Contract Interpretation in Arbitration Dispute

In a recent legal case, the court examined the nuances of contract interpretation in an arbitration dispute. The focus was on analyzing the legal principles governing contract terms and the extent to which arbitral tribunals can interpret and apply these terms. The court’s decision sheds light on the significance of upholding the integrity of contract clauses in resolving disputes effectively.


  • The contract was initially for two years and extended for two more years by mutual agreement.
  • The contract expired on 04.10.2000.
  • The dispute was referred to an Arbitral Tribunal with three arbitrators.
  • The contract involved well drilling and auxiliary operations in Assam since 05.06.1996.
  • The Appellant invoked the arbitration clause on 01.03.1999 due to the Respondent’s rejection of their claim.
  • The construction of Clause 23 is a matter of interpretation and was correctly interpreted by the Arbitral Tribunal.
  • The Appellant was awarded the work order dated 20.07.1995 after responding to a tender from the Respondent in 1994.
  • The Appellant claimed that the increase in the price of High-Speed Diesel triggered the ‘change in law’ clause under the contract (Clause 23) requiring reimbursement from the Respondent.
  • Arbitral Tribunal issued the award in A.P No. 8 of 1999, allowing the claim of the Appellant.
  • Awarded a sum of Rs. 98,89,564.33 with interest @10% per annum.
  • Amount later revised to Rs. 1,32,32,126.36 on 11.03.2005.
  • Majority opinion considered increase in HSD price through a circular as having the ‘force of law’ falling within Clause 23.
  • Minority opinion held that executive orders do not fall within the ambit of Clause 23.
  • Respondent challenged the award under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act, which was upheld by the District Judge.
  • District Judge found no basis against the public policy or patently illegal in the tribunal’s findings.
  • Respondent appealed to the High Court under Section 37 of the Arbitration Act, resulting in the award being set aside.
  • High Court held the Arbitral Tribunal’s interpretation was erroneous and against public policy.
  • High Court stated the power to set aside the award due to overlooking the contract’s terms and conditions.
  • Appellant filed a special leave petition against the High Court’s judgment.

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  • Two parties are in dispute over a specific issue.
  • The court examines the facts and arguments presented by both sides.
  • A decision is made based on the evidence and relevant legal principles.
  • The outcome of the issue is determined and communicated by the court.

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  • The learned counsel for the Respondent argues that the award by the Arbitral Tribunal goes against the terms of the contract and effectively changes the contract terms.
  • According to the Respondent’s counsel, the Arbitral Tribunal must resolve the dispute based on the contract’s provisions, and granting additional reimbursement not specified in Clause 23 is unreasonable and clearly illegal.

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  • The contract includes a Force Majeure clause defining events like acts of God, war, strikes, etc. beyond parties’ control.
  • Clause 22.23 provides for a force majeure rate in case of temporary events.
  • Courts can only set aside arbitration awards based on grounds in the Arbitration Act.
  • Interpretation of contracts should consider all clauses, ensuring smooth system operation.
  • If two interpretations are possible, the arbitrator’s view should be respected.
  • The doctrine of frustration discharges parties from future obligations in case of impossibility.
  • Arbitral awards should not be interfered with unless perversity goes to the root of the matter.
  • Section 34 respects finality of arbitral awards and party autonomy for dispute resolution.
  • The court should not interfere with plausible arbitrator interpretations unless unreasonable.
  • Contract rates for performance should be consistent and workable to avoid inconsistency.
  • Clause 23 must be interpreted liberally, considering laws, statutes, and government regulations.
  • Arbitral Tribunal’s interpretation should align with the whole contract, failing to do so may be perverse.
  • Contract terms indicate fixed rates until completion of defined operations.
  • Clause 23 is likened to force majeure clauses and doctrine of frustration, allowing for adjustments due to changes in law or regulations.
  • A proper interpretation needs to consider the entire document, avoiding exclusion unless explicitly stated.
  • Coronation cases illustrate the need for careful interpretation of contract language.
  • Contractual terms on subsequent law changes may impact costs reimbursement.
  • Arbitral Tribunal’s view on law changes affecting the contract cost should align with beneficial construction principles.
  • Section 56 of the Contract Act exempts parties from performance if the contracted act becomes impossible.
  • Interpretation of the Arbitral Tribunal should align with the explicit contract terms and purpose.
  • Court should not interfere with plausible arbitrator views on contract interpretation.
  • Clause 23 aims to limit risks of price variations, considering price fluctuations in bidding.
  • High Court’s interpretation of Clause 23 as a force majeure clause is not entirely agreed upon.
  • Section 56 of the Contract Act addresses consequences of force majeure events rendering performance impossible.
  • Definitions of force majeure and contract obligations are crucial aspects of the agreement.
  • Arbitral Tribunal’s rewriting of the contract exceeds its jurisdiction and conflicts with public policy.
  • An application for setting aside an arbitral award must be made within three months of receiving the award, unless there is sufficient cause for delay.
  • If the Court is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by sufficient cause from making the application within the three-month period, it may entertain the application within a further period of thirty days, but not thereafter.
  • The Court may adjourn the proceedings upon receiving an application to give the arbitral tribunal an opportunity to resume the arbitral proceedings or take action to eliminate grounds for setting aside the arbitral award.
  • A contract to do an act that becomes impossible or unlawful after the contract is made becomes void when the act becomes impossible or unlawful.
  • When parties have not provided for circumstances rendering performance impossible, Section 56 of the Contract Act states that an agreement to do an act impossible in itself is void.
  • An arbitral award may only be set aside by the Court under certain conditions, such as incapacity of a party, invalidity of the arbitration agreement, lack of proper notice, or the award dealing with a dispute not contemplated in the submission to arbitration.
  • English law initially left the loss to where it fell unless the contract specified otherwise
  • Fibrosa Spolka Akcyjna v. Fairbairn Lawson Combe Barbour Ltd. overturned the old doctrine of leaving the loss on the party who sustained it before the frustrating event
  • Courts should not interfere with an arbitral award unless there is unpardonable perversity under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act
  • The interpretation of the contract in an arbitral award must be reasonable and fair to pass muster under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act
  • The UK Parliament legislated the Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act, 1943 based on the case Fibrosa Spolka Akcyjna v. Fairbairn Lawson Combe Barbour Ltd.
  • The Contract Act in India recognizes supervening impossibility or illegality under Section 56 and Section 32 for uncertain future events
  • Section 65 of the Contract Act provides for restoring advantages received under a void agreement
  • Interpretation of contracts should consider a broad view while reading the document as a whole in a mutually explanatory manner
  • Item 1 of List II in Exhibit C shows that fuel should be supplied by the contractor at their own expense.
  • This clause contradicts the interpretation made by the Arbitral Tribunal.
  • The interpretation suggested by the Tribunal is seen as unreasonable based on the contract clauses.


  • The High Court’s decision to set aside the award was upheld.
  • The judgment in C.A. No 673 of 2012 was considered in this matter.
  • The appeal was dismissed with no order as to costs.


Case Number: C.A. No.-000673-000673 / 2012

Click here to read/download original judgement

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