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Winners of international arbitration awards are circling the assets of the Indian government to recover at least $2.4 billion as court cases to enforce them reach the final stages. The outcome of these cases is crucial, as it could have a bearing on other ongoing arbitration cases as well.

Two separate cases to enforce arbitration awards—one initiated by British oil firm Cairn Energy Plc and the other by three Mauritius-incorporated entities in their dispute with Indian government-owned Antrix Corp.—are at different stages in courts.

In February, the US District Court for Columbia issued a notice to the Indian government on a petition filed by Cairn Energy Plc and Cairn UK Holdings Ltd for enforcement of the arbitral award, court documents showed. In this case, the award is for $1.2 billion—plus interest and cost.

The recovery of arbitration award pursued by Devas (Mauritius) Ltd, Devas Employees Mauritius Pvt. Ltd and Telecom Devas Mauritius Ltd is $562.5 million with interest. On 4 November 2020, the Supreme Court said the total liability under this award appears to be around $1.2 billion. The apex court also noted that a US court has confirmed the arbitral award and allowed the Delhi high court to hear objections to its enforcement filed by Antrix Corp., court documents showed. An email sent to Antrix Corp. remained unanswered till press time.

The highest levels in the government have taken note of these cases, an official said on condition of anonymity, given their huge financial implications and the questions they raise about India’s obligations, policies and rights, including taxation.

Emails sent to the finance ministry and senior government officials on Friday remained unanswered till press time.

Officials remained hesitant to comment on the arbitration awards, given that public statements of senior government functionaries may be cited during court proceedings.

To be sure, many other nations, too, face disputes where investors have invoked bilateral investment protection treaties. India has won a favourable decision in arbitration with Tenoch Holdings Ltd of Cyprus and two Russian individuals, who invoked India’s treaties with Russia and Cyprus. In that case, all claims by the private parties were dismissed, the finance ministry said in January last year.

In two other disputes, arbitration proceedings are underway between India and Khaitan Holdings (Mauritius) Ltd and GPIX LLC under the India-Mauritius bilateral investment protection treaty, documents available with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague showed.

The government has already alerted state-owned banks to report any notification by parties to disputes relating to the enforcement of arbitration awards, Mint reported on Tuesday.

Experts said post-arbitration court proceedings are critical in some cases. “Realization of an award is dependent on either voluntary compliance by the state, or going through the process of any challenge available to an award on grounds available to the state, in much the same way that it would have been available to any other party aggrieved by an arbitral award," said Shaneen Parikh, partner at law firm Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. India chose to comply with the first award issued against it in the White Industries Australia case but has chosen to exercise its right to challenge recent awards against it, Parikh said.

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