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‘You are insulting judges’: SC warns ONGC of contempt over arbitrators’ fees

The matter was listed for hearing following a letter written to the top court by one of the arbitrators, a retired Bombay High Court judge, seeking his recusal as arbitrator.

SNS | New Delhi |

The Supreme Court on Wednesday warned the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) of contempt, for declining to pay fees to the arbitrators, retired judges, who have been arbitrating its dispute with Schlumberger Asia Services Ltd.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and Hima Kohli said the public sector undertakings have so much money that they keep filing frivolous proceedings. “Then you have an issue in paying the arbitrators.”

The Chief Justice said: “What do you think of yourselves? We will issue contempt notice.

“You are insulting the judges. Why? because you have a lot of money.”

The bench said that it was not happy to read the concerns raised by a retired judge in his letter to the court. Expressing displeasure with the ONGC’s conduct, the bench said: “Look at the arrogance of ONGC. I think they have a lot of money so they think they can do anything. How can this be permitted?”

The top court sought Attorney General K.K. Venugopal’s intervention in the matter, and asked him to speak to the ONGC and ensure that the issue is resolved.

“This is an arbitration case and court-appointed judges,” it said, adding: “Please speak to ONGC. It is extremely embarrassing.”

The AG submitted before the bench that he will take up the issue with the PSU. After hearing the arguments, the top court scheduled the matter for further hearing after one week.

The matter was listed for hearing following a letter written to the top court by one of the arbitrators, a retired Bombay High Court judge, seeking his recusal as arbitrator.

In January this year, the top court appointed former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court Justice Jai Narayan Patel and former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Shivax Jal Vazifdar to the panel of arbitrators. After Justice Vazifdar recused himself from the matter, Justice S.C. Dharmadhikari replaced him.

Justice Dharmadhikari subsequently wrote a letter to the top court seeking to recuse himself as an arbitrator.