Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd. VS M/s Discovery Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. & Anr.

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd. VS M/s Discovery Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. & Anr. - Supreme Court Case

Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले


Reportable
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
 Civil Appeal No. 2042 of 2022
Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd. …Appellant
Versus
M/s Discovery Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. & Anr. …Respondents
With
T.C.(C) No. 48/2016
With
T.C.(C) No. 47/2016
With
T.C.(C) No. 49/2016
And With
T.C.(C) No. 50/2016
2
J U D G M E N T
Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, J.
This judgment has been divided into sections to facilitate analysis. These are:
A Facts ....................................................................................................................3
A.1. Transferred cases arising out of the arbitration.................................................11
B Submissions of Counsel ....................................................................................14
C Analysis..............................................................................................................21
C.1. Group of Companies Doctrine.....................................................................21
C.2. Standard for Review of the Interim Arbitral Award......................................37
D Conclusion .........................................................................................................58
PART A
3
A Facts
1 The appeal arises from a judgment dated 27 June 2012 of the High Court of
Judicature at Bombay by which an appeal under Section 37 of the Arbitration and
Conciliation Act, 19961 has been dismissed. Oil & Natural Gas Corporation Limited2
instituted an appeal against an interim award dated 27 October 20103 of the Arbitral
Tribunal holding that the second respondent – Jindal Drilling and Industries Limited4
was not a party to the arbitration agreement and must be deleted from the array of
parties. The interim award was challenged in an appeal which was dismissed by the
impugned judgment.
2 On 22 March 2006, ONGC awarded a contract to Discovery Enterprises
Private Limited5
, the first respondent, which is a company belonging to the D P
Jindal Group, for operating a floating, production, storage and offloading vessel6
.
Pursuant to the stipulation contained in clause 25.7.11 of the contract, a vessel
called Crystal Sea was imported on 11 May 2006. ONGC paid the customs duty in
the amount of Rs. 55.78 crores on the understanding that the vessel would be reexported after work was complete under duty drawback whose formalities would be
completed by DEPL. The vessel left Indian territorial waters and did not return.
According to ONGC, DEPL failed to complete the formalities for duty drawback and
 1 “Act of 1996” 2 “ONGC” 3 “interim award” 4 “JDIL” or the “second respondent” 5 “DEPL” 6 “vessel”
PART A
4
did not compensate ONGC for customs duty and other expenses incurred in the
amount of Rs. 63.88 crores.
3 Clause 37 of the contract between ONGC and DEPL provides for the
settlement of disputes of the parties through arbitration. On 25 April 2008, ONGC
invoked arbitration against DEPL and JDIL and claimed an amount of Rs. 63.88
crores. An Arbitral Tribunal consisting of Mr Justice S P Kurdukar (Retd.), Mr Justice
M S Rane (Retd.) and Mr S Venkateswaran (Senior Advocate) was constituted. In its
statement of claim filed before the Arbitral Tribunal, ONGC set up the case that
DEPL and JDIL belonged to the DP Jindal Group of Companies and since they
constitute a single economic entity, the corporate veil should be lifted to compel the
non-signatory, JDIL, to arbitrate. According to ONGC, DEPL is an alter ego and
agent of JDIL. The statement of claim read thus:
"17. It is submitted the Respondent no.1 was awarded the
contract by relying on the fact that it is Group Company of D
P Jindal group of companies and that the Respondent No.2,
M/s Jindal Drilling & Industries Ltd has a vital business
interest in the Respondent No.1, which can be said to be the
alter ego of Respondent No.2. In fact, the Respondent No. 2
is the ultimate beneficiary of the business of Respondent No.
1. […] Presently, they are having three valid existing contracts
with ONGC. DEPL has close corporate unity with Jindal
Group and in fact the shareholders are almost common.
Respondent No. 1 has throughout represented that they are
group company of Jindal apart from their representation in the
bid they have been representing that through the letter heads
which clearly indicated that they belong to a single group of
companies, namely DP Jindal Group of companies. M/s
Jindal Drilling has also acknowledged that the contractor M/s
DEPL is a group company of Jindal Group in their website in
an article titled "Key due diligence observations". A copy of
the said article is annexed herewith and marked as Annexure
8. Since Respondent No. 1 is liable to compensate ONGC for
PART A
5
the losses suffered by it, ONGC has adjusted the said amount
from the monies payable to Jindal Drilling and Industries
Limited as a security to satisfy the award to be passed in this
case.
18. As stated above, Respondent No. 2 was supplying
vessels and rigs to ONGC under various contracts, for last
many years. It is a fact that the Respondent No.1 was formed
as a group company with the charter of introducing cuttingedge technology and solutions to the oil and gas market in
India. Respondent No.1 has represented itself as a part of the
DP Jindal group of companies as seen from the company's
website (www.discoveryepl.com). A copy of the relevant
extract from the website is attached herewith and marked as
Annexure A-9. The same web-based representation was
made in categorical and unequivocal manner by Respondent
No.1 in the bid submitted by them in connection with the
subject contract. The copy of the same is annexed herewith
and marked as Annexure-10. The Directors of the
Respondent No.1 are Mr. Manav Kumar and Mrs. Shilpa
Agarwal, son and daughter in law of Shri Naresh Kumar who
is the Managing Director of the Respondent No. 2 i.e, the
Jindal Drilling and Industries Ltd. The two companies operate
out of the same premises, same floor, same building i.e.
Keshav Building, Bandra Kurla Complex. Copies of the Letter
Head of both the companies addressed to the claimant is
enclosed herewith and marked as Annexure A-11 (colly).
More significantly a prominent Jindal Drilling Executive has
taken an active interest in the negotiations concerning the
subject contract […]. It makes it abundantly clear that the
activities of DEPL i.e. Respondent No. 1 contractor are an
extension of the activities of Respondent No. 2 who has set
up the Respondent No. 1 company as an agency to carry out
its activities. Therefore, it is submitted that the doctrine of
group company can be applied in this case - an arbitration
agreement signed by one company in a group of companies
entitles (or obligates) other group non-signatory companies, if
the circumstances surrounding the negotiation, execution of
the agreement show that the mutual intention of all the parties
was to bind non-signatories. This group companies constitute
the same "economic reality". This is evident when veilpiercing is done. Copies of documents evidencing close
relationship between both the companies are annexed
herewith as indicated above.
PART A
6
19. In any case, Respondent No. 1 can be considered as an
agent/ alter ego of Respondent No. 2 because of its deep and
pervasive family links, apart from the fact that Respondent
No. 2 is the intended third-party beneficiary of this contract.
The Arbitral Tribunal has to determine these questions in
accordance with evidence and law. Further, there is corporate
unity and cross shareholdings in both the companies by
shareholders, common to both the companies.
[…]
21. It is submitted that this is a fit case where this Hon’ble
Tribunal has to pierce the corporate veil in order to see the
acknowledged the realities of Respondent No.1 being a group
company of DP Jindal Group. As submitted above, there is a
clause ‘corporate unity’ and applying the doctrine of group
companies/alter ego/ultimate beneficiary. This Tribunal has to
hold Respondent No. 2 also liable to compensate ONGC for
the dues of respondent No.1. The issue preferred to Tribunal
is within the arbitration agreement and under law and this
Hon’ble Tribunal has jurisdiction to entertain and decide the
dispute.”
4 An application under Section 16 of the Act of 1996 was filed by JDIL seeking
its deletion from the arbitral proceedings on the ground that it is not a party to the
arbitration agreement. ONGC responded to the application. During the course of the
proceedings, ONGC filed an application on 5 January 2009 for discovery and
inspection to support its case that DEPL is an alter ego of the Jindal Group of
companies. In support of the application for discovery and inspection, ONGC
pleaded that:
(i) DEPL and JDIL are group companies and that the former is an agent or alter
ego of the latter;
(ii) There exists corporate and functional unity between them;
PART A
7
(iii) DEPL is a corporate facade which has been created to promote and extend
the business of JDIL;
(iv) JDIL is responsible for the acts of omission and commission of DEPL on the
basis of the group of companies doctrine;
(v) DEPL has been created by the Jindal Group to render services in the oil and
gas sector and each entity of the group is strategically formed to render
certain services; and
(vi) DEPL is working under the “fraternal hood” of the group based on the
admission on the corporate website of JDIL.
5 ONGC stated that the documentary evidence demonstrates that there is a
“close corporate unity and functional unity existing between these two companies”
and hence it was necessary to discover the documents set out in the schedule to the
application. The documents of which discovery was sought are tabulated below:
“SCHEDULE OF DOCUMENTS
1. Memorandum of Association of Respondent No.2.
2. Articles of Association of Respondent No.2.
3. Ledger account of Respondent No.2 for the financial years
2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07.
4. Employees salary register of Respondent No.2 for the
financial years 2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07.
5. Titled document showing Respondent No.1's
rights/ownership over the registered office premises at Suite
110, Tower-I, 70 Najafgarh Road, B-39, New Delhi-110 015.
6. Titled document showing Respondent No.2's
rights/ownership over the office premises at 3rd Floor,
PART A
8
Keshav Building, Banda-Kurla Complex, Banda (East),
Mumbai-400 051.
7. Documents showing grant of telephone connection of the
following telephone and fax numbers at the Delhi office of
Respondent No. 1 and the payment of the bills of the said
telephone and fax numbers by Respondent No. 1 from the
calendar years 2003 to 2007. (i) Telephone No. 52531100, (ii)
Fax No.52531191.
8. Documents showing grant of telephone connection of the
following telephone and fax numbers at the Mumbai office of
Respondent No. 2 and the payment of the bills of the said
telephone and fax numbers by Respondents from the
calendar years 2003 to 2007. (i) Telephone Nos.26592889 &
55020047, (ii) Fax No.26592630.
9. List of the contract bagged from ONGC so far the inception
of Respondent No.2.
10. List of crew members in the Drilling Unit “Noble EdHolt awarded on 17.8.06 and Noble Charlie Yester on
2.12.06.”
6 ONGC led evidence in support of the statement of claim. During the course of
the examination, ONGC’s witness, Anindya Bhattacharya who was working as Chief
Manager (MM) of ONGC, produced documents in support of claim. The production
of documents was objected to by JDIL on the ground of relevance and admissibility.
During the arbitral meeting on 7 July 2009, the Tribunal recorded the following
minutes:
“Per Tribunal :
The documents produced by the witness Anindya
Bhattacharya (CW-1) along with his affidavit dated June 26th
2009 and annexures 1 to 10 are taken on record. Mr. Rahul
Narichania, Ld. Advocate for Respondent No. 2 objects to
these documents being taken on record on the ground that
the same are not relevant and admissible as far as the
Respondent No. 2 is concerned. He further stated that he will
cross examine the witness on the documents without
PART A
9
prejudice to his rights that the said documents were neither
relevant nor admissible in evidence and ought not to be
marked as exhibits.
The rival contentions will be decided while disposing of the
application made under Section 16 of the Arbitration &
Conciliation Act, 1996. It is also made clear that merely
because the witness has been cross examined on behalf of
the Respondent No. 2 on the documents, the documents do
not automatically stand exhibited.
Mr. Rajiv Kumar objects to the procedure recorded above.
The Claimants do not waive any rights in this behalf.”
