Ordinance, in every situation it would be open to a party to seek a stay, subject to such conditions as the court may deem fit, under Section 36(3) of the Act, subject to satisfying the court that a prima facie case is made out. Therefore, would not the extent provisions, prior to the Ordinance, have adequately protected the party seeking a stay on an award’s enforcement? Interestingly enough, the court whilst determining whether to grant such stay would of course need to take a prima facie decision.

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Legally Speaking

A feudal democracy?

J. Sai Deepak



Over the past few days, a well-known and fairly accomplished Senior IPS Officer, who is currently the Home Secretary to the State Government of Karnataka, has been in the news for her public spat on Twitter with a widely followed and encyclopaedic anonymous commentator on history who prefers to go by the Twitter pseudonym, “True Indology” which is perhaps a nom de guerre. The spat was triggered by the IPS Officer’s tweet in support of the ban on the use of firecrackers on the occasion of Diwali. More than her support for the ban, a position she is perfectly entitled to take, what started the debate was her comment that bursting of firecrackers was not “essential” to the celebration of Diwali and that “non-essential religious practices” were mere dispensable “social practices”. This invited a response from other “tweetizens” including True Indology who dismantled her position brick by brick with reference after reference which clearly demonstrated that bursting of firecrackers had a specific religious significance, and was not merely an act of festivity and celebration. As someone who has presented the scriptural and documented evidence on the subject before the Supreme Court in Arjun Gopal v. Union of India in 2017 and 2018 in the context of the firecracker ban, I am in some position to endorse the views of True Indology.

That said, I am not on the IPS Officer’s uninformed views; after all, the fundamental right to hold a thought and express it is equally available to all hues of views, informed, not-so-informed, somewhat informed and utterly uninformed. However, after having taken a public position from her official handle, instead of engaging on merits with True Indology’s authority-backed counters, let alone disproving him, it appears that the IPS Officer demanded True Indology to divulge his personal details (privacy and due process, what are they?) and when he refused to do so, she is reported to have quipped “Your time is up”.

Within a matter of minutes of that ominous ultimatum, True Indology’s twitter handle is reported to have been suspended, which he confirmed on his Instagram account. Whether this was a coincidence or was there a correlation or a direct causality, I am not in a position to comment on with conviction. I wonder though, what would have happened if the user had not been anonymous and his details were publicly available? Another brave public arrest of a common citizen? Anyways, subsequently, the IPS Officer claimed that she was merely “disseminating” information about an order of the Government, “a decision taken at the highest level”, which was not her “personal opinion”. The irony was that she followed this up with a tweet about how she had a “real job” with “real responsibilities” i.e. after engaging in a public debate for at least two days from her official handle, thereby blurring the lines between dissemination of information and airing of opinions. So much for a real job with real responsibilities. The icing on the cake was the following tweet:

“And as a Govt official, I will first say follow Laws, Rules made by elected legislature, enforced by executive. U r free to question them in judiciary. Not twitter. Have respect for 3 pillars of State as envisaged by Constitution of this democratic country.”

The entire exchange and the above tweet in particular, in my opinion, is reflective of the feudal nature of Indian democracy and the top-down approach to rule of law, constitutional values and constitutional morality. Constitutional morality, as I have written elaborately on before quoting Dr. Ambedkar who in turn quoted Grote, is effectively a commitment to constitutional values, first, by the those in power and those who wield the law. In other words, constitutional morality is a check on untrammelled, unbridled, unrestrained and arrogant use of power by the State, especially its Police powers. Constitutional morality was not meant to be a stick to beat the public with or to indulge in a condescending “civilizing” mission which reeks and smacks of evangelical fervour. This applies to elected representatives and all the more to public servants who are appointees and do not have the direct endorsement of the electorate.

