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Execution of Foreign Awards in India: Navigating Challenges and Future Perspectives by Rishabh Gandhi

Arbitration has emerged as a preferred method of dispute resolution in the globalized business environment due to its efficiency, confidentiality, and flexibility. With the increasing number of cross-border transactions, the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards have gained significant importance. India, with its growing economic clout, has been actively engaged in international arbitration. This article explores the execution of foreign arbitral awards in India, examining the legal framework, landmark judgments, contemporary issues, and the future trajectory.

Legal Framework

The enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in India is primarily governed by the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (the “Act”). The Act, modeled on the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration, incorporates provisions of the New York Convention (1958) and the Geneva Convention (1927). The Act is divided into three parts:

Part I: Deals with domestic arbitration and international commercial arbitration conducted in India.

Part II: Governs the enforcement of foreign awards, divided into two chapters: Chapter I for New York Convention awards and Chapter II for Geneva Convention awards.

Part III: Pertains to conciliation.

New York Convention Awards

Section 44 of the Act defines a foreign award as an arbitral award on differences between persons arising out of legal relationships, considered commercial under the law in force in India, and made in one of the convention countries. For a foreign award to be enforceable in India under the New York Convention, it must satisfy the following conditions:

The award must be rendered in a country that is a signatory to the New York Convention.

The award must arise out of a commercial dispute.

The award must be final and binding.

Geneva Convention Awards

Section 53 of the Act defines a foreign award under the Geneva Convention as an award rendered in pursuance of an agreement to which the Protocol on Arbitration Clauses (1923) applies. Although less commonly invoked, the Geneva Convention provides an alternative mechanism for the enforcement of foreign awards.

Judicial Interpretation and Landmark Judgments

The Indian judiciary has played a crucial role in shaping the enforcement regime for foreign arbitral awards. Several landmark judgments have clarified the legal position and enhanced the credibility of India as an arbitration-friendly jurisdiction.

Bhatia International v. Bulk Trading S.A. (2002)

In this landmark case, the Supreme Court held that Part I of the Act, which pertains to domestic arbitration, also applies to international commercial arbitration unless expressly excluded by the parties. This judgment raised concerns about excessive judicial intervention in foreign arbitral awards and led to calls for legislative reform.

BALCO v. Kaiser Aluminium Technical Services Inc. (2012)

The Supreme Court in Bharat Aluminium Co. v. Kaiser Aluminium Technical Services Inc. (BALCO) overruled Bhatia International, holding that Part I of the Act does not apply to international commercial arbitration conducted outside India. This judgment marked a significant shift towards minimizing judicial interference and aligning Indian arbitration law with international standards.

Shri Lal Mahal Ltd. v. Progetto Grano Spa (2013)

In this case, the Supreme Court narrowed the scope of the public policy defense for refusing enforcement of foreign awards. The court held that mere violation of Indian law does not constitute a violation of public policy. This judgment reinforced the principle of minimal judicial intervention and upheld the sanctity of arbitral awards.

Vijay Karia & Ors. v. Prysmian Cavi E Sistemi SRL & Ors. (2020)

The Supreme Court, in this case, reiterated its pro-arbitration stance, emphasizing that enforcement of a foreign award can only be refused on grounds explicitly specified under the Act. The court underscored the importance of party autonomy and the finality of arbitral awards, further cementing India’s position as an arbitration-friendly jurisdiction.

Contemporary Issues

Despite significant strides in arbitration jurisprudence, the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in India faces several contemporary challenges.

Public Policy Exception

One of the most contentious issues in the enforcement of foreign awards is the interpretation of the public policy exception. While the judiciary has progressively narrowed its scope, the ambiguity surrounding what constitutes public policy continues to be a potential hurdle. The challenge lies in balancing respect for arbitral autonomy with safeguarding national interests.

Delays in Judicial Proceedings

The Indian judicial system is notorious for its backlog of cases and prolonged litigation timelines. Delays in the enforcement process can undermine the efficacy of arbitration as a speedy dispute resolution mechanism. Addressing this issue requires systemic reforms to streamline judicial procedures and expedite the disposal of enforcement petitions.

Arbitrability of Disputes

The arbitrability of certain types of disputes, particularly those involving public interest or sovereign functions, remains a gray area. Courts have occasionally refused enforcement on the grounds that the subject matter of the dispute is not arbitrable. Clear legislative guidelines on arbitrability are essential to provide certainty and avoid inconsistent judicial interpretations.

Sovereign Immunity

Enforcing arbitral awards against state entities poses unique challenges due to the doctrine of sovereign immunity. While India has recognized the restrictive theory of sovereign immunity, distinguishing between commercial and sovereign acts can be complex. Clarifying the legal position on this issue is crucial to ensure that state entities cannot evade liability under the guise of sovereignty.

Future Perspectives

The future of foreign award enforcement in India hinges on several key factors, including legislative reforms, judicial attitudes, and international developments.

Legislative Reforms

Ongoing efforts to amend the Arbitration and Conciliation Act reflect a commitment to creating a robust arbitration framework. The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2019, and subsequent amendments aim to address concerns related to time-bound resolution, confidentiality, and institutional arbitration. Further reforms should focus on:

Defining Public Policy: Providing a precise definition of public policy to minimize judicial discretion and uncertainty.

Streamlining Enforcement Procedures: Introducing measures to expedite the enforcement process, such as setting strict timelines for court proceedings and reducing procedural complexities.

Clarifying Arbitrability: Establishing clear guidelines on the arbitrability of disputes to prevent inconsistent judicial interpretations.

Judicial Attitudes

The judiciary’s approach to arbitration has evolved significantly over the years, with a marked shift towards pro-enforcement and minimal intervention. Continued judicial training and awareness programs can further enhance the understanding of arbitration principles and foster a more arbitration-friendly environment.

International Developments

Global trends in arbitration, such as the increasing use of technology and virtual hearings, will influence the future of arbitration in India. Embracing technological advancements can streamline the arbitration process and make it more efficient. Additionally, India’s active participation in international arbitration forums and treaties can strengthen its arbitration regime and foster greater confidence among foreign investors.


The execution of foreign arbitral awards in India has witnessed significant progress, driven by legislative reforms and judicial pronouncements. However, challenges remain, particularly in terms of public policy interpretation, judicial delays, arbitrability, and sovereign immunity. Addressing these issues through comprehensive legislative reforms and continued judicial support is crucial to maintaining India’s status as an arbitration-friendly jurisdiction.

The future of foreign award enforcement in India is promising, with ongoing efforts to align domestic arbitration laws with international standards. By fostering a conducive environment for arbitration, India can attract greater foreign investment and establish itself as a global arbitration hub. The journey towards this goal requires a concerted effort from lawmakers, the judiciary, and the arbitration community to ensure that foreign arbitral awards are executed efficiently, fairly, and expeditiously.

In conclusion, while the path to seamless execution of foreign awards in India is fraught with challenges, the strides made thus far and the future prospects indicate a positive trajectory. India’s commitment to upholding the principles of arbitration and enhancing its legal framework will play a pivotal role in reinforcing its position in the global arbitration landscape.

Rishabh Gandhi is an Arbitration Lawyer and a Former Judge. Know more about him on – https://www.rgaa.co.in/

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