7 By its interim award dated 27 October 2010, the Arbitral Tribunal held that it
lacked the jurisdiction to arbitrate on the claim against JDIL, which was not a party to
the arbitration agreement. The tribunal relied on the judgment of this Court in
Indowind Energy Ltd. v. Wescare (I) Ltd. & Anr.7
. The conclusion of the Tribunal
was that JDIL is not a signatory of the arbitration agreement and hence could not be
impleaded as a party to the proceedings. The Arbitral Tribunal held:
“20. After considering rival contentions, the arbitral tribunal is
of the opinion that it may not be permissible for it to go
beyond the ambit of section 7 of the act. The word 'party' is
defined under section 2(1)(h) means a party to an Arbitration
Agreement and the arbitration agreement has been defined
under section 7 of the Act. […] To put it differently, this
arbitral tribunal lacks the jurisdiction to investigate,
enquire into and record any finding on the basis of claim
petition paragraphs 17 to 21 against M/s Jindal Ltd/
Respondent No.2. The arbitral tribunal is therefore of the
opinion that the claim petition of ONGC vis a vis M/s
Jindal Ltd./ Respondent No.2 is untenable for want of
jurisdiction under the Act. The arbitral tribunal makes it
clear that the position of M/s Jindal Ltd/ respondent no.2
considered only on the basis of the provisions contained
in section 2(1)(h) and section 7 of the Act."
(emphasis supplied)
 7 (2010) 5 SCC 306 [“Indowind”]
PART A
10
8 JDIL was accordingly struck off the array of parties. ONGC filed an appeal
under Section 37 before the Bombay High Court which was dismissed on 27 June
2012 with the following observations:
“16. As observed hereinabove, there is no evidence tendered
before Arbitral Tribunal that DEPL and JDIL had common
shareholders and common board of directors. Even if that had
been the case, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in
Indowind Versus Wescare case (supra) has held in terms that
merely because two companies have common shareholders
and directors, they do not become a single entity. In the
instant case also, the Arbitral Tribunal has correctly held that
merely because the two companies may at one point of time
have had a common address and telephone number, it does
not make them one economic unit. The mere fact that the son
and daughter-in-law of the managing director of JDIL are
directors in DEPL also does not and cannot establish that
these companies are one and the same. There is also no
credible evidence to show that because of the alleged nexus
between the two companies, ONGC awarded the said
contract to DEPL. Even assuming this to be correct, it does
not take the case of ONGC any further. JDIL is admittedly not
a party to the contract and cannot be liable under the said
contract which is only between ONGC and DEPL. If ONGC
wanted to bind JDIL to the said contract, it should have asked
JDIL to be a party to the said contract. In fact, this court
inquired from learned Advocate appearing for ONGC as to
why ONGC did not insist on JDIL signing the said contract
when admittedly there are other contracts which are entered
into between ONGC and JDIL. However, the learned
advocate appearing for ONGC had no answer to the same. In
response, he only submitted that ONGC has also filed suit
being 2947 of 2011 in this court in which DEPL and JDIL
have been arrayed as the defendants.”
9 The judgment of the High Court was challenged by ONGC under Article 136
of the Constitution. The Arbitral Tribunal delivered its final award dated 6 June 20138
and, while allowing the claim of ONGC, held that it is entitled to recover an amount
 8 “Arbitral Award in the first proceeding”
PART A
11
of Rs.63.87 crores and USD 1,756,197.50 together with interest at 9% per annum
and legal costs. The counter claim filed by DEPL was dismissed.
10 At this stage, it would also be necessary to note that in the course of its
interim award, the Arbitral Tribunal dealt with the applications filed by ONGC on 5
January 2009 for discovery of documents and inspection. The Arbitral Tribunal noted
ONGC’s contention that its application for discovery and inspection should be heard
and disposed of first on merits and that the application filed by JDIL under Section
16 should be heard thereafter so that all relevant documents would emerge before
the Arbitral Tribunal. The Arbitral Tribunal, however, directed that the application for
discovery and inspection filed by ONGC be “deferred until the issue of the
jurisdiction is decided”.
A.1. Transferred cases arising out of the arbitration
11 During the pendency of the arbitration between ONGC and DEPL, ONGC
withheld a sum of US$14,772,408.54 towards recovery of its claim of Rs.64.88
crores against four contracts with JDIL. By a letter dated 24 October 2007, JDIL
sought the release of the sum withheld together with interest failing which it stated
that it would exercise its right to take legal recourse. ONGC replied to the letter on 5
May 2008 stating that they are withholding the dues as an adjustment against the
dues owed to ONGC by DEPL. Aggrieved by the deductions made by ONGC under
its four contracts for drilling services, JDIL invoked arbitration on 4 February 2010.
An Arbitral Tribunal consisting of Ms Justice Sujata Manohar (Retd.), Mr Justice B N
PART A
12
Srikrishna (Retd.), and Mr Justice M S Rane (Retd.) was constituted. In the
meanwhile, ONGC instituted a declaratory suit against JDIL and DEPL before the
Bombay High Court which is presently pending. The Arbitral Tribunal, by a common
award dated 9 October 2013,9 directed ONGC to pay JDIL an amount of
US$14,772,495.55/- together with interest at 4% per annum calculated from the due
date of each invoice till the date of payment or realisation. The Arbitral Tribunal dealt
with the submission of ONGC that DEPL and JDIL belong to the same group thus
entitling ONGC to make the deductions. Rejecting the contention of ONGC, the
Arbitral Tribunal held:
"25. There is hardly any evidence to support the plea of the
Respondent that DEPL and the Claimant are one and the
same company. Both DEPL and the Claimant are group
companies of D.P. Jindal group of companies. Although the
directors of DEPL are the son and daughter-in-law of the
managing director of the Claimant, and the two companies,
for some time, shared a common office and telephone
numbers, that does not make the two companies one. Both
are subsidiaries of the main company and both have
independent legal existence. DEPL was incorporated in the
year 2003. The Claimant is a public limited company listed on
the stock exchange and was incorporated in the year 1983.
26. […] The facts of the present case are totally different and
do not warrant lifting of corporate veil, assuming there is one.
The evidence in the present case does not justify the
application of “lifting the corporate veil”. In respect of the
contract which was entered into by the Respondent with
DEPL, the tender was floated by ONGC in 2005 and the
contract was entered into in 2006. There is no material to
show that the Respondent awarded the contract to DEPL
because it was in fact the claimant and/ or was supported by
the claimant. The minutes of the meeting held by the
Respondents for short-listing of bidders in respect of the
contract have not been produced. The only witness produced
 9 “Arbitral Award in the second proceeding”
PART A
13
by ONGC was not present at the meetings held by the
executive purchase committee when the deliberations on the
award of the contract recommended bidder took place. […]
There is no evidence to show that in order to secure the said
contract, DEPL represented that it was a part of the Claimant
group. […]
27. There is no guarantee or letter of “comfort” from the
Claimant to the Respondent in respect of the liabilities, if any,
of DEPL under its contract with ONGC. […]
[…]
30. In the present case the Claimant and DEPL have
throughout maintained their separate legal character. There is
no evidence to indicate that they ever represented to the
Respondent that they are one company or that the Claimant
will be liable under the contract of the Respondent with DEPL.
31. In the present case the Respondent ONGC had earlier
initiated arbitration proceedings against both DEPL and the
Claimant before an Arbitral Tribunal […]. By its ‘interim final
award’ dated 27-10-2010, the Arbitral Tribunal held that in the
dispute between the Respondent and DEPL, the Claimant
could not be impleaded. […] The findings of the earlier arbitral
tribunal and the High Court in its order of 27 June 2012
support our present conclusions, and we respectfully agree
with the same.”
12 DEPL was not a party to the above arbitral proceedings which were initiated
by JDIL. ONGC instituted petitions10 under Section 34 of the Act of 1996 for
challenging the Arbitral Award in the second proceeding in respect of the four
contracts of JDIL. The petitions were dismissed by a Single Judge of the Bombay
High Court on 28 April 2015. ONGC filed an appeal11 under Section 37 of the Act of
1996 during the pendency of the special leave petition arising from the interim award
of the Arbitral Tribunal dated 27 October 2010, consisting of Mr Justice S P
 10 Arbitration Petition No. 587, 767, 768 and 1045 of 2014 11 Arbitration Appeal Nos. 446 to 449 of 2015
PART B
14
Kurdukar (Retd.), Mr Justice M S Rane (Retd.) and Mr S Venkateswaran. ONGC
sought a transfer of the appeals lodged before the Bombay High Court against the
judgment of the Single Judge dismissing the petitions under Section 34 for
challenging the Arbitral Award in the second proceeding. The transferred cases12
have come up before this Court together with the special leave petition arising out of
the interim award dated 27 October 2010.
B Submissions of Counsel
13 Mr K M Nataraj, Additional Solicitor General13, appearing on behalf of ONGC
submitted that:
(i) The case of ONGC is that DEPL and JDIL constitute one single commercial
entity and that ONGC is hence entitled by law to compel JDIL to participate in
the arbitration proceedings so as to enforce the award against it;
(ii) Though evidence was available with ONGC to buttress the above claim, it
filed an application for discovery and inspection to secure material which was
within the possession, control and custody of JDIL. However, with the deletion
of JDIL from the array of parties, the application for discovery and inspection
has been rendered otiose;
(iii) The Arbitral Tribunal has not enquired into the facts at all, despite the
contention of ONGC that JDIL is a necessary party;
 12 Transferred Case (Civil) Nos. 47, 48, 49 and 50 of 2016 13 “ASG”
PART B
15
(iv) The Arbitral Tribunal has merely held, on the basis of the legal principle
underlying Section 7 of the Act of 1996 and privity of contract, that JDIL which
is not a signatory to the arbitration agreement cannot be impleaded in the
arbitral proceedings;
(v) After the application for discovery and inspection was opposed by JDIL, the
Arbitral Tribunal deferred its decision until the issue of jurisdiction was
resolved on the application filed by JDIL under Section 16 of the Act of 1996;
(vi) The interim award did not consider or hear the application for discovery and
inspection under Section 16. The decision has been rendered purely on the
premise that a non-signatory to the arbitration agreement cannot be
impleaded as a party;
(vii) ONGC has been precluded from tendering evidence that JDIL could be
brought within the fold of arbitration on the basis of the group of companies
doctrine;
(viii) While the Arbitral Tribunal has relied on the decision of this Court in Indowind
(supra), the subsequent decisions of this Court have accepted and applied
the group of companies doctrine. These decisions are:
a. Chloro Controls India Pvt. Ltd. v. Severn Trent Water Purification
Inc. & Ors; 14
b. Cheran Properties Ltd. v. Kasturi & Sons Ltd. & Ors;
15 and
c. MTNL v. Canara Bank & Ors. 16. and
 14 (2013) 1 SCC 641 [“Chloro Controls”] 15 (2018) 16 SCC 413 [“Cheran Properties”]
PART B
16
(ix) The decision in Indowind (supra) is not good law in view of the subsequent
judgments of this Court. The Arbitral Tribunal ought to have decided the
jurisdictional issue after parties were permitted to lead evidence, since the
application of the group of companies doctrine and the lifting of the corporate
veil involves mixed questions of law and fact. The issue of jurisdiction and
merits are inextricably intertwined and a ruling premised exclusively on the
application of Section 7 of the Act of 1996 was improper.
14 Controverting the above submissions, Mr Shyam Divan, Senior Counsel
appearing on behalf of the JDIL has indicated in the following tabulation:
(i) ONGC’s contentions;
(ii) JDIL’s response;
(iii) Findings in the interim award of the Arbitral Tribunal; and
(iv) The order of the High Court.
The tabulated statement is reproduced below for convenience of reference:
“ONGC CONTENTION JDIL RESPONSE INTERIM AWARD HIGH COURT ORDER
JDIL has substantial
business interest in
DEPL.
None of these
assertions are based on
fact and no evidence
led by ONGC points to
towards this.