Public servants and elected representatives must remember that a dialogue in public is usually a dialogue with the public. And a dialogue, as embarrassingly obvious as it may be, is not a monologue. In a democracy, it is all the more a two-way street and if public officials wish to grandly hold forth on matters of civilization and religion from their official handles, they must have the maturity and the decency to accept civil reactions and responses from the public to their views. To weaponize their positions and to issue veiled threats merely because their ill-informed and unsolicited opinions have been called out in public is a textbook case of abuse of power. The power vested in them by or under the Constitution is to protect the law and the weak, not their fragile, bloated and weak egos.

Let me go a step further and explain my use of the word “feudal” in the context of our rich and vibrant democracy, encomiums we so love giving ourselves. I don’t believe that any form of political organization is permanent, and this equally applies to democracy. From a civilizational perspective or from the perspective of the vast canvas of human history, 500 years is nothing, I repeat nothing, let alone 70 years. Therefore, I don’t and won’t sit in judgement on any form of political organization which was in vogue before democracy became the mainstream. This is to say that I do not use “feudal” with contempt or disapproval. I am merely using it to highlight the convenient straddling of feudalism and democracy by those who wield power. My clear position is that if you wish to play by the rules of feudalism, the public too must be allowed to, and if you wish to play by the rules of democracy, they equally apply to you. You can’t hold forth on democracy and constitutional values when you pontificate to the public, and embarrassingly betray your feudal mindset when the public exercises its constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech to call out your colonial sanctimony and lack of depth. You can’t have it both ways, after all. You just can’t have the cake and eat it too.

Also, I use the word “colonial” with responsibility and with a sense of history because in most postcolonial societies, especially Bharat, it is an established and demonstrated fact that those who wield power have typically stepped into the shoes of the erstwhile colonizer, which explains their penchant for “civilizing” the native and talking down to her or him. Let me clarify that I don’t wish to paint everyone with the same brush, but I am certainly highlighting a systemic fault which is all-pervasive. We may have embraced the skeletal structure of democracy, but we are still uncomfortable with the republican spirit that comes with it. To a layperson, the attitude of the colonialised native wielder of power isn’t that different from the attitude of the erstwhile colonizer; in fact, it is even worse because the native wielder of power channels his own self-loathing tendencies and projects it on to the “plebs”, “the cattle class” or whatever other pejorative they may think of for the wretched commoner. What irks the public official even more is the empowerment of the common voice by the internet and social media, which has democratized gateways and channels of public communication which were hitherto the exclusive preserve of the select and Chosen few (the Gymkhana variety). And so, the old ways are back (remember Section 66A?). The age-old threats and gags are back and our time’s up. Long Live the Republic! And Long Live Constitutional Morality!

J. Sai Deepak is an Advocate practising as an arguing counsel before the Supreme Court of India and the High Court of Delhi.

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Legally Speaking

Prenatal sex determination: Termination of female foeticide is destruction of woman of future, says Punjab and Haryana HC



We all keep hearing the old adages like “Where woman is worshipped, God resides there” and “When you educate a man you educate an individual but when you educate a woman you educate the entire family” so on. But in actual practice we see the stark truth as to how woman has to face discrimination even before she is born. Many parents resort to prenatal sex determination and prefer to abort child if the child is a female. How on earth can this be justified?

How can it be lightly dismissed that none other than the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Hassan Mohd vs State of Haryana in CRM-M-34797 of 2020 delivered on October 30, 2020 has expressed its serious concern and fulminating anger over the reprehensible and retrograde practice of prenatal sex determination? It minced no words to say unequivocally that, “Considering the disdainful attitude of the society to a female child and use of diagnostic equipment for female foeticide Act was enacted to curb the pre-natal sex determination. Despite the specific legislation the menace of sex-based destruction of foetus continues to plague the society.” How can this be just glossed over?

To start with, the ball is set rolling by Justice Avneesh Jhingan of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the opening para by first and foremost observing that, “The matter is taken up for hearing through video conference due to COVID-19 situation.” It is then observed in the next para that, “The petition is filed seeking anticipatory bail in FIR No. 226 dated 29.9.2020, under Sections 353, 186, 420 IPC and Sections 4, 5, 6, 23 and 29 of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (for short, ‘the Act’).”

