Haryana government drags 2 retired HC judges to court

Team SoOLEGAL 4 Jun 2018 11:47am

Haryana government drags 2 retired HC judges to court

The Haryana government has dragged two retired HC judges and a retired chief engineer to the Punjab and Haryana high court for demanding exorbitant arbitration fees. They are members of an arbitration tribunal in a dispute between the state’s public works (buildings and roads) department and a private company.

The government claims that the arbitrators are exploiting the litigants and misinterpreting the statute. Seeking a better interpretation of the rules, the government has stated that there have been cases where arbitrators have charged fees almost equal to the amount involved in the dispute.

The two judges who have been impleaded as party in the petition include presiding arbitrator Justice T S Doabia (retired) and Justice G C Mittal (retired). Robbinder Singh Sandhu is the retired chief engineer.

So far, two benches of the high court have recused themselves from hearing the case. Justice G S Sandhawalia had first referred it to another bench and then last Thursday, Justice Rajiv Narain Raina refused to pass an order and referred the case to the Chief Justice.

The dispute is between PWD and S P Singla Construction Private Ltd over constructing a high-level balance cantilever bridge over western Yamuna canal in Yamunanagar. The total amount involved is Rs 11.87 crore and according to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, the arbitration fee would be Rs 13.77 lakh (composite).

But through an order passed in April, the arbitrators have demanded Rs 1 lakh for every hearing from each member, Rs 20,000 for the principal arbitrator as administrative charges and Rs 2,500 for local conveyance at every hearing.

“Demand of Rs 1 lakh for every hearing for each member is highly unjustified, as the rules say the arbitration fee has to be composite for entire arbitration proceedings, not for individual members,” argued advocate Ashwinie Kumar Bansal, counsel representing the Haryana government. “Rs 20,000 as administrative charges are unreasonable when the proceedings must be held at Chandigarh Arbitration Centre, which has all facilities including subordinate and ministerial staff. Similarly, demanding Rs 2,500 separately for local conveyance is arbitrary because local travelling in Chandigarh would not cost more than Rs 1,000.”

Bansal said that often arbitrators hear cases for 20 to 30 minutes and continue the proceeding just to multiply sittings. The Petition has sought directions to set aside the arbitrary fee demanded by arbitrators and fix reasonable fees.

Case Background:
In a similar dispute in 2010, the Chandigarh administration had objected to the Rs 1.5 lakh fee that three arbitrators were demanding for every hearing. All of them were retired judges. The dispute was between the Chandigarh Housing Board and Parsvanath Developers. It was resolved after the Supreme Court appointed a retired SC judge as sole arbitrator.

A senior Punjab IAS officer, S R Ladhar, while posted as divisional commissioner, Jalandhar, had collected Rs 1.5 crore as a fee for arbitration in various disputes between private parties and the National Highway Authority of India. He had retained the entire amount instead of depositing it with the government. In 2013, the high court had directed him to refund the entire amount along with the proportionate interest to the government.

Tagged: Punjab and Haryana high court   Justice T S Doabia   Justice G C Mittal     
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