Prithvij Beniwal *
The 2015 Budget Session of the Houses of Parliament commenced on 23rd February. The legislative agenda for the session includes a number of bills including the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill, 2015 (“Bill”). In December, the union cabinet approved an ordinance regarding the amendment of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“Arbitration Act”) but, the same was withdrawn before it received presidential assent, and was instead decided that it would be tabled before Parliament. The contents of the Bill or that of the Ordinance have not been revealed to the public as of yet, and the specifics of its contents remain unknown. It stands that the Bill should reflect the recommendations made by the Law Commission in its 246th Report, however, since it is futile to proceed with an analysis on the assumption that it definitely will, an in-depth analysis of the Bill’s effect must wait. Still, the Law and Justice Minister (“Law Minister”), Mr. D.V. Sadananda Gowda, has alluded to the Bills’ contents viz. the time bound disposal of matters, the imposition of a verdict based fee structure as opposed to the prevalent hearing based one, and a cap on the overall fees (perhaps to incentivize speedy disposal of matters).
The Government aims for the amendments to the Arbitration Act to function in conjunction with other legislations and policies, namely, a national litigation policy focussing on transparency and, the setting up of specialised commercial courts and benches. However, both of these are still just proposed by the Law Minister. The policy is yet to be formulated and, the legislative agenda of the current session of Parliament does not contain any specific legislation to set up the specialised courts.
The motivation of the Government in amending the Arbitration Act, and in bringing adjacent changes thereto, is to make India a more attractive destination for commercial arbitration, as well as to compete with the likes of Singapore and London as hubs of international commercial hub. The other causa proxima for the amendment is India’s abysmal ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index released in 2014 (142 out of 189 countries) and the Prime Minister’s effort to better it.
The current status of the Bill is that it hasn’t even been discussed due to the turmoil created by the tabling of the Land Acquisition Bill. Whether the Bill will bring about substantial change or will be whittled down to a pale reflection of what it ought to be by the rigours of parliamentary debate remains to be seen. But, rest assured we will be there to analyse the developments as and when they take place.
* Prithvij is a 4th year student at National Law University, Jodhpur. He is also a Managing Editor of IJAL.