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Who decides extension of mandate of arbitral tribunals under S. 29A of the Arbitration Act

There is a divergence of views. The Kerala High Court has adopted the literal interpretation that an application for extension of time lies before the Civil Court or the High Court in exercise of original civil jurisdiction. Delhi and Gujarat High Courts have taken a contrary view and interpreted ‘Court’ in S. 29A(4) to mandatorily mean the High Court by adopting a contextual interpretation to the term ‘Court’ premised on the powers of the High Court under S. 11.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court in a recent judgment in HARSAC v. Pan India had occasion to consider grant of extension under S. 29A by Additional District Judge, Chandigarh. While the judgment does not go into the issue of which court will have jurisdiction, the Supreme Court substituted the existing tribunal in exercise of powers under S. 29A(6) without setting aside the extension order itself.

In light of the recent decision Supreme Court decision in Vidya Drolia which affirmed that Patel Engineering has been legislatively overruled by the 2015 and 2019 amendments, ‘Court’ in S. 29A should mean principal Civil Court of original jurisdiction in line with the decision of the Kerala High Court.