While elaborating on the facts of the case, it is then envisaged that, “The facts in brief are that the police received a secret information about the illegal activities being carried out under the Act. A team of doctors was associated for raiding the location. A decoy customer was deployed to get an ultra sound done, for determining sex of foetus. Payment was made through marked currency notes. The petitioner dramatised conducting of ultra sound of decoy customer and played a prerecorded video on the LCD to show that ultra sound was being conducted. In the raid, LCD and the equipment for playing videos along with marked currency notes were seized.”

On the one hand, it is pointed out that, “Learned counsel for the petitioner submits that there was not even a single complaint by any one. Moreover as no ultra sound machine was recovered from the premises, the provisions of the Act will not apply.”

On the other hand, it is then pointed out that, “Learned counsel for the State opposes the grant of anticipatory bail and submits that custodial interrogation is necessary as number of people have been defrauded. He further submits that the allegations are serious, there is recovery of marked currency and the equipment being projected to the customers as ultra sound machine.”

Most significantly, what forms the cornerstone of this latest, landmark and laudable judgment is then stated without mincing any words as “Determination of sex of the foetus is a malaise which is affecting the society day in and day out. The desire to have a male child is an open secret. It has affected the gender ratio of the society. Considering disdainful attitude of the society to female child and use of diagnostic equipment for female foeticide Act was enacted to curb the pre-natal sex determination. Despite the specific legislation the menace of sex based destruction of foetus continues to plague the society. It is classic case of misuse of gift of development of technology. The Constitution guarantees equality to genders but pre natal sex determination deprives a female foetus to come to this world. In a civilized society, the sex of foetus cannot be a determining factor for having lease of life to see this world, if permitted the consequences would be devastating, the civilization itself would be endangered. To put in other words termination of female foeticide is destruction of woman of future. There cannot be a dispute on the fact that female has multi-facet role in society.”

No less significant is what is then stated that, “The Supreme Court in Voluntary Health Association of Punjab v. Union of India and others, 2016 (10) JT 570 held: “Before parting with the case, let it be stated with certitude and without allowing any room for any kind of equivocation or ambiguity, the perception of any individual or group or organization or system treating a woman with inequity, indignity, inequality or any kind of discrimination is constitutionally impermissible. The historical perception has to be given a prompt burial. Female foeticide is conceived by the society that definitely includes the parents because of unethical perception of life and nonchalant attitude towards law. The society that treats man and woman with equal dignity shows the reflections of a progressive and civilized society. To think that a woman should think what a man or a society wants her to think is tantamounts to slaughtering her choice, and definitely a humiliating act. When freedom of free choice is allowed within constitutional and statutory parameters, others cannot determine the norms as that would amount to acting in derogation of law. Decrease in the sex ratio is a sign of colossal calamity and it cannot be allowed to happen. Concrete steps have to be taken to increase the same so that invited social disasters do not befall on the society. The present generation is expected to be responsible to the posterity and not to take such steps to sterilize the birth rate in violation of law. The societal perception has to be metamorphosed having respect to legal postulates.”

While pooh-poohing the petitioner’s contention, it is then held that, “The contention of the petitioner that there was no complaint against him holds no water. The person who is in active participation against an enactment, in other words is a party to the illegal act, is not expected to come forward to make a police complaint. The persons who were being fleeced probably would not be aware that in the name of determination of sex they were shown pre-recorded video.”

Moving on, it is then also made clear that, “The next contention of learned counsel for the petitioner that the provisions of the Act will not apply as no ultra sound was conducted does not enhance the case of the petitioner. The fact remains that the assurance given and the picture projected was that her ultra sound is being carried out. Even of decoy customer, the ultra sound gel was applied, the probe was put on her abdomen and thereafter video recording was played on the LCD.”

