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ODR yes in business, but not yet in public policy

Team YS
9th Feb 2011
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The final day of ODR 2011 showcases some Indian public policy deficits and lack of awareness but highlights other initiatives

ODR yes for business...

ODR practitioners would have been elated at the inaugural session by Sudish Setty from Ernst & Young as he walked the audience through various analytics used by the consulting firm to address disputes in India. He said that in the past two years, because of technological intervention, the time for solving disputes has come down by as much as one-tenth in some cases. But even advanced tools at times pose challenges if the information is hidden. Then the second session was from the community of ODR--community courts by Ambareesh Murthy, country head, eBay. As increasingly people are using online communities to make decisions with regard to e-shopping and e-retail, Mr. Murthy saw the relevance of using the community to resolve disputes. Through this mechanism, he said the community arbitration "allows members of the community to ascertain if actions taken by other members are allowed or not." "Negative feedback on eBay is addressed whereas neutral feedback is not allowed to go on appeal," said Mr. Murthy. Feeback here refers to experiences of users who availed the services of eBay.

... But not yet there in public policy

The IT Secretary to the Tamil Nadu Government, P.W.C. Davidar, informed that the IT Act 2000 recommends that online disputes falling under the purview of the Act should be adjudicated by the IT Secretary of the respective states. Stating that he adjudicated the first ever case in India with regard to IT Act, Mr. Davidar explained the learning curve he had to go through as there was no precedence to fall upon. The cases were far and few. Still many people are not aware of the IT Act 2000 and in which cases do they apply, although the Act comprehensively covers cyber fraud and other cyber activities that have the potential to give rise to disputes. Then he listed various e-governance initiatives undertaken by the state government.

Justice Mohan Mehta started off with a teaser: backlog of 24 million cases in Indian courts that would take 320 years to be solved. Emphasising that the settlement of disputes using law and other modes are aimed at social harmony, he said other methods should be explored to solve disputes. His mediation centre, which takes up cases filed in the Delhi High Court, has been launched as a joint effort of the Delhi government and Delhi High Court. As many as 35,000 cases have been solved using the mediation centres established by Justice Mehta. Stating that ODR is yet to make a beginning in mediation, he said that there is a need to define areas in which ODR can be applied. One of the main aims should be to build trust and create mechanisms of enforcement if ODR is used. The mediation centre sends its personnel to various parts of the country to create awareness about mediation as a tool to solve disputes. But resistance from lawyers is a challenge who went to the extent of damaging the building allocated for mediation in Delhi.

The first two cases—Ernst & Young and eBay—showcases the vibrant use of ODR whereas the latter two cases—Tamil Nadu government and Delhi government—show that ODR is never used. While it is a far cry for Tamil Nadu as e-governance initiatives are just starting, for Delhi government and Delhi High Court, it could be an option given that mediation is already practiced.

--Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist, YourStory

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