An Interview with Mr. Tariq Khan, Registrar, International Arbitration and Mediation Centre, Hyderabad

As the world of law evolves at an unprecedented pace, we find ourselves at a crossroads filled with both excitement and responsibility.

Amidst this evolution, the legal fraternity is witnessing a remarkable shift towards alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. This is not only great for our legal system and the people of our nation but also presents boundless opportunities for aspiring law students and young lawyers alike.

Yet, amidst this whirlwind of change, we must ask ourselves: How do we keep pace with this rapid growth? How do we make the right choices as legal professionals? How can we strive to become the best versions of ourselves in this dynamic environment? And most importantly, how do we prepare ourselves to contribute to India’s journey towards becoming a strong and efficient hub for alternative dispute resolution?

To find answers to these and many more questions, I spoke to Mr. Tariq Khan. A seasoned dispute resolution practitioner with extensive experience in international arbitration practices who currently serves as the Registrar of the International Arbitration and Mediation Centre (IAMC) in Hyderabad. He was appointed Partner at Advani and Co., New Delhi in 2021.

Throughout his career, Tariq has handled over 50 complex arbitrations in diverse industries globally, including construction, infrastructure, energy, joint-ventures, and intellectual property.

As an arbitrator and member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb, UK), Tariq is trained in mediation from prestigious institutions such as the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), ADR ODR UK, and Maadhyam. He has also completed mediation advocacy training from the Foundation for Sustainable Rule of Law (FSRL), USA.

Apart from his legal practice, Tariq serves as an Adjunct Professor at NALSAR University of Law and is an author of several acclaimed books on arbitration. He conducts numerous training programs and advises various ADR societies, including the Advisory Board of Thought Leaders 4 Dispute, UK.

Recognized for his contributions, Tariq has been listed in prestigious legal publications such as the Forbes Legal Powerlist and featured in Fortune 500 (India) Magazine. He was also named among the top individual lawyers in the BW (Business World) Legal 40 under 40 list.

Reflecting on his journey from starting with no legal background to becoming one of the prominent legal professionals in the country, this interview is sure to captivate both your mind and your heart!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you describe the journey that led you to choose a career in law, taking into account your background and initial aspirations?

In my case, I did not have anybody in my family as a lawyer. I don’t have any legal background, and I hail from a small town in Uttar Pradesh (UP). There was no culture or inspiration related to law. We did not even have good law colleges in UP at that time. Never did I think of becoming a lawyer. I wanted to become an engineer mainly because my father wanted me to become one!

Eventually, it so happened that I could not clear my engineering exam. This was because of the minutiae of mathematics. Maths, I could not! My father then told me that law could be a good option. At that time, I said anything but law!

Nevertheless, I decided to give the entrance exam. But I could not even afford any of the national law university (NLU) exams. The form itself was very expensive. I ended up going to the Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia. At that time, the fee was INR 4,500. This felt like the best and only choice.

This is why I always say, I Did Not Choose Law, Law Chose Me !

Can you describe your journey to securing a job after graduating from Jamia, and how this path ultimately led you to embrace a career in arbitration?

Jamia did not have any placement or alumni network. Due to this reason, it was very difficult to get a job, and at that time, there was a lot of debate and disparity between NLU and Non-NLU’s. Now I don’t see much difference. At that time, it was very difficult to even send your CV without any recommendation because in law, it usually works through word of mouth – you need somebody to put you somewhere. Sending an email is not enough, and I got used to getting rejections.

The only place that I got an opportunity was at Advani Law LLP, which was doing a lot of arbitrations. I was interested in doing in criminal law, but because arbitrations were the only opportunity I got and I had to take care of expenses, I took it. Otherwise, I had to go back to UP.

I had to sign up for this, and I started enjoying arbitrations because Advani was doing arbitrations day and night. Then I just thought, I had to put in my 200%.

That is why I say again, Arbitration Chose Me, I did not Choose Arbitration.

That’s why I tell people, they should let destiny make the plans for them because they are sometimes better than the one’s we have planned for ourselves.

What a journey! Could you share your perspective on the emerging alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, particularly in light of your advocacy for mediation and arbitration as primary modes of resolving disputes over litigation?