To say the least, it is then observed that, “In the present case, albeit the petitioner was not conducting an ultra sound yet he had to give result of sex determination as he was charging for the same, his conduct would determine the fate of the foetus.”

Be it noted, it is then disclosed that, “At this stage, it would be relevant to quote Section 5 and 6 of the Act:

5. Written consent of pregnant woman and prohibition of communicating the sex of foetus.

(1) No person referred to in clause (2) of section 3 shall conduct the pre-natal diagnostic procedures unless-

(a) he has explained all known side and after effects of such procedures to the pregnant woman concerned;

(b) he has obtained in the prescribed form her written consent to undergo such procedures in the language which she understands; and

(c) a copy of her written consent obtained under clause (b) is given to the pregnant woman.

(2) No person including the person conducting pre-natal diagnostic procedures shall communicate to the pregnant woman concerned or her relatives or any other person the sex of the foetus by words, signs, or in any other manner.

6. Determination of sex prohibited. -On and from the commencement of this Act,–

(a) no Genetic Counselling Centre or Genetic Laboratory or Genetic Clinic shall conduct or cause to be conducted in its Centre, Laboratory or Clinic, pre-natal diagnostic techniques including ultrasonography, for the purpose of determining the sex of a foetus;

(b) no person shall conduct or cause to be conducted any prenatal diagnostic techniques including ultrasonography for the purpose of determining the sex of a foetus;

(c) no person shall, by whatever means, cause or allow to be caused selection of sex before or after conception.”

Moving on, it is then observed that, “As per Section 5 (1), no pre-natal diagnostic procedure shall be carried without explaining the side effects to pregnant lady and without obtaining her consent. Section 5 (2) states that the sex of the foetus shall not be communicated to the pregnant woman or her relatives or any other person by words, signs or in any other manner. Section 6 prohibits various centres to use the diagnostic techniques for determining the sex of the foetus.”

Finally, it is then held that, “At the stage of grant of anticipatory bail, a prima facie case is to be seen and the matter is not to be decided finally. Considering the nature of allegations and the evidence collected, no case is made out for grant of anticipatory bail. The petition is dismissed.”

For the sake of clarification, it is then stated that, “It is clarified that observations made hereinabove are only for deciding the anticipatory bail.”

To conclude, the sum and substance of this latest, landmark and laudable judgment is that the termination of female foeticide is destruction of woman of future. At the cost of repetition, it must be again said that, “Determination of sex of the foetus is a malaise which is affecting the society day in and day out. The desire to have a male child is an open secret. It has affected the gender ratio of the society. Considering disdainful attitude of the society to female child and use of diagnostic equipment for female foeticide Act was enacted to curb the pre-natal sex determination. Despite the specific legislation the menace of sex based destruction of foetus continues to plague the society. It is classic case of misuse of gift of development of technology. The Constitution guarantees equality to genders but pre natal sex determination deprives a female foetus to come to this world. In a civilized society, the sex of foetus cannot be a determining factor for having lease of life to see this world, if permitted the consequences would be devastating, the civilization itself would be endangered. To put in other words termination of female foeticide is destruction of woman of future. There cannot be a dispute on the fact that female has multi-facet role in society.” Why then should female foeticide be tolerated? Why should there not be the most strictest punishment for female foeticide? Why can’t the laws be amended to ensure the same? What is needed is just a strong political will. But just enacting strict laws alone is not enough. Implementing them with alacrity and without any discrimination will ensure that it serves the purpose for which it is enacted! There can be no denying it!

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Legally Speaking

Rajasthan High Court calls for action against magistrate who issued arrest warrants while HC’s anticipatory bail order was in existence



In a strict and swift action, the Rajasthan High Court just recently in a latest judgment titled Nanuram Sahni and Vinod Kumar vs. State of Rajasthan through PP in S.B. Criminal Miscellaneous (Petition) No. 4317/2020 delivered as recently as on 9 November 2020, has directed Registrar (Vigilance) to initiate against a Magistrate who issued arrest warrants against accused. This despite the irrefutable fact that the High Court had earlier granted them anticipatory bail. Without mincing any words, the Bench of Justice Sanjeev Prakash Sharma of Rajasthan High Court also observed that, “The action of the learned Magistrate is clearly wanting and shows scant respect to the High Court’s order as well as having little knowledge relating to criminal law.”  

