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Supreme Court: Arbitrators' Fees and Limitations on Unilateral Orders

The role of arbitrators in dispute resolution processes is crucial, as they are responsible for rendering fair and unbiased decisions. In India, the Supreme Court recently addressed an important issue related to arbitrators' fees in the case of ONGC v. Afcons Gunanusa JV. The court's ruling clarified that arbitrators cannot unilaterally issue binding and enforceable orders determining their own fees. Additionally, it established that the maximum fee an arbitrator can charge a single party, including the base amount of the claim, is set at Rs. 30 Lakhs. Furthermore, the court held that the arbitrator can charge separate fees for counterclaims. This article explores the background, implications, and significance of the Supreme Court's ruling in this case.
Background of the Case:

In the case of ONGC v. Afcons Gunanusa JV, the dispute arose from a contract between the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Afcons Gunanusa JV, an infrastructure development company. The contract included an arbitration clause, which mandated that any disputes be resolved through arbitration.

During the arbitration proceedings, the arbitrators issued an interim order, determining their own fees and directing ONGC to pay the same. However, ONGC challenged this order before the Supreme Court, contending that the arbitrators had exceeded their authority in fixing their own fees.

The Supreme Court's Ruling

The Supreme Court examined the issue of arbitrators' fees in light of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. The court held that arbitrators do not possess the unilateral power to issue binding and enforceable orders to determine their own fees. Instead, the determination of fees should be subject to scrutiny and review by the court or the relevant arbitral institution.

Furthermore, the court addressed the ceiling amount of Rs. 30 Lakhs specified in the 6th entry of the 4th schedule of the Act. It clarified that this amount includes the base amount of the claim, implying that the maximum fee an arbitrator can charge a single party, including the base amount of the claim, is limited to Rs. 30 Lakhs. This ruling aims to prevent excessive and disproportionate fees from burdening parties involved in arbitration proceedings.

The court also emphasized that an arbitrator has the right to charge separate fees for counterclaims. This means that in cases where a party raises a counterclaim, the arbitrator can charge additional fees for handling and deciding on the counterclaim. This provision allows arbitrators to receive fair compensation for their services when dealing with complex and multifaceted disputes.

Implications and Significance

The Supreme Court's ruling in the ONGC v. Afcons Gunanusa JV case has several implications for the arbitration landscape in India.

Firstly, it establishes a framework that curtails the arbitrators' discretion to unilaterally fix their own fees, ensuring that the determination of fees is fair and transparent.

Secondly, by limiting the maximum fee an arbitrator can charge a single party to Rs. 30 Lakhs, the court provides parties involved in arbitration proceedings with a measure of financial certainty and protection against exorbitant fees. This step promotes access to justice and discourages any potential misuse of the arbitration process.

Lastly, the court's recognition of separate fees for counterclaims recognizes the additional time, effort, and expertise required to resolve such complex disputes. It encourages arbitrators to diligently handle counterclaims and incentivizes fair treatment of all parties involved.


The Supreme Court's ruling in the ONGC v. Afcons Gunanusa JV case brings much-needed clarity and regulation to the determination of arbitrators' fees in India. By emphasizing the need for scrutiny and review of fees, imposing a ceiling amount, and allowing separate fees for counterclaims, the court seeks to promote fairness, accessibility, and efficiency in the arbitration process. This decision serves as an important precedent for future arbitrations and contributes to the overall development of India's arbitration jurisprudence.


ONGC v. Afcons Gunanusa JV, Supreme Court of India.