I have been discussing this topic in my writings for the past 6-7 years, and I am pleased to see that people have started engaging with it. As long as we continue to label it as an alternative, we are merely treating it as such and not as a primary mode of dispute resolution. Today, I would like to emphasize that it should not be considered just a preferred option; it should become the primary mode of dispute resolution.

An even more critical question to consider is: Why do we only refer to it as preferred? Why can’t we begin to call litigation the alternative or the last resort?

In my opinion, mediation should be the first step, followed by arbitration, with litigation as the third option. That’s the direction we should be heading.

Moreover, I strongly believe that we should start focusing on Dispute Avoidance.

Why should disputes arise in the first place? Why shouldn’t we address them at an earlier stage? We should provide training to in-house counsels and individuals in the corporate world in negotiating and conflict management. The focus should shift to this aspect rather than waiting until a dispute arises.

Why shouldn’t we address conflicts when they are just beginning to emerge? That’s the question that needs to be addressed.

Coming back to the dispute resolution mechanisms, the shift has been insane.

Arbitration has seen significant developments following the 2015 amendment. Over the past seven years, we’ve witnessed remarkable progress, particularly in terms of timelines. This reduction in the time taken for arbitration proceedings has had a profound impact. As interference in the award has decreased, more people have begun opting for arbitration, leading to an overall improvement in the landscape of dispute resolution.

Furthermore, similar advancements have been observed in the field of Mediation. There’s been a notable increase in the number of trained mediators, and significant advocacy efforts by the Supreme Court and Chief Justices regarding the importance of mediation and its role in resolving disputes.

The emergence of new institutions like the IAMC is also indicative of this cultural shift. Additionally, discussions around institutional arbitration have gained traction, which is a promising sign for the future of dispute resolution in India.

Overall, I am optimistic about the direction in which our dispute resolution culture is evolving. The developments seen in the past few years indicate a positive trajectory, and I believe that with continued efforts and support, we can further strengthen and enhance our dispute resolution mechanisms.

That is something to look forward to indeed! As someone who has experience working both with and within arbitral institutions, how would you describe the essential role of these institutions in driving the growth of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), particularly in the context of fostering investment and creating a favourable business environment?

Every jurisdiction with an arbitral institution aspires to become a hub of investment. And for becoming a hub of investment, the sine qua non is having a robust dispute resolution mechanism.

Because when an investor wants to invest millions of dollars in your jurisdiction or a state, they want to know the approach of the courts of that state. They want to know the law, and they want to know that if tomorrow my money gets stuck in a dispute, which is inevitable in these contracts, they want to know how the money will come out, “will I ever be able to see the colour of my money.”

So, this is where arbitration becomes instrumental, allowing us to project that “look, we have a world-class, powerful, and progressive institution” wherein we have invested in infrastructure to develop an arbitration landscape on par with that of Paris, Singapore, Dubai, and London. These jurisdictions are increasingly preferred by investors because they know that when disputes arise—which are unavoidable—they can rely on the courts of these countries, which are pro-arbitration, pro-business, and pro-enforcement.

Nobody would want to take that kind of risk. If we consider the best international norms and quality and ease of doing business in a country, it is about understanding how it enforces contracts, arbitrations agreements, implements awards, and recognizes foreign awards, as well as the efficiency of these processes.

When you are able to give this kind of message to the international community, I believe that is where the international arbitration and mediation centres make a jurisdiction, a global hub for business and create an overall credible and admired ecosystem, where all the stakeholders feel comfortable and happy, and they are more than willing to do business there.

In addition to enhancing the business ecosystem, improving access to justice through the dispute resolution regime is crucial, especially considering that a significant portion of the population in the country lacks access to effective dispute resolution mechanisms.

How would you propose making the regime more efficient to address this access to justice gap and ensure that a wider segment of the population can benefit from timely and effective resolution of their disputes?

That is a pertinent question! Let’s talk about Hyderabad for example, initially it was not considered as a hub for arbitration but now people are talking about it.

I believe a very important role is played by the ecosystem that is created. It is not just physical infrastructure that is required. You need proper legislation, which we have in our country. Following that, you need a supportive court with a pro-arbitration approach, and in the case of mediation, a court that complements and supports dispute resolution by utilizing these methods. Additionally, you need judges who have this kind of approach because sometimes we see there is a lot of reluctance to send matters to arbitration and mediation by the court, which has also changed with time.