To start with, the ball is set rolling in para 1 of this notable judgment authored by Justice Sanjeev Prakash Sharma wherein it is put forth that, “Learned counsel for the petitioners submits that the petitioners were granted anticipatory bail by this Court in the FIR registered against them bearing No.3/2003 at Police Station Khetri, District Jhunjhunu under Section(s) 418, 420, 465, 467, 468, 471, 406 & 120-B IPC. The police submitted a Final Report whereafter protest petition was filed, which was dismissed. Against the dismissal order of the protest petition, a revision petition was filed, which was allowed by the learned Additional Sessions Judge, Khetri and the matter was remanded back to the Court to pass a fresh order on 18.7.2018, whereafter the learned Magistrate has taken cognizance on 11.1.2019 and summoned the petitioners through arrest warrants. The said order of remand was challenged by the petitioners before the High Court and the High Court had stayed the said proceedings. Taking into consideration the order of taking cognizance, the petition was declared infructuous.”  

As we see, it is then noted in para 2 that, “Learned Magistrate thereafter again issued arrest warrants. Learned counsel for the petitioners submits that on coming to know about the arrest warrants, the petitioners moved an application informing that they are on anticipatory bail by the Court and also requested that the arrest warrants should be converted into bailable warrants in terms of Section 70(2) Cr.P.C., however, learned Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate, Khetri whereby its order dated 3.9.2020 has refused to convert the non-bailable warrants to bailable warrants on the premise that he does not have the power to convert the non-bailable warrants to bailable warrants as it would amount to refuse recalling its earlier order, which is barred in terms of Section 362 Cr.P.C. and has further issued arrest warrants on the same day. Learned counsel submits that issue has been finally decided and put it rest by the Larger Bench as to the tenure of the anticipatory bail in Sushila Agarwal & Others Versus State (NCT of Delhi) & Anr. ; Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No(s).7281-7282 of 2017 decided on 29.1.2020 by the Five Judges Bench and it has been held that the anticipatory bail granted by the Court shall continue till the end of the trial.”

To substantiate what is stated above, it is then pointed out in para 3 that, “Learned counsel also relies on the judgment passed in the case of Inder Mohan Goswami & Another Versus State of Uttaranchal & Others reported in AIR 2008 SC 251 to submit that in the ordinary course, non-bailable warrants ought not have been issued. It is not a case where the conditions laid down therein fall for the purpose of issuing non-bailable warrants. Learned counsel also submits that the petitioners are very old persons and taking into consideration the overall facts and the fact that the petitioners were already on anticipatory bail, the order passed is clearly illegal and without jurisdiction.”

Be it noted, it is then very rightly pointed out in para 7 that, “In the case of Inder Mohan Goswami & Another (supra), the Apex Court has laid down the condition that the non-bailable warrants should be issued observing thus:

“52. Non-bailable warrant should be issued to bring a person to court when summons of bailable warrants would be unlikely to have the desired result. This could be when:

 • it is reasonable to believe that the person will not voluntarily appear in court; or 

• the police authorities are unable to find the person to serve him with a summon; or

 • it is considered that the person could harm someone if not placed into custody immediately.

53. As far as possible, if the court is of the opinion that a summon will suffice in getting the appearance of the accused in the court, the summon or the bailable warrants should be preferred. The warrants either bailable or non-bailable should never be issued without proper scrutiny of facts and complete application of mind, due to the extremely serious consequences and ramifications which ensue on issuance of warrants. The court must very carefully examine whether the Criminal Complaint or FIR has not been filed with an oblique motive.” 