Further JDIL is a
publicly listed company
at BSE and its annual
reports, etc. are in
public domain. It can be
Para 16, Page
178 of SLP
• Not a tickle of
evidence to
show that
JDIL ever
played any
role to find
itself in the
contract
between
Para 16 Page 14 of SLP
• There is no evidence
tendered before
Arbitral Tribunal that
DEPL and JDIL had
common shareholders
and common Board of
Directors. Even if that
had been the case, the
Hon'ble Supreme
DEPL is an alter ego of
JDIL.
JDIL is the ultimate
beneficiary in the
business with DEPL.
DEPL has close
corporate unity with
JDIL.
 16 (2020) 12 SCC 767 [“MTNL”]
PART B
17
seen that there is no
benefit being derived by
JDIL from DEPL.
Further, it was
incorporated in 1983
and DEPL was
incorporated way later
in 2003.
No Letter of Guarantee
or Letter of Comfort was
issued by JDIL on
behalf of DEPL in
favour of ONGC.
JDIL is not a party to
the arbitration
agreement and there is
nothing on record to
show that there was
intention on part of any
party to include JDIL
and this was not a part
of a composite
transaction wherein
JDIL had even a minute
part to play.
ONGC has not shared
any document such as
Minutes of Meeting, etc.
to show that it indeed
awarded the contract to
DEPL because of JDIL.
Further, if ONGC did
award the tender to
DEPL because of JDIL
as alleged, this clearly
shows impropriety on
the part of ONGC and
such action is against
equity and natural
justice.
DEPL and
ONGC.
• The
executives of
JDIL
participated in
the
negotiations,
etc. on behalf
of DEPL as
their
signatures
duly signify.
• The personal
relationship
between the
directors of
DEPL and MD
of JDIL is of
no
consequence.
• Clearly JDIL is
not party to
the arbitration
agreement.
Para 20 Page 180
of SLP
• None of the
documents on
the record
would satisfy
the
requirement of
clauses a, b &
c of subsection 7.
Court of India in
Indowind Versus
Wescare case (supra)
has held that merely
because two
companies have
common shareholders
and Directors, they do
not become a single
entity.
• Merely because the
two companies may, at
one point of time, have
had a common
address and telephone
number or that the son
and daughter-in-law of
the Managing Director
of the JDIL are
Directors in DEPL, it
does not make them
one economic unit.
• There is also no
credible evidence to
show that because of
the alleged nexus
between the two
companies, ONGC
awarded the said
contract to DEPL.
• JDIL is admittedly not a
party to the contract.
Further the Hon'ble
Court specifically
asked the counsel of
ONGC whether they
wanted to bind JDIL
and did they not insist
on JDIL signing the
said Contract, the
counsel for ONGC had
no answer.
Shareholders of JDIL
and DEPL are almost
common.
Through letterheads,
articles on the website
of DEPL, bid
documents submitted
by DEPL to ONGC,
has represented that it
is a part of the DP
Jindal Group of DEPL
DEPL is a part of DP
Jindal Group of
Companies which is an
admitted fact. But JDIL
and DEPL are two
separate corporate
entities. There is no
relation between the
PART
B
18
Companies. two. There are other
companies of DP Jindal
Group of Companies as
well including MSL,
Jindal Pipes, etc.
The directors of DEPL
are related to the MD
of JDIL (Son and
daughter
-in
-law).
There is no bar on the
directorship of any
person and this is not
an evidence on the
basis of which doctrine
of group companies can
be invoked. This is just
an allegation unfounded
in law and fact.
It was a separate
venture started by Mr.
Manav Kumar on his
own.
An Arbitration
agreement signed by
one company in a
group of companies
binds other non
-
signatory companies,
when the underlying
contract is intended to
benefit the non
-
signatory as in the
instant case.
There are no underlying
contracts wherein JDIL
has any interest. JDIL
was never a party or
had any benefits arising
from the contract
between DEPL and
ONGC.
ONGC and JDIL have
four separate contracts
which are a part of TC
47
-50 of 2016
proceedings.
JDIL and DEPL have
offices in the same
building/same
premises.
A lot of businesses
have common business
address (Eg. Tata
Companies). Just on
the basis of the same, it
certainly cannot be said
that they are one and
the same. Especially
todays’ time of co
-
working spaces, a lot of
companies operate out
of the same premises.
PART B
19
15 The following submissions have been urged by Mr Shyam Divan, Senior
Counsel behalf of the respondent:
(i) There is no disputing the factual position that DEPL is a part of the D P Jindal
Group, yet JDIL has no shareholding in DEPL. There is neither any cross
shareholding nor any common directors;
(ii) In 2010, DEPL ceased to be a part of the D P Jindal Group. However, JDIL
continues to be a part of the D P Jindal Group of companies together with
other group entities such as Maharashtra Seamless Ltd. and Jindal Pipes
Ltd.;
(iii) JDIL is not a party to the arbitration agreement as required under Section 7 of
the Act of 1996 and cannot be held liable for claims against DEPL since there
is no evidence that JDIL was a beneficiary of the contract between ONGC
and DEPL. No letter of guarantee or of comfort was issued by JDIL on behalf
of DEPL in favour of ONGC;
(iv) The Bombay High Court has correctly held that no evidence was tendered
before the Arbitral Tribunal that DEPL and JDIL had common shareholders or
common directors;
(v) The arbitral award has discussed ONGC’s claim that DEPL and JDIL belong
to the same group of companies and came to the conclusion that there is not
“a tickle of evidence” that JDIL played any role in the negotiations leading up
to the contract or that thereafter JDIL participated in the execution of the
PART B
20
contract on behalf of the DEPL. Hence, the group of companies doctrine
cannot be invoked to indict JDIL for the alleged acts and omissions of DEPL;
(vi) Under Section 7 of the Act of 1996, there must be an agreement between the
parties to submit to arbitration. The expression ‘party’ is defined in Section
2(1)(h). The key words in both the provisions are “party to an arbitration
agreement” and an agreement by the party to submit to arbitration. JDIL and
DEPL are separate entities. DEPL was incorporated in 2003. JDIL was
incorporated in 1983. Its shares are listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange.
Though DEPL belonged to the DP Jindal Group of Companies, it ceased to
remain a part of the group in 2010. The fact that DEPL and JDIL shared a
common office is of no relevance. ONGC’s witness asserted that he came to
know that Mr G D Sharma (who signed on behalf of DEPL) is an employee of
JDIL only after the signing of the contract. Hence there was no representation
that JDIL was bidding for the contract. The association of the executive of
JDIL was to render assistance to DEPL and nothing more; and
(vii) ONGC’s witness has no knowledge of the facts since he was not:
a. Involved in the shortlisting of bidders;
b. A part of the decision-making process for the award of the contract;
c. A party to the deliberations by the tender committee for the award of
the contract;
d. Present at the time when the approval was given for the award of the
contract; and
e. Party to the deliberations within ONGC.
PART C
21
The witness stated that he has accessed the website of DEPL for the first time in
June 2008, after the award of the contract on 22 March 2006. Hence it is not open to
ONGC to claim that DEPL or JDIL represented to ONGC that DEPL was a group
company of JDIL or that ONGC awarded the contract because of any representation
by JDIL on its website.
C Analysis
C.1. Group of Companies Doctrine
16 Section 717 provides for an arbitration agreement. For the purpose of Part-I of
the Act of 1996, an arbitration agreement is defined to mean an agreement by the
parties to submit disputes between them in respect of a defined legal relationship, to
arbitration. An arbitration agreement may either be in the form of an arbitration
clause in a contract or take the form of a separate agreement. An arbitration
agreement has to be in writing but it may be contained in:
(i) A document signed by the parties;
(ii) An exchange of communication; and
 17 “7. Arbitration agreement.—
(1) In this Part, “arbitration agreement” means an agreement by the parties to submit to arbitration all or certain
disputes which have arisen or which may arise between them in respect of a defined legal relationship, whether
contractual or not.
(2) An arbitration agreement may be in the form of an arbitration clause in a contract or in the form of a separate
agreement.
(3) An arbitration agreement shall be in writing.
(4) An arbitration agreement is in writing if it is contained in—
(a) a document signed by the parties;
(b) an exchange of letters, telex, telegrams or other means of telecommunication including communication
through electronic means which provide a record of the agreement; or
(c) an exchange of statements of claim and defence in which the existence of the agreement is alleged by one
party and not denied by the other.
(5) The reference in a contract to a document containing an arbitration clause constitutes an arbitration agreement if
the contract is in writing and the reference is such as to make that arbitration clause part of the contract.”
PART C
22
(iii) An exchange of a statement of claim and defence in which an allegation that
there exists an arbitration agreement is not denied by the other party.
Sub-section (5) of Section 7 stipulates that the reference in a contract to a document
containing an arbitration clause constitutes an arbitration agreement if:
(i) The contract is written; and
(ii) The reference is such as to make the arbitration clause a part of the contract.
17 The expression “party” is defined in Section 2(h) to mean a party to an
arbitration agreement. The interpretation of the term “parties” vis-à-vis an arbitration
agreement under Section 7 has been dealt with by this Court in Indowind (supra) in
the context of an application for the appointment of an arbitrator under Section
11(6). In that case, the second respondent company was the promoter of Indowind.
The first and second respondent had entered into an agreement of sale. In the
agreement, the seller was described to include the first respondent and its
subsidiaries. The second respondent was described as the buyer and as the
promoter of Indowind. Under the agreement, the seller agreed to transfer business
assets for a consideration which was partly payable in money and partly by the
issuance of shares. The sale agreement also incorporated a clause to arbitrate any
dispute. The Board of Directors of the first and second respondent approved of the
agreement, but there was no approval by the Board of Indowind. After a dispute
arose, the first respondent instituted a petition under Section 11(6) against both the
second respondent and Indowind for the appointment of an arbitrator. Indowind
PART C
23
resisted the petition on the ground that it was not a party to the agreement between
the first and second respondent. The application was allowed by the Chief Justice of
the Madras High Court by observing that prima facie Indowind was a party after
lifting the corporate veil and noticing Indowind’s intention to be bound by the sale
agreement. Two issues were framed by this Court for consideration:
(i) Whether an arbitration clause found in a document
(agreement) between two parties, could be considered as a
binding arbitration agreement on a person who is not a
signatory to the agreement;
(ii) Whether a company could be said to be a party to a
contract containing an arbitration agreement, even though it
did not sign the agreement containing an arbitration clause,
with reference to its subsequent conduct”
Justice R V Raveendran, speaking for the two-judge Bench in Indowind (supra)
held that if Indowind had acknowledged or confirmed in any correspondence,
agreement or document that it was a party to the arbitration agreement between the
first and second respondent or that it was bound by the arbitration agreement
contained in that contract, it could have been possible to say that Indowind is a party
to the arbitration agreement. That however was not the position. The decision in
Indowind (supra) was in the context of an application under Section 11(6). A party
which was not a signatory to the arbitration agreement had raised an objection on
the ground that the agreement to arbitration did not operate in relation to it. The
Court refused to pierce the corporate veil and relied on a strict interpretation of
Section 7 to hold thus :
PART C
24
“17. It is not in dispute that Subuthi and Indowind are two
independent companies incorporated under the Companies
Act, 1956. Each company is a separate and distinct legal
entity and the mere fact that the two Companies have
common shareholders or common Board of Directors,
will not make the two Companies a single entity. Nor will
the existence of common shareholders or Directors lead
to an inference that one company will be bound by the
acts of the other. If the Director who signed on behalf of
Subuthi was also a Director of Indowind and if the intention of
the parties was that Indowind should be bound by the
agreement, nothing prevented Wescare insisting that
Indowind should be made a party to the agreement and
requesting the Director who signed for Subuthi also to sign on
behalf of Indowind.
