The Supreme Court recently stayed proceedings initiated by the defaulting Contractor in the Trilateral Highway Project between India, Manipur & Thailand before Manipur High Court.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobe, Justices AS Bopanna & V. Ramasubramaniun issued notice on a plea filed by the Ministry of External Affair, also seeking a stay on the ongoing proceedings before the Manipur High Court [in Niraj Cement Structurals Ltd. V. Union of India WA 17/2019] which had hauled up the project for construction of the road project connecting Manipur to Thailand.
With a stay on the High Court proceedings, the CJI-led bench has freed a significant barricade in the culmination from a Trilateral Highway Connectivity venture between India, Myanmar, and Thailand.
After India signed an agreement with Myanmar in 2016 under the "Act East Policy", one of the aspects of which included construction of the highway which will run from Moreh in Manipur through Tamu in Myanmar to Mae-Sot in Thailand, a contract was signed between the Centre and a Contractor Niraj Cement Structurals Limited and Manipur Tribal Development Corporation Limited in November 2017.
The Centre terminated its contract on December 2018 with the Contractor Niraj Cement due to impending delays. This led to a litigation battle initiated by Niraj Cement in 2019, with Niraj Cement challenging the order of termination.
This has been pending before a division bench of Manipur High Court of Chief Justice Ramalingam Sudhakar & Justice Lanungsunkum Jamir. It was this proceeding which the CJI led bench stayed on July 28, paving the way for the project.
Attorney General KK Venugopal appeared on behalf of the Union and apprised the court of the ongoing litigation before Manipur High Court, reiterating that the Contractor had recourse to arbitration vis-à-vis the contractual agreement and that the Manipur High Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case as the Contract was signed between parties in New Delhi.
Further to this, the impending litigation was causing roadblocks, not only in the project which was sought to be completed by November 2020 but also tinkering with bilateral relations with neighbours.
In this backdrop, Court ordered,
"Issue notice returnable within two weeks. There shall be an interim stay of the proceedings pending before the High Court in the meantime."
The last hearing in Manipur HC took place on March 3, 2020.