The Kerala High Court held that an Additional District Judge has jurisdiction to entertain a petition filed under Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act.
Principal District Judge can only be considered first among equals and the Additional District Judge is in no way considered to be inferior to the Principal District Judge, the bench comprising Justices CT Ravikumar and K. Haripal observed.
The court observed thus while dismissing an Arbitration Appeal. One of the contentions raised in this Appeal was that an Additional District Judge lacks authority to entertain a petition under Section 34 of the Act. According to the appellant, the matter ought to have been considered by the Principal Civil Court of original jurisdiction of the District, which is the Principal District Court. Referring to Section 2(e) of the Act, he submitted that 'court' means only principal civil court of original jurisdiction in a district.
Principal District Judge can only be considered first among equals
Addressing this argument, the bench referred to Section 2(e) of the Act and observed that that the definition of the 'court' does not include 'any civil court of a grade inferior to such principal Civil Court, or any Court of Small Causes'. The bench observed:
"The said provision enables the principal civil court of original jurisdiction in a district as the court having jurisdiction to decide the question forming the subject matter of arbitration; such a court does not include any civil court of a grade inferior to such a court or any Court of Small Causes. The latter limb of Section 2(1)(e) of the Act makes it abundantly clear that the definition of the 'court' does not include 'any civil court of a grade inferior to such principal Civil Court, or any Court of Small Causes'. To put it in other words, legislature has not thought of excluding courts exercising identical or co-equal powers from the definition. In no stretch of imagination an Additional District Judge can be inferior to such principal civil court. A court is inferior to another court, when an appeal lies from the former to the latter. An inferior court must be construed to mean judicially inferior and has appellate jurisdiction. A court is an inferior court for the purpose of the prohibition in the provision whenever its jurisdiction is limited. The Additional District Judge enjoys an equal, concurrent jurisdiction with the District Judge. His powers are identical and co-equal with the Principal District Judge. Both are manned by officers in the category of District Judge. The Principal District Judge cannot revise an order passed by any Additional District Judge. District Court is the 'court' for the purposes of execution of the award and considering the matters under the Arbitration Act, it is important to note that the Principal District Judge has no appellate jurisdiction or revisional jurisdiction over the Additional District Judge. For all practical purposes, if there are more than one district court in a district, the Principal District Judge can only be considered first among equals and the Additional District Judge is in no way considered to be inferior to the Principal District Judge."
The court also referred to Andhra Pradesh High Court judgment in Globsyn Technologies Ltd. v. Eskaaycee Infosys [2004 (2) ALT 174] and that of Madhya Pradesh High Court Judgment in Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board and another v. ANSALDO Energia, S.P.A. [AIR 2008 M.P. 328]. Referring to provisions of Kerala Civil Courts Act, the bench further observed:
In the context of the Kerala Civil Courts Act also such an argument of the learned counsel cannot hold good. Section 2 of the Civil Courts Act provides three category of positions namely, the court of a District Judge, the court of a Subordinate Judge and the court of a Munsiff. Section 3 provides for establishment of district court. Going by sub-section (2) of Section 3 of the Civil Courts Act, the Government shall establish a district court for each district and a Judge shall be appointed to such court. Section 4 provides for appointment of Additional District Judges. Under sub-section (1) of Section 4 when the state of business pending before a district court so requires, one or more Additional District Judges may be appointed to that court for such period as it deemed necessary. Sub-section (2) of Section 4 says that an Additional District Judge shall discharge all or any of the functions of the District Judge under this Act in respect of all matters which the District Judge may assign to him, or which under the provision of Section 7 may be instituted before him and in the discharge of those functions he shall exercise the same powers as the District Judge. When such additional district courts are established and Additional District Judges are appointed, sub-section (2) of Section 4 of the Civil Courts Act empowers the Additional District Judges so appointed with powers to discharge all the functions of the District Judges. It is very specific when it is provided that the Additional District Judge shall exercise the same powers as the District Judge. That is why it is stated that Principal District Judge is only first among equals among the District Judges in a district. In the circumstance, there is no jurisdic19tional error in Additional District Judges hearing petitions filed under the Act.
Case: Kasim VK vs. M. Ashraf [Arb.A 37/2020]