18. The very fact that the parties carefully avoided making
Indowind a party and the fact that the Director of Subuthi
though a Director of Indowind, was careful not to sign the
agreement as on behalf of Indowind, shows that the parties
did not intend that Indowind should be a party to the
agreement. Therefore the mere fact that Subuthi described
Indowind as its nominee or as a company promoted by it or
that the agreement was purportedly entered by Subuthi on
behalf of Indowind, will not make Indowind a party in the
absence of a ratification, approval, adoption or confirmation of
the agreement dated 24-2-2006 by Indowind.
[….]
20. Wescare referred to several acts and transactions as also
the conduct of Indowind to contend that an inference should
be drawn that Indowind was a party to the agreement or that
it had affirmed and approved the agreement or acted in terms
of the agreement. An examination of the transactions
between the parties to decide whether there is a valid
contract or whether a particular party owed any obligation
towards another party or whether any person had committed
a breach of contract, will be possible in a suit or arbitration
proceeding claiming damages or performance. But the issue
in a proceeding under Section 11 is not whether there was
any contract between the parties or any breach thereof. A
contract can be entered into even orally. A contract can be
spelt out from correspondence or conduct. But an arbitration
agreement is different from a contract. An arbitration
agreement can come into existence only in the manner
PART C
25
contemplated under Section 7. If Section 7 says that an
arbitration agreement should be in writing, it will not be
sufficient for the petitioner in an application under
Section 11 to show that there existed an oral contract
between the parties, or that Indowind had transacted with
Wescare, or Wescare had performed certain acts with
reference to Indowind, as proof of arbitration agreement.
[…]
24. It is no doubt true that if Indowind had acknowledged
or confirmed in any correspondence or other agreement
or document, that it is a party to the arbitration
agreement dated 24-2-2006 or that it is bound by the
arbitration agreement contained therein, it could have
been possible to say that Indowind is a party to the
arbitration agreement. But that would not be under
Section 7(4)(a) but under Section 7(4)(b) or Section 7(5).
Be that as it may. That is not the case of Wescare. In fact,
the delivery notes/invoices issued by Wescare do not refer to
the agreement dated 24-2-2006. Nor does any letter or
correspondence sent by Indowind refer to the agreement
dated 24-2-2006, either as an agreement executed by it or as
an agreement binding on it…..”
(emphasis supplied)
18 Subsequently, in Chloro Controls (supra), a three-judge Bench of this Court
dealt with the provisions of Section 45, which falls in Part II of the Act of 1996
dealing with the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards. Section 45 postulates that
notwithstanding anything contained in Part I, a judicial authority, when seized of an
action in a matter in respect of which the parties have made an agreement in writing
for arbitration shall at the request of one of the parties “or any person
claiming through or under him” refer the parties to arbitration unless it finds that the
agreement is void, inoperative or incapable of being performed. Interpreting the
expressions “through or under” in Section 45, this Court held that though an
arbitration normally would take place between parties to the arbitration agreement, it
PART C
26
could take place between a signatory to an arbitration agreement and a third party
as well. This Court held that though the scope of the arbitration agreement is limited
to parties who have entered into it and those who claim under or through them,
courts under the English law have developed the group of companies doctrine. In
substance, the doctrine postulates that an arbitration agreement which has been
entered into by a company within a group of companies, can bind its non-signatory
affiliates or sister concerns if the circumstances demonstrate a mutual intention of
the parties to bind both the signatory and affiliated, non-signatory parties.
Elaborating on the concept, the Court held:
“71. Though the scope of an arbitration agreement is limited
to the parties who entered into it and those claiming under or
through them, the courts under the English law have, in
certain cases, also applied the “group of companies doctrine”.
This doctrine has developed in the international context,
whereby an arbitration agreement entered into by a company,
being one within a group of companies, can bind its nonsignatory affiliates or sister or parent concerns, if the
circumstances demonstrate that the mutual intention of all the
parties was to bind both the signatories and the non-signatory
affiliates. This theory has been applied in a number of
arbitrations so as to justify a tribunal taking jurisdiction over a
party who is not a signatory to the contract containing the
arbitration agreement. [Russell on Arbitration (23rd Edn.)]
72. This evolves the principle that a non-signatory party could
be subjected to arbitration provided these transactions were
with group of companies and there was a clear intention of
the parties to bind both, the signatory as well as the nonsignatory parties. In other words, “intention of the parties” is a
very significant feature which must be established before the
scope of arbitration can be said to include the signatory as
well as the non-signatory parties."
PART C
27
Noting that this would only be in exceptional cases, the Court in Chloro Controls
(supra) held that these exceptions would be examined on the touchstone of:
(i) A direct relationship to the party signatory to the arbitration agreement;
(ii) Direct commonality of the subject matter; and
(iii) Whether the agreement is of a composite transaction where the performance
of a mother agreement may not be feasible without the execution or
performance of a subsidiary or ancillary agreement.
19 The principle for binding non-signatories as laid down in Chloro Controls
(supra) was applied in the context of a domestic arbitration in Ameet Lalchand
Shah & Ors. v. Rishabh Enterprises & Anr.
18. A two-judge Bench of this Court, in
the context of the application of the then amended19 provisions of Section 8 of the
Act of 1996, observed that the 2015 amendment to Section 8 had brought it in line
with Section 45 of the Act of 1996. Prior to the amendment, Section 8(1) of the Act
of 1996 provided that a party to an arbitration agreement can make an application to
seek a reference to arbitration. The amended Section 8 (1) clarified that a person
claiming through or under a party to the arbitration can also seek reference to
arbitration notwithstanding any judicial precedent. In Ameet Lalchand (supra), the
Court did not explicitly invoke the group of companies doctrine to bind a nonsignatory, rather it relied on Chloro Controls (supra) to hold that a non-signatory
would be bound by the arbitration clause in the mother agreement, since it is a party
to an inter-connected agreement, executed to achieve a common commercial goal.
 18 (2018) 15 SCC 678 19 Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 (“2015 amendment”)
PART C
28
20 In Cheran Properties (supra), a three-judge Bench of this Court interpreted
and applied the group of companies doctrine in the context of the enforcement of a
domestic arbitration award against a non-signatory to the arbitration agreement. The
Court observed that the decision by a two-judge Bench in Indowind (supra) was
rendered before the evolution and application of the group of companies doctrine by
a three-judge Bench in Chloro Controls (supra):
“23. As the law has evolved, it has recognised that modern
business transactions are often effectuated through multiple
layers and agreements. There may be transactions within a
group of companies. The circumstances in which they have
entered into them may reflect an intention to bind both
signatory and non-signatory entities within the same group. In
holding a non-signatory bound by an arbitration agreement,
the court approaches the matter by attributing to the
transactions a meaning consistent with the business sense
which was intended to be ascribed to them. Therefore, factors
such as the relationship of a non-signatory to a party which is
a signatory to the agreement, the commonality of subjectmatter and the composite nature of the transaction weigh in
the balance. The group of companies doctrine is essentially
intended to facilitate the fulfilment of a mutually held intent
between the parties, where the circumstances indicate that
the intent was to bind both signatories and non-signatories.
The effort is to find the true essence of the business
arrangement and to unravel from a layered structure of
commercial arrangements, an intent to bind someone who is
not formally a signatory but has assumed the obligation to be
bound by the actions of a signatory.”
This Court in Cheran Properties (supra) also analysed academic literature that
scrutinised adjudicatory trends across the world. It noted that the written intention to
arbitrate between parties can extend to bind non-signatories with the aim to target
the creditworthy member of the group of companies. However, the principle of
separate legal personalities of companies also has to be balanced. The corporate
PART C
29
veil can be pierced to bind non-signatories upon a construction of the arbitration
agreement, the intention at the time of entering the contract and the performance of
the underlying contract:
“25. Does the requirement, as in Section 7, that an arbitration
agreement be in writing exclude the possibility of binding third
parties who may not be signatories to an agreement between
two contracting entities? The evolving body of academic
literature as well as adjudicatory trends indicate that in certain
situations, an arbitration agreement between two or more
parties may operate to bind other parties as well. Redfern and
Hunter explain the theoretical foundation of this principle:
“… The requirement of a signed agreement in writing,
however, does not altogether exclude the possibility of
an arbitration agreement concluded in proper form
between two or more parties also binding other
parties. Third parties to an arbitration agreement have
been held to be bound by (or entitled to rely on) such
an agreement in a variety of ways : first, by operation
of the ‘group of companies’ doctrine pursuant to which
the benefits and duties arising from an arbitration
agreement may in certain circumstances be extended
to other members of the same group of companies;
and, secondly, by operation of general rules of private
law, principally on assignment, agency, and
succession…. [Id at p. 99.] ”
The group of companies doctrine has been applied to pierce
the corporate veil to locate the “true” party in interest, and
more significantly, to target the creditworthy member of a
group of companies [ Op cit fn. 16, 2.40, p. 100.] . Though the
extension of this doctrine is met with resistance on the basis
of the legal imputation of corporate personality, the
application of the doctrine turns on a construction of the
arbitration agreement and the circumstances relating to the
entry into and performance of the underlying contract. [Id,
2.41 at p. 100.]”
PART C
30
This Court in Cheran Properties (supra) also distinguished the principle laid down
in Chloro Controls (supra) from its application in the context of Section 11(6) in
Duro Felguera v. Gangavaram Port Limited20. In Duro Felguera (supra), a twojudge Bench of this Court refused to direct a joint arbitration in five different
contracts between sister concerns of one of the parties of the original arbitration
agreement, by respecting the conscious intention of the parties to subject
themselves to separate arbitration agreements under their individual contracts. This
Court in Cheran Properties (supra) distinguished the factual situation in Duro
Felguera (supra) by discerning the mutual intention of the parties and performance
of the contract:
“34. […..] The principle which underlies Chloro
Controls [Chloro Controls India (P) Ltd. v. Severn Trent Water
Purification Inc., (2013) 1 SCC 641 : (2013) 1 SCC (Civ) 689]
is that an arbitration agreement which is entered into by a
company within a group of companies may bind nonsignatory affiliates, if the circumstances are such as to
demonstrate the mutual intention of the parties to bind both
signatories and non-signatories. In applying the doctrine, the
law seeks to enforce the common intention of the parties,
where circumstances indicate that both signatories and nonsignatories were intended to be bound. In Duro [Duro
Felguera v. Gangavaram Port Ltd., (2017) 9 SCC 729 :
(2017) 4 SCC (Civ) 764] , the case was held to stand on a
different footing since all the five different packages as well as
the corporate guarantee did not depend on the terms and
conditions of the original package nor on the memorandum of
understanding executed between the parties. The judgment
in Duro[Duro Felguera v. Gangavaram Port Ltd., (2017) 9
SCC 729 : (2017) 4 SCC (Civ) 764] does not detract from the
principle which was enunciated in Chloro Controls[Chloro
Controls India (P) Ltd. v. Severn Trent Water Purification Inc.,
(2013) 1 SCC 641 : (2013) 1 SCC (Civ) 689].”
 20 (2017) 9 SCC 729 [“Duro Felguera”]
PART C
31
21 The group of companies doctrine was subsequently applied by a two-judge
Bench of this Court in Reckitt Benckiser (India) P Ltd. v. Reynders Label
Printing21 for determining if a non-signatory foreign company, within the same group
of companies, could be impleaded in a domestic arbitration. This Court noted the
principles formulated by this Court in Chloro Controls (supra) and Cheran
Properties (supra) and noted its inapplicability after assessing the following:
(i) the alleged common employee between the two companies in the same
group was factually established as having no connection with the foreign
company; and
(ii) a mere existence of an indemnity by the foreign company, in the absence of
any other factors, would not signify its intention to be bound by the arbitration
agreement and/or of deriving benefits from the performance of the underlying
contract.
