The term 'public policy' as applicable to petitions under S. 34 of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act, 1996 has been examined by the Delhi High Court in Ramesh Chander Arora vs Kashmir Saree Kendra & Anr. The bench, while dealing with a challenge to an arbitral award, reiterated the priciples laid down by the Apex Court and held as under;
23. As far as public policy and its interpretation is concerned, the law is now well settled. The Supreme Court in the case of in the case of ONGC VS. SAW PIPES, 2003 (5) SCC 705. has been pleased to interpret as follows:-
"WHAT MEANING COULD BE ASSIGNED TO THE PHRASE 'PUBLIC POLICY OF INDIA'?
16. The next clause which requires interpretation is Clause (ii) of Sub-section 2(b) of Section 34 which inter alia provides that the Court may set aside arbitral award if it is in conflict with the 'Public Policy of India'. The phrase 'Public Policy of India' is not defined under the Act. Hence, the said term is required to be given meaning in context and also considering the purpose of the section and scheme of the Act. It has been repeatedly stated by various authorities that the expression 'public policy' does not admit of precise definition and may vary from generation to generation and from time to time. Hence, the concept 'public policy' is considered to be vague, susceptible to narrow or wider meaning depending upon the context in which it is used. Lacking precedent the Court has to give its meaning in the light and principles underlying the Arbitration Act, Contract Act and Constitutional provisions.
17. For this purpose, we would refer to few decisions referred to by the learned counsel for the parties. While dealing with the concept of public policy, this Court in Central Inland Water Transport Corporation Limited and Anr. v. Brojo Nath Ganguly and Anr.
(1986)IILLJ171SC has observed thus:--
"92. The Indian Contract Act does not define the expression "public policy" or "opposed to public policy". From the very nature of things, the expressions "public policy", "opposed to public policy", or "contrary to public policy" are incapable of precise definition. Public policy, however, is not the policy of a particular government. It connotes some matter which concerns the public good and the public interest. The concept of what is for the public good or in the public interest or what would be injurious or harmful to the public good or the public interest has varied from time to time. As new concepts take the place of old, transactions which were once considered against public policy are now being upheld by the courts and similarly where there has been a well recognised head of public policy, the courts have not shirked from extending it to the new transactions and changed circumstances and have at times not even flinched from inventing a new head of public policy. There are two schools of though -- "the narrow view" school and "the broad view" school. According to the former, courts cannot create new heads of public policy whereas the latter countenances judicial law-making in this area. The adherents of the "the narrow view" school would not invalidate a contract on the ground of public policy unless that particular ground had been well- established by authorities. Hardly ever has the voice of the timorous spoken more clearly and loudly than in these words of Lord Davey in Janson v. Driefontein Consolidated Gold Mines Ltd.(1902) AC 484: "Public Policy is always an unsafe and treacherous ground for legal decision". That was in the year 1902. Seventy- eight years earlier, Burrough, J., in Richardson v. Mellish (1824) 2 Bing 229 described public policy as "a very unruly horse, and when once you get astride it you never know where it will carry you." The Master of the Rolls Lord Denning, however, was not a man to shy away from unmanageable horse and in words which conjure up before our eyes the picture of the young Alexander the Great laming Bucephalus, he said in Enderby Town Football Club Ltd. v. Football Assn. Ltd. (1971) Ch. 591; "with a good man in the saddle, the unruly horse can be kept in control. It can jump over obstacles". Had the timorous always held the field, not only the doctrine of public policy but even the Common Law or the principles of Equity would never have evolved. Sir William Holdsworth in his "History of English Law", Volume III, page 55, has said:
In fact, a body of law like the common law, which has grown up gradually with the growth of the nation. necessarily acquires some fixed principles, and if it is to maintain these principles it must be able, on the ground of public policy or some other like ground, to suppress practices which, under ever new disguises seek to weaken or negative them.
It is thus clear that the principles governing public policy must be and are capable, on proper occasion, of expansion or modification. Practices which were considered perfectly normal at one time have today become obnoxious and oppressive to public conscience. If there is no head of public policy which covers a case, then the court must in consonance with public conscience. and in keeping with public good and public interest declare such practice to be opposed to public policy. Above all, in deciding any case which may not be covered by authority our courts have before them the beacon light of the Preamble to the Constitution. Lacking precedent, the court can always be guided by that light and the principles underlying the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles enshrined in our Constitution.
93. The normal rule of Common Law has been that a party who seeks to enforce an agreement which is opposed to public policy will be non-suited. The case of A. Schroeder Music Public Co. Ltd. v. Macaulay (1974) 1 WLR 1308, however, establishes that where a contract is vitiated as being contrary to public policy, the party adversely affected by it can sue to have it declared void. The case may be different where the purpose of the contract is illegal or immoral. In Kedar Nath Motani v. Prahlad Rai 1SCR861 , reversing the High Court and restoring the decree passed by the trial court declaring the appellants' tile to the lands in suit and directing the respondents who were the appellants' benamidars to restore possession, this Court, after discussing the English and Indian law on the subject, said (at page 873):
The correct position in law, in our opinion, is that what one has to see is whether the illegality goes so much to the root of the matter the plaintiff cannot bring his action without relying upon the illegal transaction into which he had entered. If the illegality be trivial or venial, as stated by Williston and the plaintiff is not required to rest his case upon that illegality, then public policy demands that the defendant should not be allowed to take advantage of the position. A strict view, of course, must be taken of the plaintiff's conduct, and he should not be allowed to circumvent the illegality by resorting to some subterfuge or by misstating the facts. If, however, the matter is clear and the illegality is not required to be pleaded or proved as part of the cause of action and the plaintiff recanted before the illegal purpose was achieved. then, unless it be of such a gross nature as to outrage the conscience of the court, the plea of the defendant should not prevail.
94. The type of contract to which the principle formulated by us above applies are not contracts which are tainted with illegality but are contracts which contain terms which are so unfair and unreasonable that they shock the conscience of the court. They are opposed to public policy and require to be adjudged void."