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Antrix-Devas case: India to question US court jurisdiction

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on January 17, 2021

Antrix should adopt a different tactic than merely fighting over jurisdiction: Experts

India is expected to question the jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to hear a petition filed by Devas Multimedia seeking to enforce the damages awarded against ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix Corp by the Permanent Court of Arbitration Tribunal at The Hague.

The petition, filed by three investment firms related to Devas, argues that the award can be enforced in the US because India is a signatory to the New York Convention.

However, sources close to the Indian side said that the entire arbitration award itself has been challenged. “The quantum award by the tribunal has been challenged by India with the Hague Court of Appeal, which is likely to give its verdict in February. Therefore, the enforcement appeal is premature. Secondly, the US District Court does not have jurisdiction to enforce an arbitration award that has been challenged,” said the source.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration Tribunal at The Hague had ruled against India’s decision to scrap the satellite deal with Devas Multimedia Private Ltd. Devas had challenged Antrix’s decision to cancel a 2005 contract for building two satellites for Devas, citing alleged irregularities in the deal. In 2020, the tribunal issued the Quantum Award ordering India to pay Devas damages totalling $111 million plus interest at LIBOR plus 2 per cent as and from February 17, 2011, together with attorney’s fees, and post-award interest on all such sums.

Legal points

Legal experts, however, said that Antrix should adopt a different tactic than merely fighting on jurisdiction. “The issue of jurisdiction has been raised by India in multiple hearings earlier, including at the International Chamber of Commerce and US federal court for the Western District of Washington. India lost the case in both these courts,” said a legal expert who has been closely following the case.

The US court for the Western District of Washington, last year, rejected Antrix’s objection related to jurisdiction stating that while foreign entities are generally “immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the US,” there is an exception when a party seeks to confirm an arbitral award against the foreign state that is “governed by a treaty or other international agreement in force for the US calling for the recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards.”

Experts said that the defence put up by Antrix would have been stronger had it produced key officials who dealt with the case, including K Radhakrishnan, who was the Chairman of the Space Commission between 2009 and 2011, G Balachandran, then Additional Secretary, Department of Space, or Geeta Varadhan, Director of Special Projects at the Department of Space.

Published on January 17, 2021

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