22 In MTNL (supra), a two-judge Bench of this Court was considering a situation
in which MTNL had floated certain bonds to Can Bank Financial Services Ltd22
through a memorandum of understanding. The bond amount was placed in an FD
by MTNL with Canfina. Canfina paid back a part of the amount of the FD while the
rest was not paid to MTNL. As a consequence, MTNL did not service the interest of
the bonds. Canfina was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canara Bank. Canfina had
transferred the bonds to Canara Bank. Subsequently, all three parties had
 21 (2019) 7 SCC 62 22 “Canfina”
PART C
32
participated in a meeting where the minutes indicated their view to take recourse to
arbitration. A sole arbitrator was appointed to resolve the dispute and notice was
issued in the arbitration to MTNL, Canara Bank and Canfina. A dispute was raised
on whether Canfina could be joined as a party to the arbitral proceedings. In this
backdrop, this Court while dealing with the joinder of Canfina in the arbitration
proceedings held:
“10.3. A non-signatory can be bound by an arbitration
agreement on the basis of the “group of companies” doctrine,
where the conduct of the parties evidences a clear intention
of the parties to bind both the signatory as well as the nonsignatory parties. Courts and tribunals have invoked this
doctrine to join a non-signatory member of the group, if they
are satisfied that the non-signatory company was by
reference to the common intention of the parties, a necessary
party to the contract.”
While elucidating the circumstances in which the group of companies doctrine could
be invoked to bind the non-signatory, the Court held:
“10.5. The group of companies doctrine has been invoked by
courts and tribunals in arbitrations, where an arbitration
agreement is entered into by one of the companies in the
group; and the non-signatory affiliate, or sister, or parent
concern, is held to be bound by the arbitration agreement, if
the facts and circumstances of the case demonstrate that it
was the mutual intention of all parties to bind both the
signatories and the non-signatory affiliates in the group. The
doctrine provides that a non-signatory may be bound by
an arbitration agreement where the parent or holding
company, or a member of the group of companies is a
signatory to the arbitration agreement and the nonsignatory entity on the group has been engaged in the
negotiation or performance of the commercial contract,
or made statements indicating its intention to be bound
by the contract, the non-signatory will also be bound and
benefitted by the relevant contracts. [ Interim award in ICC
Case No. 4131 of 1982, IX YB Comm Arb 131 (1984); Award
in ICC Case No. 5103 of 1988, 115 JDI (Clunet) 1206 (1988).
PART C
33
See also Gary B. Born : International Commercial Arbitration,
Vol. I, 2009, pp. 1170-1171.]
10.6. The circumstances in which the “group of companies”
doctrine could be invoked to bind the non-signatory affiliate of
a parent company, or inclusion of a third party to an
arbitration, if there is a direct relationship between the party
which is a signatory to the arbitration agreement; direct
commonality of the subject-matter; the composite nature of
the transaction between the parties. A “composite
transaction” refers to a transaction which is interlinked in
nature; or, where the performance of the agreement may not
be feasible without the aid, execution, and performance of the
supplementary or the ancillary agreement, for achieving the
common object, and collectively having a bearing on the
dispute.
10.7. The group of companies doctrine has also been invoked
in cases where there is a tight group structure with strong
organisational and financial links, so as to constitute a single
economic unit, or a single economic reality. In such a
situation, signatory and non-signatories have been bound
together under the arbitration agreement. This will apply in
particular when the funds of one company are used to
financially support or restructure other members of the group.
[ ICC Case No. 4131 of 1982, ICC Case No. 5103 of 1988.].”
(emphasis supplied)
On the facts, the Court held that Canfina was set up as a wholly-owned subsidiary of
Canara Bank. The dispute arose out of the subscription by Canfina of the bonds
floated by MTNL which were subsequently transferred by Canfina to its holding
company, Canara Bank. MTNL had contended that it was constrained to cancel the
allotment due to the non-payment of the sale consideration by Canfina. Hence, this
Court held that it would be futile to decide the dispute only between MTNL and
Canara Bank in the absence of Canfina since indisputably, the original transaction
emanated from the agreement between MTNL and Canfina and there was “a clear
PART C
34
and direct nexus” between the issuance of the bonds, their subsequent transfer by
Canfina to Canara Bank and the cancellation of allotment by MTNL. Canfina was
held to be a proper party to the proceedings.
23 Commentators have noted that a signed written agreement to submit a
present or future dispute to arbitration does not exclude the possibility of an
arbitration agreement binding a third party. A non-signatory may be bound by the
operation of the group of companies doctrine as well as by the operation of the
principles of assignment, agency and succession.
23 A party, which is not a signatory
to a contract containing an arbitration clause, may be bound by the agreement to
arbitrate if it is an alter ego of a party which executed the agreement. This
constitutes a departure from the ordinary principle of contract law that every
company in a group of companies is a distinct legal entity. A non-signatory may be
bound by the arbitration agreement where:
(i) There exists a group of companies; and
(ii) Parties have engaged in conduct or made statements indicating an intention
to bind a non-signatory.
24 Gary B. Born in his treatise on International Commercial Arbitration indicates
that:
“The principal legal basis for holding that a nonsignatory is bound (and benefited) by an arbitration
agreement … include both purely consensual theories
 23 Redfern and Hunter on International Arbitration, 5th Ed. – 2.13, pp. 89-90
PART C
35
(e.g., agency, assumption, assignment) and nonconsensual theories (e.g. estoppel, alter ego).
24”
Explaining the application of the alter ego principle in arbitration, Born also notes:
“Authorities from virtually all jurisdictions hold that a
party who has not assented to a contract containing
an arbitration clause may nonetheless be bound by
the clause if that party is an ‘alter ego’ of an entity that
did execute, or was otherwise a party to, the
agreement. This is a significant, but exceptional,
departure from the fundamental principle … that each
company in a group of companies (a relatively
modern concept) is a separate legal entity possessed
of separate rights and liabilities25.
[……]
“the group of companies doctrine is akin to principles
of agency or implied consent, whereby the corporate
affiliations among distinct legal entities provide the
foundation for concluding that they were intended to
be parties to an agreement, notwithstanding their
formal status as non-signatories26.”
25 Recently, John Fellas elaborated on the principle of binding a non-signatory to
an arbitration agreement from the lens of the doctrine of estoppel. He situated the
rationale behind the application of the principle of direct estoppel against competing
considerations of party autonomy and consent in interpreting arbitration agreements.
Fellas observed that non-signatory parties can be bound by the principle of direct
estoppel to prohibit such a party from deriving the benefits of a contract while
disavowing the obligations to arbitrate under the same :
 24 Gary Born, International Commercial Arbitration 2nd Edn., Vol. 1, at page 1418 25 Id. at page 1432 26 Id. at page 1450
PART C
36
“There are at least two distinct types of estoppel
doctrine that apply in the non-signatory context:
“the direct benefits” estoppel theory and the
“intertwined” estoppel theory. The direct benefits
theory bears the hallmark of any estoppel
doctrine- prohibiting a party from taking
inconsistent positions or seeking to “have it both
ways” by “rely[ing] on the contract when it works
to its advantage and ignor[ing] it when it works to
its disadvantage.” Tepper Realty Co. v. Mosaic Tile
Co., 259 F.Supp. 688,692 (SDNY 1966). The direct
benefits doctrine reflects that core principle by
preventing a party from claiming rights under a
contract but, at the same time, disavowing the
obligation to arbitrate in the same contract.
[….]
By contrast, the intertwined estoppel theory looks not
to whether any benefit was received by the nonsignatory, but rather at the nature of the dispute
between the signatory and the non-signatory, and, in
particular whether “the issues the non-signatory is
seeking to resolve in arbitration are intertwined with
the agreement that the estoppel [signatory party] has
signed….the intertwined estoppel theory has as its
central aim the perseveration of the efficacy of the
arbitration process is clear when one looks at the
typical fact pattern of an intertwined estoppel case.”27
(emphasis supplied)
26 In deciding whether a company within a group of companies which is not a
signatory to arbitration agreement would nonetheless be bound by it, the law
considers the following factors:
(i) The mutual intent of the parties;
(ii) The relationship of a non-signatory to a party which is a signatory to the
agreement;
(iii) The commonality of the subject matter;
 27 John Fellas, Compelling Signatories to Arbitrate with Non-Signatories, New York Law Journal (March 28, 2022)
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(iv) The composite nature of the transaction; and
(v) The performance of the contract.
Consent and party autonomy are undergirded in Section 7 of the Act of 1996.
However, a non-signatory may be held to be bound on a consensual theory,
founded on agency and assignment or on a non-consensual basis such as estoppel
or alter ego.
28 These principles would have to be understood in the context of the
present case, where ONGC’s attempt at the joinder of JDIL to the proceedings was
rejected without adjudication of ONGC’s application for discovery and inspection of
documents to prove the necessity for such a joinder.
C.2. Standard for Review of the Interim Arbitral Award
27 The interim award of the Arbitral Tribunal is substantially premised on the fact
that JDIL is not a party to the contract dated 22 March 2006. The Tribunal held that
the agreement was only between ONGC and DEPL. Adverting to Section 7 of the
Act of 1996, the Tribunal held that there must be a written agreement between the
parties to submit to arbitration or in the specific manner envisaged under the
provision. Before the Arbitral Tribunal, it was urged by ONGC that:
(i) There is a commonality of interest in the business between DEPL and JDIL;
(ii) DEPL is a corporate facade created by JDIL for their extended business;
(iii) The executives of JDIL were actively associated in the bidding process; and
(iv) The office of DEPL or JDIL were situated in the same building.
 28 Gary Born, supra note 24, at page 1418
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The Arbitral Tribunal rejected the above submissions by holding that there was not a
“tickle” of evidence on record to show that JDIL, which is a distinct corporate legal
entity, “ever played any role to find itself in the contract between JDIL and ONGC”.
The participation of JDIL in the execution of the contract was held to be on behalf of
DEPL and that the fact that the directors of DEPL are the son and daughter-in-law of
the MD of JDIL was held not to be of relevance.
28 The fundamental basis of the interim award is that in view of the provisions of
Section 7 and the definition of the expression “party” in Section 2(1)(h), the
provisions of the Act of 1996 could not be invoked or applied to a non-signatory to
an arbitration agreement. The Tribunal held that it has no jurisdiction to investigate,
enquire into or record any findings on the basis of ONGC’s claim against JDIL.
29 The Tribunal had, by its order dated 7 July 2009, specifically held that the
objections of JDIL to the production of documents sought by ONGC would be
decided when the application under Section 16 was resolved. Yet in the interim
award, ultimately, the Tribunal has directed that ONGC’s application dated 5
January 2009 would stand deferred until the issue of jurisdiction is decided. ONGC
was justified in submitting that its application for discovery and inspection should be
heard first and disposed of on merits after which appropriate orders as regards
joinder of parties could be issued to DEPL and JDIL.
