Know The Law

History of Arbitration in India

A Summary of Section 138 of Negotiable Instrument Act

Evolution of Arbitration and History of Arbitration in India


Arbitration, as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, has seen significant growth and evolution in the legal system of India. This article explores the historical development of arbitration in India, relevant case laws, and sections of the Arbitration Act, and highlights the advantages of arbitration.

Arbitration is a well-established alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism that offers parties an effective means of resolving their disputes outside the traditional court litigation process. It is a consensual process where the parties involved agree to submit their disputes to one or more impartial individuals known as arbitrators. These arbitrators, chosen by the parties themselves or appointed through a designated process, have the authority to render a binding decision called an arbitral award.

Arbitration provides a confidential and private forum for resolving a wide range of disputes, including commercial, contractual, construction, employment, and international disputes. It offers several advantages over litigation, including flexibility, expertise, efficiency, and the ability to maintain confidentiality.

The Arbitration Process

The arbitration process typically begins with the parties entering into an agreement known as an arbitration agreement. This agreement outlines the scope of disputes subject to arbitration, the rules governing the proceedings, and the selection or appointment of arbitrators. The arbitration agreement may be a standalone agreement or a clause within a broader contract.

Once a dispute arises, the parties initiate the arbitration process by submitting a request for arbitration to a chosen arbitral institution or directly to the selected arbitrator. The institution or arbitrator then acknowledges the request and guides the parties through procedural steps, including the exchange of pleadings, gathering of evidence, and scheduling of hearings.

During the arbitration hearings, the parties present their respective cases, including witness testimony and documentary evidence, before the arbitrators. The arbitrators, acting as neutral decision-makers, evaluate the evidence, analyze the legal arguments, and ultimately issue an arbitral award that resolves the dispute. This award is final and binding on the parties, subject to limited grounds for challenge or appeal as provided by the applicable arbitration laws. Evolution of Arbitration in India

Pre-Independence Era

In India’s pre-independence era, arbitration was primarily governed by the Indian Arbitration Act, 1899, which was based on the English Arbitration Act of 1889. This Act provided a legal framework for the enforcement of arbitration agreements and the conduct of arbitral proceedings. However, it had certain limitations and was not considered as comprehensive as desired.

Post-Independence Era

After gaining independence in 1947, India embarked on a process of legal reforms, including the development of a modern arbitration framework. The Indian Arbitration Act, 1940, was enacted, replacing the earlier legislation. It introduced several improvements, but it still had certain limitations, such as lack of provisions for international arbitration.

Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996

The most significant development in the evolution of arbitration in India came with the enactment of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. This Act was based on the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration and aimed to provide a comprehensive legal framework for both domestic and international arbitration.

The 1996 Act introduced several crucial changes, such as defining the scope of judicial intervention, recognizing the principle of party autonomy, and incorporating provisions for the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards. This Act brought India’s arbitration laws in line with international standards, encouraging foreign businesses to choose India as a seat for their arbitration proceedings.

Sections of the Indian Arbitration Act

The Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, contains various sections that govern arbitration proceedings in India. Some important sections include:

Section 2: Definitions

This section provides definitions for key terms used throughout the Act, such as “arbitration agreement,” “arbitral award,” and “arbitrator.” It clarifies the scope and applicability of the Act.

Section 7: Arbitration Agreement

Section 7 outlines the requirements for a valid arbitration agreement. It emphasizes the importance of a written agreement and the need for mutual consent between the parties.

Section 11: Appointment of Arbitrators

This section deals with the appointment of arbitrators. It provides guidance on the procedure to be followed when parties fail to agree on the appointment of arbitrators.

Section 34: Setting Aside Arbitral Award

Section 34 allows parties to challenge an arbitral award. It sets out the grounds on which a court may set aside an award, such as the inability of a party to present its case or evidence of fraud.

India’s Growing Embrace of Arbitration

In recent years, India has taken several noteworthy steps to promote and strengthen arbitration within its legal system. One of the key factors contributing to the expansion of arbitration in India is the enactment of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. This legislation, based on the UNCITRAL Model Law, provides a comprehensive framework for arbitration, ensuring party autonomy, minimal judicial intervention, and enforceability of arbitral awards.

Additionally, India has established dedicated arbitration institutions and centers, such as the Mumbai Centre for International Arbitration (MCIA) and the Delhi International Arbitration Centre (DIAC), which have played a crucial role in fostering the growth of arbitration. These institutions provide a platform for efficient and impartial arbitration proceedings, attracting both domestic and international parties.

Furthermore, the Indian judiciary has demonstrated a pro-arbitration approach by upholding the principles of party autonomy and non-interference in arbitral proceedings. The courts have consistently rendered judgments that support arbitration and enforce arbitral awards, thereby instilling confidence in the arbitration process.