Moreover, you need support from the government, which is very important. Subsequently, you need a series of training, awareness programs, conferences, and events. Once you conduct these kinds of trainings, that culture starts growing, and it’s more of an ecosystem where every factor, every institution is dependent on each other. It is not a single effort; it is a collective effort. The state, legislature, courts, and then people in the field who are experts should come and run it. It should not just be bureaucrats running these institutions.

Afterward, you should reach the grassroots level. Identify the problems of the common man and simplify it for them. Promotion and visibility are important. Because when people start seeing something, that’s when they know. Unless they are aware, no matter what kind of rules are in place, they will never be able to avail it.

Additionally, framing of rules and laws is one thing and accessibility is another. The system has to be cost-effective and easily accessible and simple so that even a layman or a common man can consider that this is the place where I can get my disputes resolved.

Lastly, credibility and integrity come into the picture. Courts are trusted by people. Similarly, they should be able to trust these institutions. Transparency and credibility are very important. Whatever you do, you should publish it. You should inform people that you are doing this. Go to the grassroots level, get the best experts from the country to do the trainings, and it is a long effort – it is not something that will happen overnight, but after 3-5 years, you will see the real difference.

You mentioned the idea of making a “real difference.” In that context, what is your perspective on the role of law students in contributing to the growth of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and actualizing this “real difference”? Additionally, how do you envision the future of law students in this field?

I believe law students have one of the most important roles to play in the growth of ADR. Some people tell me that to some extent, I have been able to contribute to the growth of ADR. I tell them I am doing nothing; I am just getting it done through the law students because they are the soldiers of ADR. They are the ones who are actually setting up these ADR Cells, doing a great job, and coming up with so much rich content.

These institutions, and the kind of excitement that is there in the students regarding ADR, are compelling colleges to get good faculty and introduce this in their curriculums. Not just that, diplomas are being introduced. The students are evolving in the field of arbitration and mediation. Many of these students are also getting trained to become mediators.

Their enthusiasm is actually growing the market, and the future is with them. The torch will burn brighter when it is in their hands. Investing in us is not enough; investing in them should be the priority. Just imagine how fascinating it will be to have the next generation with 70-80% of people in favour of mediation. There is nothing wrong with litigation, but having the approach and mindset of resolving disputes through mediation is crucial. Law students will indeed play a crucial role in the growth of ADR.

That is truly a great answer! But one question here is, on one end are these endless possibilities in the world of ADR and on one end lies the the notion that courtroom litigation is the pinnacle of legal practice. Is appearing in court truly the essence of being a lawyer? Furthermore, how does the practice of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) fit into this narrative?

It’s simple! One aspect is to stop caring about what others feel. I think our definition of success and validation is often influenced by others’ opinions. Many people questioned me when I left partnership, asking why I was putting my life on hold or why I was shifting from Delhi to Hyderabad. Now they say it in a different way.  It is completely what you want in life and what makes you happy. If someone wants to do arbitration, it should not matter what the others have to tell them- you know why don’t you go to the court.

Moreover, there is so much that you can do with a law degree now. It has become incredibly fascinating and international, especially for transactional and arbitration lawyers. The world is your playground.

Additionally, if you are involved in arbitrations and mediations, you will also engage in court work. For instance, in arbitration, filing for the appointment of an arbitrator requires Section 11, filing for interim injunctions requires Section 9, challenging arbitration awards involves Section 34, and removing an arbitrator involves Section 14. It’s not the case that if you are doing arbitration, you won’t go to court; these are intertwined – the wheels of the same vehicle. They are interdependent. It cannot be that I am just doing arbitrations.

But I would still encourage the idea that the time has come, keeping in mind the growth and demand, for full-time arbitrators and mediators. We should be proud to say, “I am a full-time mediator” or “I am a full-time arbitrator.” With the new laws coming into effect, there is a surge in work. How do we meet the demand for growing mediation? There is a lot of demand but not enough quality mediators to meet it.

Students should see that there are opportunities everywhere, it is what you want to do. Mediation has picked up and if law students are smart, they will start working in that direction.

You were at the peak of your career, a partner at a prestigious law firm, achieving everything that many lawyers dream of when they enter the legal profession. Despite this, you chose to leave and shift to Hyderabad to take up an indeed great role of Registrar at the International Arbitration and Mediation Centre [IAMC]. What motivated you to make this choice, and how has it worked out for you thus far?