30 By failing to consider the application for discovery and inspection, the Tribunal
has foreclosed itself from inquiring into whether there was sufficient material to
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establish the application of the group of companies doctrine. The application for
discovery and inspection was indeed relevant to the exercise which was being
carried out by the Tribunal. ONGC’s primary submissions for impleading JDIL were
that:
(i) DEPL has been created by the DP Jindal Group with a definite purpose to
render services to the oil and gas sector;
(ii) There is a close corporate and functional unity between DEPL and JDIL;
(iii) The executives of JDIL had been closely associated with the negotiation of
the agreement;
(iv) The bid as well as the contract with DEPL were signed by G D Sharma who
was an employee of JDIL;
(v) G D Sharma was signing letters on behalf of DEPL as their authorized
signatory as well as on behalf of JDIL;
(vi) Mohan Ramanathan, who was the General Manager of JDIL, used to visit the
witness who deposed on behalf of the ONGC in connection with the subject
contract; and
(vii) Naresh Kumar, the Managing Director of JDIL, had negotiated with the
owners of the vessel in connection with the same tender.
31 Moreover, it was stated in the course of the evidence by ONGC’s witness that
almost all the senior officers of JDIL, including its Managing Director, actively
participated in matters relating to the hiring of the vessel, its deployment,
performance and related issues. At a kick-off meeting held on 21 November 2005
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between ONGC and DEPL, Mohan Ramanathan (General Manager, JDIL) was
stated to have been in attendance on behalf of the DEPL. It was in this backdrop
that ONGC sought to assert that there exists corporate, financial and functional unity
between DEPL and JDIL. The Arbitral Tribunal has not considered whether the
group of companies doctrine would stand attracted. The Arbitral Tribunal precluded
itself from deciding as to whether the application for discovery and inspection should
be allowed. The Arbitral Tribunal effectively shut out material evidence which ONGC
sought to bring on the record.
32 In this backdrop, the failure of the Arbitral Tribunal to allow for discovery and
inspection goes to the root of the process in as much as it disabled ONGC from
pursuing its fundamental claim based on the application of the group of companies
doctrine.
33 During the course of his submissions, Mr Shyam Divan, senior counsel urged
that:
(i) JDIL’s application under Section 16 was decided by the Arbitral Tribunal after
evidence was adduced;
(ii) The witness for ONGC deposed and the Tribunal has evaluated the evidence
and documentary material on record;
(iii) The Tribunal has entered a finding of fact that there is nothing to indicate the
existence of a single economic unit comprising JDIL and DEPL;
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(iv) No directions could have been issued by the Tribunal on ONGC’s application
for discovery and inspection unless the Tribunal were to rule on the challenge
to its jurisdiction which had to be decided first and hence the Tribunal was
justified in concluding that the application filed by ONGC for discovery and
inspection would be considered subsequently;
(v) The decision in Indowind (supra) continues to hold the field. The group of
companies doctrine is only an exception to the principle that a party who is
not a signatory of the agreement cannot be subjected to arbitration;
(vi) The broad approach of the court under Section 34 which is of noninterference with the arbitral award, must also govern an appeal under
Section 37; and the same standard must apply to the latter as it applies to the
former. The Arbitral Tribunal has ruled on its jurisdiction, pursuant to the
application filed by JDIL under sub-section (1) of Section 16. Under subsection (5), if the Arbitral Tribunal rejects such a plea, it must continue with
the arbitral proceedings to make an arbitral award. Under sub-section (6), a
party aggrieved by the arbitral award may make an application for setting
aside the award under Section 34.
34 The arbitral tribunal has held that it does not have jurisdiction to entertain the
claim against JDIL. The decision of the Arbitral Tribunal that it lacks jurisdiction is
subject to an appeal under Section 37(2)(a). Under sub-section (1) of Section 37, an
appeal lies to the court (as defined under Section 2(1)(e)) only from the following
orders, namely:
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(i) An order refusing to refer the parties to arbitration under Section 8;
(ii) An order granting or refusing to grant any measure under Section 9; and
(iii) An order setting aside or refusing to set aside an arbitral award under Section
34.
Sub-section 2 of Section 37 stipulates that an “appeal shall also lie” to the court from
an order of the arbitral tribunal, inter alia, on the ground of the arbitral tribunal
accepting the plea referred to in sub-section (2) or sub-section (3) of Section 16.
Hence, an appeal lies to the Court from the decision of the Arbitral Tribunal that it
lacks jurisdiction.
35 Mr Shyam Divan, relied upon two recent decisions of this Court in
Ssangyong Engineering and Construction Company Limited v. National
Highways Authority of India29, and in M/s Dyna Technologies Pvt. Ltd. v. M/s
Crompton Graves Ltd.30 Both these decisions define the standard of review under
Section 34. These decisions indicate that a challenge to an arbitral award must be
adjudicated within the confines of Section 34. Clause (b)(ii) of sub-section (2) of
Section 34 stipulates that an arbitral award may be set aside only if the court finds
that it conflicts with the public policy of India. Prior to its substitution by Act 3 of
2016, the explanation stipulated that without prejudice to the generality of subclause (ii), an award is in conflict with the public policy of India if the making of the
award was induced or affected by fraud or corruption or was in violation of Section
75 or Section 81. As a result of the substitution of the explanation by Act 3 of 2016,
 29 (2019) 15 SCC 131 [“Ssangyong Engineering”] 30 (2019) 20 SCC 1
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Parliament has stipulated that an award conflicts with the public policy of India only if
one of three conditions is fulfilled, namely:
(i) The making of the award was induced or affected by fraud or corruption or
was in violation of Section 75 or Section 81;
(ii) The award is in contravention with the fundamental policy of Indian law; or
(iii) The award conflicts with the most basic notions of morality or justice.
36 In Ssangyong Engineering (supra), this Court held that the expression
“public policy of India” in Section 34 would mean “the fundamental policy of Indian
law” as explained in Associate Builders v. DDA31. Sub-section (2A) to Section 34,
which was introduced by the Amending Act of 2016, provides for an additional
ground of challenge in the case of a domestic award, namely the existence of a
patent illegality apparent on the face of the award. Justice R F Nariman, speaking
for the two-judge Bench, observed that:
“34. What is clear, therefore, is that the expression “public
policy of India”, whether contained in Section 34 or in Section
48, would now mean the “fundamental policy of Indian law” as
explained in paras 18 and 27 of Associate Builders [Associate
Builders v. DDA, (2015) 3 SCC 49 : (2015) 2 SCC (Civ) 204]
i.e. the fundamental policy of Indian law would be relegated to
“Renusagar” understanding of this expression. This would
necessarily mean that Western Geco [ONGC v. Western
Geco International Ltd., (2014) 9 SCC 263 : (2014) 5 SCC
(Civ) 12] expansion has been done away with. In
short, Western Geco [ONGC v. Western Geco International
Ltd., (2014) 9 SCC 263 : (2014) 5 SCC (Civ) 12] , as
explained in paras 28 and 29 of Associate Builders [Associate
Builders v. DDA, (2015) 3 SCC 49 : (2015) 2 SCC (Civ) 204] ,
would no longer obtain, as under the guise of interfering with
an award on the ground that the arbitrator has not adopted a
 31 (2015) 3 SCC 49
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judicial approach, the Court's intervention would be on the
merits of the award, which cannot be permitted post
amendment. However, insofar as principles of natural
justice are concerned, as contained in Sections 18 and
34(2)(a)(iii) of the 1996 Act, these continue to be grounds
of challenge of an award, as is contained in para 30
of Associate Builders [Associate Builders v. DDA, (2015) 3
SCC 49 : (2015) 2 SCC (Civ) 204] .
[…]
41. What is important to note is that a decision which is
perverse, as understood in paras 31 and 32 of Associate
Builders [Associate Builders v. DDA, (2015) 3 SCC 49 :
(2015) 2 SCC (Civ) 204] , while no longer being a ground for
challenge under “public policy of India”, would certainly
amount to a patent illegality appearing on the face of the
award. Thus, a finding based on no evidence at all or an
award which ignores vital evidence in arriving at its
decision would be perverse and liable to be set aside on
the ground of patent illegality. Additionally, a finding
based on documents taken behind the back of the parties
by the arbitrator would also qualify as a decision based
on no evidence inasmuch as such decision is not based
on evidence led by the parties, and therefore, would also
have to be characterised as perverse.”
(emphasis supplied)
37 In this backdrop, it has been held that:
(i) A mere contravention of substantive law is not a ground to set aside an
award;
(ii) The court while exercising the power of judicial review should not
reappreciate evidence;
(iii) The construction of a contract is essentially a matter for the arbitral tribunal to
decide;
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(iv) An award can be construed to be perverse only if it is based on no evidence
or has ignored vital evidence;
(v) The illegality of an award must be of such a nature or character so as to go to
the root of the award; and
(vi) Judicial intervention under Section 34 would not be warranted only because
an alternative view on facts or the construction of the award is available.
38 Mr K M Nataraj, ASG, urged that when an appeal arises under Section
37(2)(a) against an order of the arbitral tribunal accepting the plea under Section 16
that it has no jurisdiction, the parameters for the exercise of the appellate jurisdiction
of the court would not be constricted by the principles which apply to a challenge to
an arbitral award under Section 34. The ASG submitted that this is for a valid
reason, which is that upon the acceptance of a plea that there is a lack of
jurisdiction, the matter goes out of the fold of arbitration. Such a determination
cannot be subject to the governing principles which apply to a challenge to an
arbitral award under Section 34.
39 Sub-section (1) of Section 37 provides for appeals to the court against orders
of the arbitral tribunal meeting one of the descriptions specified in clauses (a), (b)
and (c). Sub-section (2) provides that an appeal shall also lie to the court from an
order of the arbitral tribunal accepting a plea under sub-sections (2) or (3) of Section
16 (of a want of jurisdiction) and for granting or refusing a measure under Section
17. It is true that Parliament has not specifically constricted the powers of the court
while considering an appeal under clause (a) of sub-section (2) of Section 37 by the
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grounds on which an award can be challenged under Section 34. The expression
“arbitral award” is defined in Section 2(1)(c) to include an interim award. The
grounds of challenge to an arbitral award under Section 34 are specified by the
parameters which are spelt out in that provision. However, with regard to challenges
to the jurisdiction of the tribunal, Section 16 stipulates that where the tribunal rejects
a plea of a lack of jurisdiction, it must continue with the arbitral proceedings and
make an award and the remedy of a challenge to the award would lie under Section
34. However, if the arbitral tribunal accepts a plea that it lacks jurisdiction, the order
of the tribunal is amenable to a challenge in appeal under Section 37(2)(a). In the
exercise of the appellate jurisdiction, the court must have due deference to the
grounds which have weighed with the tribunal in holding that it lacks jurisdiction
having regard to the object and spirit underlying the statute which entrusts the
arbitral tribunal with the power to rule on its own jurisdiction. The decision of the
tribunal that it lacks jurisdiction is not conclusive because it is subject to an appellate
remedy under Section 37(2)(a). However, in the exercise of this appellate power, the
court must be mindful of the fact that the statute has entrusted the arbitral tribunal
with the power to rule on its own jurisdiction with the purpose of facilitating the
efficacy of arbitration as an institutional mechanism for the resolution of disputes.
40 Now it is in this backdrop that the Court must approach the task at hand. In
the present batch of cases, there are two parallel proceedings arising out of the
constitution of two sets of arbitral tribunals. In the first proceeding, the Arbitral
Tribunal consisted of Mr Justice S P Kurdukar, Mr Justice M S Rane and Mr S
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Venkateswaran. Both DEPL and JDIL were made parties by ONGC, which is the
claimant. The application filed by JDIL under Section 16 was allowed by the Arbitral
Tribunal by its interim award dated 27 October 2010. The appeal filed by ONGC was
dismissed by the Bombay High Court on 27 June 2012. In pursuance of the
arbitration proceedings, the Arbitral Tribunal made a final award on 6 June 2013 in
favour of ONGC against DEPL.