Most significantly, it is then very rightly observed in para 8 that, “For the aforesaid backdrop, this Court notices that it is a case where on remand from the District Judge, the Court has taken cognizance of the offences relating to allegations under Sections 418, 420, 465, 467, 468, 471, 406 & 120-B IPC. The High Court vide its order dated 29.4.2003 had granted anticipatory bail to the petitioners with the condition that in the event of arresting the petitioners, they shall be released on bail. Keeping in view the conditions laid down in Sushila Agarwal & Others (supra), this Court is of the firm view that the action of the learned Magistrate from the date, it has taken cognizance and upto passing of the impugned order dated 3.9.2020 has acted in clear violation of the orders passed by the High Court after having granted anticipatory bail. There was no occasion for the learned Magistrate to have issued the arrest warrants and such course or power was not available with it in spite of having been given to it. Learned Magistrate has insisted on issuing of the arrest warrants and it is also seen that the provisions of Section 362 Cr.P.C. cannot come into operation while deciding the application under Section 70(2) Cr.P.C. The action of the learned Magistrate is clearly wanting and shows scant respect to the High Court’s order as well as having little knowledge relating to criminal law.”

Needless to say, it is then pointed out in para 9 that, “A copy of this order be sent to the Registrar (Vigilance) for placing it before the concerned Committee to decide what course of action is required to be done as against such Magistrate.”

Finally, it is then held in para 10 that, “In view of the aforesaid finding and the law laid down by the Supreme Court, I am inclined to allow this petition and quash the order dated 3.9.2020 so far as the issue of arrest warrant and rejecting the application under Section 70(2) Cr.P.C., the petitioners shall be treated as entitled to all the benefits as granted by this Court under the anticipatory bail and shall submit before the Court without submitting any final bail bonds.”

It goes without saying that the larger point that this latest judgment of the Rajasthan High Court seeks to send out clearly is: Magistrates must refrain from issuing arrest warrants while High Court’s anticipatory bail order is in existence. High Court’s order must be accorded due respect by the Magistrates. If they still refuse to follow the prescribed directions in this regard then they must be prepared to face strict action as we see has happened in this case also. 

At the cost of repetition, it must be certainly said in most simple and straight language that Justice Sanjeev Sharma has very rightly minced no words to state it upfront that, “The action of the learned Magistrate is clearly wanting and shows scant respect to the High Court’s order as well as having little knowledge relating to criminal law.” All the Magistrates from now onwards must always adhere to what the Rajasthan High Court has laid down so explicitly, elegantly and effectively in this notable case and which is the correct legal position also! Magistrates must stick to their limits and should desist from issuing arrest warrants in all such cases when the High Court’s anticipatory order is still in existence! There can certainly be no ever denying or disputing it!

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Legally Speaking

The Epidemic Disease Act: How a 19th century Act became crucial in 21st century



COVID-19, or popularly referred to as Coronavirus, has been a global pandemic affecting nearly 3 million people and killing over 2,00,000 people. In over 100 years , the world has not seen such a pandemic, some experts also say that the world war II is much worse than this epidemic, and if not controlled, it would take more lives than the lives lost in the world war II. This epidemic has proved to be more harmful than Bombay’s outbreak of Bubonic plague. This pandemic put a stop to the world’s main commercial activities and, because of this outbreak, railways had to cancel trains for the first time in India. nSo, looking at the severity of the outbreak of the virus, the Indian government introduced the 123-year-old legislation called The Epidemic Disease Act, 1897.

Bombay’s Bubonic plague outbreak of 1896, which eventually spread to most parts of the world, was the time when the then British parliament enacted this act to contain the outbreak. Queen Victoria delivered a speech discussing the outbreak in early 1897, and it was then she was directed to bring a piece of legislation that would be strict and help control the outbreak, and thus the birth of the legislation of 1897. The strict measures in the act were said to be implemented for the welfare of the public, but the facts were contradictory to the British government ‘s promises. The most common fact is that this act was used to imprison freedom fighters in the name of public welfare.

