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Unlocking Online Dispute Resolution to Enhance the Ease of Doing Business

Exploring the massive potential of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) to enhance the Ease of Doing Business in India, NITI Aayog in association with Agami and Omidyar Network India held a conversation—co-hosted by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)—with heads of legal firms and industry representatives on 8 August.

‘We are witnessing a visionary period in the history of India’s court system. In today’s age of data-driven solutions and machine learning, ODR provides the potential to resolve a substantial percentage of disputes at the site of their occurrence without burdening the courts. Progressive and disruptive changes in justice delivery are critical components that can alter the course of access to justice in an unprecedented way,’ said Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog.

Emphasizing that ODR can act as a complement to the court system, former Supreme Court Justice, B.N. Srikrishna said, ‘It will be an auxiliary of the court system, in the sense that it will prevent a large number of litigations that clutter the courts. A litigant does not need to travel from Kerala to Delhi to solve his dispute, he/she can resolve it through the electronic platform. Online Dispute Resolution can help deliver justice to the doorstep of the litigant.’

ODR is the resolution of disputes, particularly small- and medium-value cases, using digital technology and techniques of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR), such as negotiation, mediation, and arbitration.

‘We must use this opportunity to actually reimagine dispute resolution and conflict resolution for the future, for the 21st century, and post the Covid-19 pandemic,’ stressed Cyril Shroff, Managing Partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. He went on to say that the opportunity here was not just to use technology to optimize the old way of doing things, but also to use our imagination and create the right alliances, to bring in transformation.

Ease of Doing business has been a priority area of the government for combating deceleration in the growth of GDP and investment. ‘As a part of this, we need to focus on improving the enforcing contracts mechanism in India through innovative methods like Online Dispute Resolution. It has extensive application and can be used to resolve a wide variety of commercial disputes’, said Sanjiv Bajaj, Vice President, CII, and Chairman and Managing Director, Bajaj Finance. He added, ‘Recognising the essence of ODR, CII has been undertaking a plethora of initiatives such as setting up a CII Centre for Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR).’

Through this Centre, CII plans to impart training and undertake analysis through research papers, seminars and conferences, and interact with various national and international arbitration forums and other stakeholders in promoting arbitration, thereby reducing time and cost to litigation, and advocating harmony in the legislature, executive and the judiciary.

The esteemed panellists agreed to adopt and institutionalize ODR, and to ensure efforts are taken to scale online dispute resolution in India. To this end, Ajay Bahl, Chairman Judicial Reforms Committee CII and Founding Partner of AZB & Partners, said, ‘We must promote ODR and if there is anything that is a constraint in law or procedures, that reduces its efficacy, it must be eliminated.’

Speaking on the impact of ODR on business, Shilpa Kumar, Partner, Investments, Omidyar Network India, said: ‘LegalTech in general and ODR, in particular, can be a game-changer for citizens as well as Indian businesses, particularly MSMEs. One, it can help reduce the cost of dispute resolution in the face of rising cases and disputes. Two, it will allow citizens and consumers to raise any grievances they may have at the click of a button and have an independent third-party firm review and address their grievance. This can truly help businesses enhance consumer trust and improve customer retention. Three, in the medium-term, once ODR firms have collected enough data around disputes, it can start feeding back into business decisions regarding the product and service being offered. This will help businesses sharpen their offerings besides improving access to dispute resolution.’

Elaborating on the role conglomerates can play with respect to ODR, Poornima Sampath, Vice President (Legal), Tata Sons, mentioned that they need to facilitate online ombudsperson platforms to resolve disputes at the pre-litigation stage. This may be easier to use in consumer matters but can be adapted for vendors and other business partners. This will protect the brand and result in decongesting the courts.

Manish Sabharwal, Chairman, TeamLease, said, ‘Online dispute resolution can be very substantive for India as it will bring the labor market outsiders back into the labor force. People who prefer flexibility, gig economy and those who can’t commute will be greatly benefitted.’

While courts are becoming digitized through the efforts of the judiciary, more effective, scalable, and collaborative mechanisms of containment and resolution are urgently needed. ODR can help resolve disputes efficiently and affordably.

However, to enable ODR to reach its full potential will require an incredible public-private collaboration, said Sachin Malhan, co-founder, Agami. ‘ODR startups themselves will be a critical stakeholder in this because they are the ones working on the actual solutions to the different use case categories,’ he added.

Covid-19 has instilled an urgent need for ODR that requires decisive action, with the likelihood of a spurt in disputes before the courts—most notably in lending, credit, property, commerce, and retail. In the coming months, ODR could be the mechanism that helps businesses with achieving expedient resolution. ‘If there was ever a solution that was arranged for India, or a technology problem that was ever made for India, then it is ODR. We have the minds, the know-how and the volume of data to make it successful,’ said Deep Kalra, CEO, Make My Trip.

A multi-stakeholder exercise will be undertaken in the coming weeks to enable ODR in India in a sustainable, efficient, and collaborative manner. Desh Gaurav Sekhri, OSD, NITI Aayog, said: ‘We need to enable an ecosystem that is conducive for the entire landscape of stakeholders being active participants to make sure ODR becomes a point of first contact for dispute avoidance, containment and resolution.’


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