41 The second set of proceedings involved four agreements between ONGC and
JDIL which are tabulated below: -
S. No. Date of the
Agreement
Particulars
1. 23 December 2003 Agreement for Charter Hire of Drilling Unit NCY
2. 9 December 2004 Agreement for hiring of 2 sets of steerable downhole mud motors
Equipment, Drilling jars and directional drilling services
3. 2 December 2006 Agreement for Charter Hire of Drilling Unit NCY
4. 17 August 2006 Agreement for Charter Hire of Drilling Unit “Noble Ed-Holt”
JDIL invoked the arbitration on 4 February 2010 and an Arbitral Tribunal consisting
of Ms Justice Sujata Manohar, Mr Justice B N Srikrishna and Mr Justice M S Rane
was constituted. The Arbitral Tribunal rendered a final award on 9 October 2013 (the
arbitral award in the second proceeding) in favour of JDIL and accepted its claim
amounting to US$14,772,495.55 together with interest of 4% per annum from the
date of the invoice until payment or realisation. ONGC instituted proceedings under
Section 34 before the Bombay High Court. By a judgment dated 28 April 2015, a
Single Judge of the Bombay High Court upheld the arbitral award. The appeals
against the judgment of the Single Judge under Section 37 were pending when
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ONGC applied for transfer of the appeals to this Court. By an order dated 1
September 2016, the appeals have been transferred to this Court on the ground that
“there is some connection” between the special leave petition arising from the
judgment of the Bombay High Court affirming the decision of the Arbitral Tribunal
that it lacked jurisdiction on the claim against JDIL. Now at this stage, it would be
material to note that the Single Judge of the Bombay High Court, while considering
the challenge to the arbitral award dated 9 October 2013 in favour of JDIL held that :
“In my view the arbitral tribunal has considered the evidence
led by the parties in the impugned award independently and
have rendered findings of facts that i) the petitioners had
failed to prove that the said DEPL and the respondents herein
were one and the same company; ii) both the companies had
independent legal existence; iii) the petitioners had failed to
produce any evidence to prove that the petitioners had
awarded the said contract to DEPL because it was in fact the
respondents herein and/or was supported by the
respondents; iv) there was no evidence to show that in order
to secure the said contract, DEPL had represented that it was
a part of the respondents group; v) the witness examined by
the petitioners was not present in the meeting held by the
Executive Purchase Committee and did not produce Minutes
of Meeting held by the said Committee for short listing of the
bidders; vi) the respondents herein had not issued any
guarantee or letter of comfort from the respondents to the
petitioners in respect of the liabilities, if any, of DEPL under its
contract with the petitioners and vii) the petitioners had failed
to provide any particulars of the alleged fraud or that the said
DEPL was incorporated in order to defraud the creditors. In
my view, all the aforesaid findings rendered by the arbitral
tribunal are based on the pleadings, documents and the
evidence led by the parties and are not perverse and thus no
interference with such findings of facts is permissible under
Section 34 of the Arbitration Act.”
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42 The Single Judge noted that ONGC had not denied the claims which were
made by JDIL (the original claimant). The only defence of ONGC was that it was
entitled to adjust the amount which was claimed by JDIL under the four contracts
against ONGC’s claim qua DEPL. In the course of the Arbitral Award in the second
proceeding, the Arbitral Tribunal has also observed that the claims of JDIL were not
disputed by ONGC. The award of the Arbitral Tribunal noted that:
“The above claims of the Claimant are not denied by the
Respondent ONGC. The defence of ONGC to the claims
made by the Claimant in these arbitration proceedings is
essentially to the effect that the Respondent is entitled to
appropriate the sums payable by it to the Claimant under
these 4 contracts against the claim of the Respondent against
DEPL under its contract with DEPL.”
43 The basis on which ONGC claimed the above adjustment was that DEPL and
JDIL constitute one economic entity and that DEPL is a group company of JDIL. The
Arbitral Tribunal rejected the submission of ONGC, observing thus :
“It is contended by Mr Rajiv Kumar, learned senior counsel for
the Respondent that the corporate veil should be lifted in
order to treat the two companies as one because throughout,
it was the Claimant which acted on behalf of DEPL. The
Respondent has placed strong reliance on the case of State
of UP v. Renusagar Power Co. and Another [1988 4 SCC 59].
The Supreme Court has observed that in the expanding
horizon of modern jurisprudence, lifting of corporate veil is
permissible if two associated companies are so inextricably
mixed as to constitute one entity. Its frontiers are unlimited. It
must, however, depend primarily on the realities of the
situation. It held on the facts of that case that at no point of
time had the Respondent Renusagar showed any
independent volition and had been controlled fully by
Hindalco which controlled even day-to-day affairs of the
Respondent. Even the profits of the Respondent had been
treated as the profits of Hindalco. The court held that the
Respondent and Hindalco can be treated as one concern.
The facts of the present case are totally different and do not
warrant lifting of corporate veil, assuming there is one. The
evidence in the present case does not justify the application
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of “lifting the corporate veil”. In respect of the contract which
was entered into by the Respondent with DEPL, the tender
was floated by ONGC in 2005 and the contract was entered
into in 2006. There is no material to show that the
Respondent awarded the contract to DEPL because it was in
fact the Claimant and/or was supported by the Claimant. The
minutes of the meeting held by the Respondents for shortlisting of bidders in respect of that contract have not been
produced. The only witness produced by ONGC was not
present at the meetings held by the executive purchase
committees when deliberations on the award of the contract
to the recommended bidder took place [Of Answer to
Question 39 in the cross-examination of the same witness in
the first arbitration between ONGC and DEPL relied upon in
this arbitration]. There is no evidence to show that in order to
secure the said contract, DEPL represented that it was a part
of the Claimant group. The Respondent contends that an
employee of the Claimant namely Mr Mohan Ramanathan
attended the pre-bid meeting and customs hearing in
connection with their contract with DEPL. The Claimant in the
evidence of its witness CW-2 Ms. Dalvi has stated that Mr
Ramanathan had attended the pre-bid meeting and customs
hearing at the request of DEPL and as a representative of
DEPL on account of his expertise in these areas. She has
also stated that she was asked by Mr. Ramanathan to attend
the customs duty hearing on behalf of DEPL. The Claimant
has also pointed out that Mr. G.D. Sharma, an employee of
the Claimant attended certain meetings and signed letters
etc. only on behalf of DEPL and has signed these expressly
on behalf of DEPL.”
44 The Tribunal also observed that JDIL had not furnished any guarantee or
letter of comfort to ONGC in respect of the liabilities of DEPL. The emails addressed
by the Managing Director of JDIL to the owners of the vessel were not from an
official email address but from personal email addresses. The Arbitral Tribunal held
that there was no basis for the allegation that DEPL was incorporated to defraud the
creditors. Thus, the Tribunal observed that JDIL and DEPL maintained a separate
legal character throughout.
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45 In the earlier proceedings instituted by ONGC against both DEPL and JDIL,
the Arbitral Tribunal had by its interim award dated 27 October 2010 upheld JDIL’s
plea of a lack of jurisdiction and held that JDIL could not be impleaded. In paragraph
31 of the Arbitral Award in the second proceeding, dated 9 October 2013 between
ONGC and JDIL, the Arbitral Tribunal adverted to the interim award 27 October
2010 in the first proceeding and agreed with those findings. The relevant extract
reads as follows:
“31. In the present case the Respondent ONGC had earlier
initiated arbitration proceedings against both DEPL and the
Claimant before an Arbitral Tribunal consisting of Justice
Kurudukar [presiding arbitrator], Justice Rane and Mr
Venkateshwaran, Senior Advocate. By its ‘interim final award’
dated 27-10-2010 the Arbitral Tribunal held that in the dispute
between the Respondent and DEPL, the Claimant could not be
impleaded. It rejected the contention of ONGC that the Claimant
was liable under the said contract between ONGC and DEPL.
The arguments advanced before us were also advanced before
it. In fact the evidence of Respondents witness Anindya
Bhattarcharya is common in both the arbitrations. That Arbitral
Tribunal rejected the contention of the Respondent and directed
that the name of Claimant should be deleted from the said
proceedings. The order has been upheld by the High Court in the
petition filed by ONGC under Section 16 of the Arbitration and
Conciliation Act 1996 by its order dated 27 June 2012. We are
informed that an SLP is pending. There is now a final award
dated 6 June 2013 given by the aforesaid Arbitral Tribunal in the
arbitration proceedings between the Respondent and DEPL
where the Respondents have been held entitled to recover from
DEPL a sum of Rs 6387.37 lakhs as well as US dollars
1756197.50 with interest at 9% per annum as set out therein and
have been granted other reliefs as set out therein. After the
Claimant took out the present arbitration proceedings, ONGC has
filed a suit in the High Court being Suit Number 2947/2011
against the Claimant and DEPL. The findings of the earlier
Arbitral Tribunal and the High Court in its order of 27 June
2012 support our present conclusions, and we respectfully
agree with the same.”
(emphasis supplied)
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46 It is important to note that in the Arbitral Award in the second proceeding, no
issue of jurisdiction arose since only JDIL and ONGC were parties and the claim of
JDIL arose under four distinct contracts of JDIL with ONGC. DEPL was not a party
to that proceeding. The examination-in-chief of ONGC’s witness in the first
arbitration proceeding was treated as an affidavit in the subsequent arbitration
involving the claim by JDIL against ONGC. This Court has been informed that the
cross-examination of the witness in the first arbitral proceeding leading up to the
interim award dated 27 October 2010 was also treated as a cross-examination in the
subsequent arbitration. JDIL also led evidence, inter alia, of its manager in support
of its assertion that there were neither any common directors between JDIL and
DEPL nor did JDIL hold any shares in DEPL.
47 The above narration indicates that the batch of cases which has been
transferred to this Court arises from a claim in arbitration by JDIL against ONGC
under four contracts. The Arbitral Tribunal by its award dated 9 October 2013 (the
Arbitral Award in the second proceeding) allowed the claim. ONGC did not plead
any defence to the claim on merits. However, ONGC asserted a right to adjust the
amounts which were due to JDIL against the claims which ONGC had against DEPL
under a distinct contract. ONGC asserted that JDIL and DEPL form one common
economic entity and that the group of companies doctrine would apply. Thus
essentially, the grounds on which ONGC opposed JDIL’s application under Section
16 in the first arbitral proceeding overlap with the basis on which ONGC sought
adjustment of the claims due to JDIL in the second arbitral proceeding. There is thus
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a significant degree of overlap between the issues which arose before the first
Arbitral Tribunal in its interim award dated 27 October 2010 and those on which the
Arbitral Tribunal rendered its Arbitral Award dated 9 October 2013 in the second
proceeding. As we have seen above, Arbitral Award in the second proceeding relied
on the findings contained in the interim award of the first Arbitral Tribunal dated 27
October 2010. In opposing JDIL’s application under Section 16 before the Arbitral
Tribunal consisting of Mr Justice S P Kurdukar, Mr Justice M S Rane and Mr S
Venkateswaran, ONGC invoked the group of companies doctrine. In the course of
its statement of claim, ONGC pleaded that DEPL was awarded the contract by
relying on the fact that it is a group company of the DP Jindal Group of Companies
and that JDIL has a vital business interest in DEPL, which can be said to be an alter
ego of JDIL.