In the year of 2017, the Indian government came up with the bill called “Public health (Prevention, Control and Management of Epidemics, Bioterrorism and Disasters) Bill; this bill was introduced to the floor of parliament because, in case of a public health emergency, this bill would become a guiding force to manage such a public health emergency for the centre and state authorities, but the sad face of parliament could not pass the bill and stays locked down. The only option left to the Indian government, however is to implement and amend the Act of 1897 in such a way as to make it more efficient and effective.


According to Section 2 of the Act, if the state government is satisfied that an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease is visited by or threatened by the state or any part thereof; and if it believes that the ordinary provisions of the law are insufficient for the purpose, the state may take or require or empower any person to take certain measures and prescribe them by public notice. Regulations may be laid down by the State Government for the inspection of persons travelling by rail or otherwise, and for the isolation, in hospital, temporary accommodation or otherwise, of persons suspected of being infected with any such disease by the inspecting officer. Section 2A permits the central government to inspect any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port and to detain the ship or vessel or any person intending to sail or arrival at that port. Section 3 prescribes penalties for disobeying any regulation or order provided under the Act in read with article 188 of the Indian Penal Code. Under this clause, the person who disobeys any order under the Act shall be punished with a punishment of 6 months imprisonment or a fine of 1,000 rupees or both. Section 4 mentions that for anything done or in good faith intended to be done under this Act, no suit or other legal action shall lie against any person.


The key issue with this act, a very restriction, is that the act, a century-old act, and much has changed over the last century, is not up to the modern world’s governing standards. The act is silent on the concept of an epidemic disease that is dangerous. The act is vague on the country’s territorial limits and needs to be amended for the violation of the penal provision as well. The act also does not talk about the supply of vaccines and medicines or the implementation of the response mechanism, in this act there are several such loopholes that the government has to look up and modify those loopholes in a timely manner so that in today’s time the act can be made fully effective. The first Indian state to implement this act became Karnataka.


Moreover, there have been instances of the most critical service providers, i.e. employees of healthcare services, being targeted and assaulted by miscreants during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, thereby preventing them from performing their duties. Unfortunately, members of the medical community have become the most vulnerable victims, even as they continue to work tirelessly around the clock and save human lives, as they have been seen by some as carriers of the virus. This has contributed to incidents of their stigmatisation and ostracization, and unjustified violence and harassment, sometimes worse. Such a condition threatens to prevent the medical community, which is a vital necessity at this hour of the national health crisis, from performing their duties to their optimum best and maintaining their morale. Although healthcare service staff are obligated to work without discrimination, they have a fundamental need for cooperation and support from society to perform their duties with trust. In the wake of such incidents, the government ordered the state governments to amend the Act of Epidemic Disease, 1897, to protect health workers and their properties.

An ordinance was passed on 22nd April 2020 to amend the provisions of the act so as to provide protection to the healthcare workers. Violence was defined in the declaration with the inclusion of harassment, physical injury and property damage. In addition, health care professionals include providers of public and clinical healthcare services such as doctors, nurses, paramedical personnel, community health workers, and all other individuals empowered to prevent this outbreak. Penal clauses can also be invoked in such instances. The amendment allows cognizable and non-bailable offences of acts of violence. Commission or abetment of such acts of violence shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of three months to five years and with fine of Rs.50,000/- to Rs.2,00,000/-. In case of causing grievous hurt, imprisonment shall be for a term six months to seven years and with fine of Rs.1,00,000/- to Rs.5,00,000/-. In addition, the offender shall also be liable to pay compensation to the victim and twice the fair market value for damage of property .


But still, the question remains the same, will this century-old act help India come out of this crisis or in 2017 the Indian Parliament made a mistake in not passing the bill that could have altered the scenario, since the 2017 bill was well fitted with the requirements of today’s time, because we have no such luxury of a modern day act, India has to win the century-old act battle. Once the situation is under control and the battle against the pandemic has been won, in the immediate future, the Indian parliament should consider enacting new legislation to address these situations.

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