I was fortunate and very happy working with Advani, and the kind of opportunities I was getting and the matters we were handling. Delhi is a beautiful market and a great place for litigation. Everything was great, and yes, it was the peak of my career. I would say I was the youngest to be appointed as a partner in the firm, heading the Delhi office.

I have always been someone who has talked about institutions not doing a proper job. In my article titled ‘Making India a Hub of Arbitration’ – Myth to Reality, I have given 10-12 compelling reasons why India is lacking. As a partner at the firm, I could not do anything about it. This was one such opportunity where I could have made a big difference. Instead of just talking, I could have actually played a role.

I am somebody who is really passionate, and I feel that I have a vision for the country. I really want to do something for our country, our people, and our young lawyers. I thought this would be the opportunity to give me that playground to do all that I want to do, and then I will never feel that I didn’t do anything. At least I will give it a try. If I am able to contribute to making India one of the hubs of arbitration, if I am able to contribute to the growth of institutional arbitration culture, there is going to be so much direct and indirect employment opportunities being generated, and the culture which will grow will benefit many students and other two-tier cities. I wanted the focus to shift from Delhi andMumbai to other cities.

What I learned in Delhi, I have started using all that to grow other cities around. That is completely remarkable. The journey of IAMC has been remarkable. The people who were saying “what have you done” are now saying “you are lucky”. Same people.

As long as you are willing to put in your 200%, I think wherever you go, you will shine. You need to be the light!

I just know one thing. In my case, law happened accidentally, arbitration happened accidentally. I never imagined that I would move out of Delhi. I got job offers from foreign law firms. Delhi was a city I was in love with. But I realized that I needed to get out of my comfort zone. When I became a partner, I was super comfortable, everything was perfect. The beauty of life is experimenting, and something good comes out of it. Destiny also has an important role to play.

There are times when I miss my friends in Delhi, I miss the work. The kind of work that I am doing, the best part is that you are building an institution, you are getting the responsibility of one of the leading institutions in the country. The kind of support, infrastructure that I work with has been amazing.

God has been too kind to me!

Finally, law can be a tough profession even at the best of times, and all this change and uncertainty is bound to add additional stress to lawyers’ lives. What can lawyers do to take care of their mental health in such turbulent times?

My message is simple: No matter how strong a person looks, everyone has been in that boat; we all have experienced it. I have been there too. I have felt anxious, and there were times when there was a dead end in my career—no money in my pocket, wondering where I was headed. All these questions used to haunt me every day, and it was difficult to even sleep. I literally felt mentally unsettled.

But I want to tell anyone who feels like that: at the end of the day, it’s not the destination that matters; it’s the journey. It’s the hard work you put in. As long as you are giving your 200%, when you burn like the sun, you will shine like it. There is no reason for you to fail. Yes, it will take time, it will not be easy. But there is no reason for you to fail if you are putting in all the hard work, and your intentions are honest.

Mental health is serious; you never know what battles a person is fighting. We should be there for each other. COVID made us realize the importance of having people around us.

Do not let others determine your success, your worth. Have your own definition of success and do what makes you happy. There is no substitute for hard work—don’t look at others, don’t compare yourself with others. One very important point: if you are not doing great, they will look down on you. If you are doing decently, they will avoid you. If you are doing great in life, they will hate you. So, no matter what you do, you cannot please people—do not seek approval from others.

Delhi High Court Rules Email Delivery of Arbitral Awards Valid Under Arbitration Act.

Case Title: Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports v. Ernst and Young Pvt Ltd1Court: Delhi High CourtDate of Judgment: 23.08.2023

The Delhi High Court recently passed a judgment that has affirmed that the delivery of arbitral awards via email is valid under the Arbitration Act.

In a recent decision, the Delhi High Court stated that the delivery of a scanned, signed copy of an arbitral award via email falls squarely within the ambit of valid delivery as stipulated under Section 31(5) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.This decision clearly delineates the legal standing of electronic delivery methods in arbitration proceedings.

The court specifically stated that “The law has to keep its pace in tandem with the developing technology. When service by email is an accepted mode of service, then sending scanned signed copy of the award/order of the Arbitral Tribunal to the parties would be a valid delivery as envisaged under Section 31(5) of the Arbitration Act.”