48 ONGC pleaded that it had a continuing business relationship with JDIL for the
past several years and this was a major factor which weighed with ONGC while
deciding to award the contract in favour of the DEPL. On the date of the submission
of the claim, ONGC had three subsisting contracts with JDIL. ONGC claimed that
DEPL has a close corporate unity with the Jindal Group of Companies and that it
has consistently represented that they are a group company within the DP Jindal
Group of Companies. According to ONGC, besides the letterheads of DEPL which
indicate that it belongs to the DP Jindal Group of Companies, JDIL has also
acknowledged this position on its website. ONGC also indicated that since DEPL is
liable to compensate ONGC for the loss suffered by it, ONGC has adjusted the
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monies payable to JDIL as security to satisfy the award. ONGC led the evidence of
its Chief Manager (MM), Anindya Bhattacharya. The witness for ONGC deposed
that:
(i) At the pre-bid conference which was held on 7 October 2005, DEPL was
represented by Mohan Ramanathan together with two other persons and he
is an employee of JDIL;
(ii) In response to the second expression of interest dated 17 October 2005,
DEPL submitted its offer which was signed by G D Sharma on behalf of
DEPL;
(iii) G D Sharma holds the position of Manager (Commercial and Development)
with JDIL;
(iv) In response to ONGC’s invitation for sealed bids from shortlisted parties on 31
October 2005, DEPL submitted its bid under a cover letter dated 4 November
2005. The annexure to the letter contained a resume of DEPL declaring that it
is a part of the DP Jindal Group of Companies which has a strong presence in
the oil and gas sector and is engaged in off shore drilling for oil and gas;
(v) Both DEPL and JDIL shared a common addresses and telephone numbers;
(vi) DEPL was created by the Jindal Group with the definite purpose of rendering
a particular service to the oil and gas sector and DEPL has indicated on the
website that it works under the “fraternal hood of the said group”;
(vii) DEPL is promoted and managed by the son and daughter in law of the
Managing Director of JDIL;
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(viii) The bid submitted by DEPL was signed by G D Sharma as an authorized
signatory who is an employee of JDIL;
(ix) The Managing Director of JDIL, Mr Naresh Kumar, had negotiated with the
owners of the vessel for hiring on behalf DEPL;
(x) DEPL was incorporated in 2003;
(xi) Mohan Ramanathan who attended the office of ONGC in connection with the
subject contract was the General Manager of JDIL; and
(xii) Almost all senior officers of JDIL including its Managing Director actively took
part in matters relating to the hiring of the vessel, its deployment, performance
and related issues. Therefore, a corporate, financial and functional unity
exists between DEPL and JDIL.
49 At the hearing before the first Arbitral Tribunal on 7 July 2009, the documents
which were produced by ONGC’s witness were taken on the record. Counsel for
JDIL objected to these documents on the ground of relevance and admissibility but
stated that he would cross-examine the witness without prejudice to those
contentions. The first Arbitral Tribunal observed that the rival contentions would be
decided while disposing of the application under Section 16. ONGC also filed an
application for discovery and inspection before the first Arbitral Tribunal and the
annexure to the application contained a schedule indicating the disclosures which
were sought. The order of the first Arbitral Tribunal notes the submission of ONGC
that the applications for discovery and inspection must be decided first and it is only
on the completion of the process that JDIL’s challenge to jurisdiction under Section
PART C
56
16 could be addressed. The first Arbitral Tribunal deferred a decision on the two
applications until the issue of jurisdiction was decided. The net result is that the
applications for discovery and inspection which were crucial to ONGC’s claim that
there existed functional, financial and economic unity between DEPL and JDIL
remained to be decided before the application under Section 16 was taken up.
There is merit in the submission which was been urged on behalf of the ONGC that
the application for discovery and inspection had to be decided before the plea of
jurisdiction was adjudicated upon. The application for discovery and inspection was
intended to facilitate ONGC in its plea that there existed functional, financial and
economic unity between the two companies. The failure of the first Arbitral Tribunal
to hear the application for discovery and inspection goes to the root of its interim
award dated 27 October 2010 holding an absence of jurisdiction qua JDIL. The
interim award of the Arbitral Tribunal in the first proceeding, dated 27 July 2010
refers to the documents which were produced by ONGC and to the submission that
neither DEPL nor JDIL had led any evidence to controvert the documentary and oral
evidence adduced by ONGC. The first Arbitral Tribunal upheld the plea of
jurisdiction that JDIL is neither a party to the contract nor had it submitted a bid to
ONGC which resulted in the formation of the contract. The Tribunal held that the
agreement was only between ONGC and DEPL and that in terms of Section 7, an
agreement to arbitrate is between the parties to the agreement. While observing that
the arbitration agreement was only between DEPL and ONGC, the Tribunal held
that neither was there an arbitration agreement between ONGC and JDIL nor was
JDIL a signatory to the agreement between ONGC and DEPL. After noting the
PART C
57
documents which were relied upon by ONGC, the Tribunal held that there was “no
tickle of evidence to indicate that JDIL”, a distinct incorporated legal entity, ever
played any role to find itself in the contract between JDIL and ONGC. The
executives of JDIL who participated in the contractual dealing were held to be
representatives of DEPL. Reading the interim award dated 27 October 2010 of the
first Arbitral Tribunal, the unmistakable impression which emerges from the record is
that the primary basis for the determination of an absence of jurisdiction is that the
arbitration agreement was between ONGC and DEPL. The legal foundation of the
group of companies doctrine has not been evaluated, on facts or law. True enough,
the judgment of this Court in Cholo Controls (supra) is of 2013, Cheran Properties
(supra) is of 2018 and MTNL (supra) came in 2020. However, ONGC had clearly
laid out the factual and legal foundation for setting up a case in opposition to the
plea of JDIL. The first Arbitral Tribunal has made a fundamental error of law in not
deciding the application by ONGC on discovery and inspection of documents before
it ruled on jurisdiction. In doing so, the first Arbitral Tribunal’s interim award dated 27
October 2010 goes against the principles of natural justice. The failure to consider
the application for discovery and inspection of documents results in a situation
where vital evidence that could have assisted the Tribunal in its determination of the
challenge under Section 16 was shut out. As a matter of fact, it emerged from the
record that no evidence was adduced by JDIL in support of its plea of the absence
of jurisdiction under Section 16. JDIL having taken the plea of absence of jurisdiction
was required to establish the grounds on which it set about to establish its plea.
PART D
58
50 Based on the above discussion, the interim award of the first Arbitral Tribunal
stands vitiated because of:
(i) The failure of the arbitral tribunal to decide upon the application for discovery
and inspection filed by ONGC;
(ii) The failure of the arbitral tribunal to determine the legal foundation for the
application of the group of companies doctrine; and
(iii) The decision of the arbitral tribunal that it would decide upon the applications
filed by ONGC only after the plea of jurisdiction was disposed of.
D Conclusion
51 For all the above reasons we have come to the conclusion that there was a
fundamental failure of the first Arbitral Tribunal to address the plea raised by ONGC
for attracting the group of companies doctrine. Moreover, by leaving the application
filed by ONGC for discovery and inspection unresolved, the first Arbitral Tribunal
failed to allow evidence which may have had a bearing on the issue of whether JDIL
could be considered to have an economic unity with DEPL and could hence be
made a party to the arbitral proceedings.
PART D
59
52 For the above reasons, we are of the view that:
(i) The interim award of the Arbitral Tribunal dated 27 July 2010 on the plea
raised by JDIL under Section 16 has to be set aside;
(ii) The judgment of the Single Judge of the Bombay High Court dated 27 June
2012 dismissing ONGC's appeal under Section 37 would have to be set
aside;
(iii) The plea by JDIL that the Arbitral Tribunal lacks jurisdiction would have to be
decided afresh. In this regard, this Court was informed that one of the three
arbitrators has died and that the Arbitral Tribunal cannot be reconstituted. We
accordingly direct that ONGC and JDIL shall each nominate their arbitrators
within a period of two weeks from the date of this judgment while the two
arbitrators shall nominate and appoint the third arbitrator. The Arbitral Tribunal
so reconstituted shall decide afresh upon the plea of JDIL in regard to the
absence of jurisdiction after furnishing to the parties the opportunity of leading
any further evidence or seeking the production of further documentary
material on the record. The evidence and documentary evidence which has
been already adduced before the earlier Arbitral Tribunal shall however form
part of the record of the newly constituted Tribunal;
(iv) As regards the cases which have been transferred to this Court, we would
order and direct that these cases be remitted back to the Bombay High Court.
The decision on those appeals which arose from the dismissal by the Single
Judge of the petition under Section 34 challenging the Arbitral Award dated 9
PART D
60
October 2013 in the second proceeding, in favour of JDIL, shall be held in
abeyance and remain adjourned sine die until the Arbitral Tribunal which is
reconstituted in terms of the above directions rules on its jurisdiction and in
the event that it rejects the plea challenging its jurisdiction, until the arbitral
award is delivered in relation to ONGC’s claim against JDIL; and
(v) During the pendency of these proceedings, ONGC was directed to deposit the
amount due under the Arbitral Award in the second proceeding dated 9
October 2013, which was permitted to be withdrawn by JDIL subject to
furnishing a bank guarantee which shall be kept alive during the pendency of
the proceedings before the Bombay High Court. The bank guarantee
furnished by JDIL shall be kept alive to the satisfaction of the Prothonotary
and Senior master of the Bombay High Court.
53 For the above reasons, we issue the following directions:
(i) The judgment of the Single Judge of the Bombay High Court dated 27 June
2012 in Arbitration Petition No 814 of 2011 is set aside;
(ii) The appeal filed by ONGC under Section 37 of the Act of 1996 against the
interim award of the Arbitral Tribunal dated 27 October 2010 is allowed and
the interim award of the Tribunal dated 27 October 2010 shall stand set aside;
(iii) A fresh Arbitral Tribunal shall be constituted by ONGC and JDIL each
nominating their arbitrators within a period of two weeks from the date of this
PART D
61
judgment and the two arbitrators thereafter will jointly appoint the third
arbitrator;
(iv) The present judgment will not have any bearing on the arbitral award dated 6
June 2013 passed in favour of ONGC against DEPL;
(v) The transferred cases shall stand remitted back to the Bomaby High Court.
The hearing of the transferred cases is adjourned sine die so as to await the
outcome of the arbitral proceedings between ONGC and JDIL in terms of (iii)
above;
(vi) In pursuance of the interim orders of this Court, ONGC was directed to
deposit the amount due to JDIL under the Arbitral Award in the second
proceeding dated 9 October 2013 which was permitted to be withdrawn by
JDIL subject to furnishing a bank guarantee. The bank guarantee furnished by
JDIL shall be kept alive to the satisfaction of the Prothonotary and Senior
master of the Bombay High Court pending the disposal of the arbitration
appeals against the judgment of the Single Judge dated 28 April 2015
dismissing the petition under Section 34 challenging the arbitral award dated
9 October 2013; and
(vii) Upon the reconstitution of the Arbitral Tribunal, the plea of JDIL under Section
16 shall be decided afresh. All the rights and contentions in that regard are
kept open to be decided by the arbitral tribunal. The oral and documentary
evidence which was produced before the earlier arbitral tribunal shall form
part of the proceedings before the fresh Arbitral Tribunal to be constituted in
PART D
62
pursuance of the above directions. ONGC would be at liberty to pursue its
application for discovery and inspection and to seek further directions before
the Arbitral Tribunal. Parties would be at liberty to apply for leading further
evidence before the Arbitral Tribunal if they are so advised.
54 The appeal is allowed in the above terms. The transferred cases are remitted
back to the Bombay High Court for disposal in the light of the above directions.
55 Pending application(s), if any, stand disposed of.
….…………………………...............................J.
 [Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud]
….…………………………...............................J.
 [Surya Kant]
….…………………………...............................J.
 [Vikram Nath]
New Delhi;
April 27, 2022

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