'You are insulting judges': SC warns ONGC of contempt

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

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

Supreme Court of India. Credit: PTI File Photo

The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up public sector behemoth ONGC for raising issue of fees to be paid to retired judges for acting as arbitrators in a dispute with another company. 

A bench presided over by Chief Justice N V Ramana asked Attorney General K K Venugopal to speak to higher ups in the company to resolve the matter. 

"What do you think of yourself? We will issue contempt notice for insulting judges," the bench told the ONGC. 

The court stopped short of issuing a contempt notice to ONGC for "insulting" the arbitrators, appointed by it to resolve a dispute with Hong Kong-based Schlumberger Asia Services, over disagreement on fee payments and the meeting schedule.

Terming it as “very unfortunate,” the bench told ONGC, “You are insulting former judges by not paying the fees as decided by them as per our order. You have a lot of egos. Is this the way you treat judges?” 

"Because you have a lot of money, you keep filing frivolous proceedings. We will issue suo motu contempt notice against you,” the bench said.

The court asked the AG to intervene and resolve the issue and fixed the case for hearing after a week. 

“Talk to them, solve the problem. It's a very embarrassing situation. No retired judge would come and appear as arbitrators,” the CJI told the AG.

The apex court had in January appointed Calcutta High Court's former Chief Justice Jai Narayan Patel and Punjab and Haryana High Court's former Chief Justice S Jal Vazifdar as the arbitrators.

Subsequently, Justice S C Dharmadhikari, former judge of the Bombay High Court was appointed as one of the arbitrators after Justice Vazifdar recused himself.

Even as SC judge Justice Anil Dave was appointed as the third arbitrator, he opted out of the panel due to a dispute over arbitration fees, followed by exit of Justice Patel over the same issue.

Afterwards, Justice Dharmadhikari also recused from the tribunal and wrote a letter to the court highlighting ONGC's reluctance to pay the arbitration fees and agree on a fee schedule which was putting the arbitrators in an embarrassing situation.

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