Relevant Case Laws in Indian Arbitration

Several landmark judgments have shaped the landscape of arbitration in India. Two notable cases are:

Bhatia International v. Bulk Trading S.A.

In the Bhatia International v. Bulk Trading S.A. case, the Supreme Court of India held that the provisions of Part I of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, would apply to both domestic and international arbitrations conducted in India. This decision clarified that Indian courts could exercise jurisdiction over foreign-seated arbitrations unless otherwise agreed by the parties.

BALCO v. Kaiser Aluminium Technical Services

The BALCO v. Kaiser Aluminium Technical Services case was another significant judgment by the Supreme Court of India. The court held that the seat of arbitration determines the jurisdiction governing the arbitration proceedings. This decision reinforced the principle of party autonomy and clarified that Indian courts would not interfere in arbitrations conducted outside India.

Comparison with Developed Countries

While India has made significant progress in promoting arbitration, it is essential to compare its growth with that of developed countries known for their well-established arbitration systems.

Legal Framework

Developed countries, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Singapore, have long-standing arbitration acts that provide a robust legal framework for arbitration. These acts are often updated to address emerging issues and align with international standards. India’s Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, has been a substantial step forward, but further reforms and amendments could enhance its efficacy and keep pace with international developments.

Infrastructure and Institutional Support

Developed countries have well-developed infrastructure to support arbitration, including state-of-the-art hearing facilities, experienced arbitrators, and specialized arbitration centers. While India has made significant strides in this regard, further investment in infrastructure, including arbitration-specific facilities, and a larger pool of qualified arbitrators would bolster India’s position as a preferred arbitration destination.

Court Support

Developed countries have established specialized commercial courts or divisions within existing courts to deal with arbitration-related matters. These courts have expertise in arbitration laws and expedite the resolution of disputes. India has taken steps towards establishing commercial courts but can benefit from further specialization and streamlining of processes to enhance efficiency.

International Recognition

Developed countries have gained international recognition as preferred seats for arbitration. Institutions such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) have a long-standing reputation for administering international arbitrations. India’s arbitration institutions, such as MCIA and DIAC, are making strides in this direction but need to continue building their credibility and establishing a track record of successfully administering international arbitrations.

Advantages of Arbitration in India

Arbitration offers several advantages over traditional litigation in the Indian legal system. Some key advantages include:


Arbitration proceedings are confidential, allowing parties to keep their disputes private. This is particularly beneficial in commercial disputes where maintaining confidentiality is crucial.

Efficiency and Speed

Arbitration proceedings are generally quicker and more efficient than court litigation. The parties can agree on procedural rules and choose arbitrators who are knowledgeable in the subject matter, leading to faster resolution of disputes.


Arbitration allows parties to select arbitrators with expertise in the relevant field. This ensures that disputes are resolved by individuals who possess the necessary knowledge and experience.


Arbitration offers flexibility in terms of choosing the procedural rules, venue, and language of the proceedings. This flexibility allows parties to customize the arbitration process to suit their specific needs.


The evolution of arbitration in the Indian legal system has been significant, with the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, playing a pivotal role in providing a modern and comprehensive framework for arbitration. The availability of relevant case laws, such as Bhatia International v. Bulk Trading S.A. and BALCO v. Kaiser Aluminium Technical Services, further strengthens the arbitration regime in India. The advantages of arbitration, including confidentiality, efficiency, expertise, and flexibility, make it an attractive choice for resolving disputes in India.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Is arbitration legally binding?

Yes, arbitration is legally binding. The arbitral award, once issued by the arbitrator, is enforceable in court and has the same legal effect as a court judgment.

Q2. Can parties appeal against an arbitral award?

Generally, parties cannot appeal against an arbitral award on substantive grounds. However, limited grounds for challenging an award, such as procedural irregularities or lack of jurisdiction, may be available under the applicable arbitration laws.

Q3. Can arbitration be used for international disputes?

Yes, arbitration can be used for both domestic and international disputes. The Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, provides a legal framework for the conduct of international arbitration proceedings in India.

Q4. What are the costs involved in arbitration?

The costs of arbitration vary depending on factors such as the complexity of the dispute, the number of arbitrators, and the venue. Parties are typically responsible for paying the arbitrator’s fees, administrative costs, and legal representation expenses.

Q5. How can I enforce an arbitral award?

To enforce an arbitral award, you can apply to the relevant court for its recognition and enforcement. The court will review the award and, if satisfied, issue an order enforcing it as if it were a court judgment.


Leave feedback about this

  • Quality
  • Price
  • Service


Add Field


Add Field
Choose Image
Choose Video