Online Dispute Resolution In India

Online dispute resolution (ODR) is a new form of dispute resolution mechanism that relies upon and uses technology as a core tool. There is no particular technology or format for ODR and different ODR service providers have used different software, tools and methods. This is good as well as the concept of technology neutrality can ensure and provide us with a wide variety and methods of ODR models, tools and portals.

We at Perry4Law Organisation (P4LO) have been working upon ODR since 2004 and we have been sharing our articles and research work since then. Early references of our works and articles that are publicly available can be traced back to the year 2006. Articles and research works of P4LO for the years 2004 to 2006 are available at our blogs that can be accessed through invitation only. Our latest initiative in the field of ODR can be found in the form of launch of official portal of Techno Legal Centre Of Excellence For Online Dispute Resolution In India (TLCEODRI) in February 2021. After a brief discussion about our background research and development works towards ODR since 2004 to 2021, let us discuss the concept of ODR in India.

It took almost two decades for successive Indian govts to understand and accept the use of concepts like ODR and e-courts. This is a very poor adoption performance by India especially when research and background work was available to it since 2004. Although some development in the field of e-courts has taken place yet nothing has happened on the front of ODR at govt level. Indian govt is still exploring the policy framework for ODR till February 2021 and it may still take a year or two before ODR would be formally accepted in India by the govt.

There are many reason why ODR has not been adopted in India by Indian govt despite it being the future of global dispute resolution. Firstly, there is a lack of awareness about potential uses and benefits of ODR and even govt departments are using traditional litigation to resolve their disputes. This is overburdening the already overburdened courts of India. The govt must encourage use of ODR for resolution of simple and civil disputes for both govt and private matters, especially those not involving much financial stakes.

Secondly, Indian govt clearly lacks the techno legal capabilities to manage tech driven projects. For instance, Indian govt’s pet project Digital India has failed to make its mark because it is not backed up by capable and skilled professionals. Anybody who has dealt with govt departments, whether state or central, can vouch that the experience was horrible. There is no customer support at all and problems are seldom resolved. Govt’s own grievance systems have collapsed completely and scripted responses are always given instead of solutions. As there is no accountability of govt officials and bureaucrats for letting public down, things are getting worst day by day. Expecting launch and use of ODR in these circumstances is like expecting Indian govt to open planet Mars for tourism. Govt need to change its bureaucratic mentality and instill a sense of accountability among its offices and officials to improve this situation. Also there must be a top priority level focus and investment upon skills development in India that is largely on papers only till now. Without that ODR in India would remain a distant dream only.

Thirdly, to make India a global hub for techno legal ODR services, Indian govt and PSU banks in India need to financially support legaltech and techlaw startups in India. It took Indian govt 5 years just to register startups at DPIIT website most of which have already closed their businesses due to lack of financial support. From 2016 to 2021 Indian govt and banks have not helped at all to extend financial support to startups. Few selective startups have been given some support but that is negligible and it failed to make any difference. Covid-19 has proved catastrophic for MSMEs and startups and most of them have closed their businesses. Govt is not maintaining a database of actual startups that are in existence as on date after registration with DPIIT since 2016. As a result we have many good ideas in India but no world class product or service that can compete with global companies. This applies to ODR startups and stakeholders too.

To make best use of ODR in India, we need to:

(a) Change our policies and laws,

(b) Ensure ease of doing business in India,

(c) Extend govt guarantee based loans and financial aids to startups and incubators,

(d) Reduce bureaucratic and political strangulation of good ideas and projects,

(e) Make changes in our education system and focus upon skills development of professionals,

(f) Induct and take advantage of expertise of people and institutions that can actually make Indian projects successful, etc.

We at P4LO have launched a legaltech, lawtech and ODR incubator named TLCEODRI Incubator that is helping legaltech and ODR startups to incubate and grow their startups. To maintain quality and to ensure global level product and service, very selective legaltech and ODR startups would be incubated under TLCEODRI Incubator and other incubators of P4LO. If you have a great business and ODR model and are looking to make India a hub for techno legal ODR product and services, contact us for getting your startup incubated under TLCEODRI.

Our ODR startups like ODR India and Resolve Without Litigation (RWL) are already incubated under the guidance and expertise of TLCEODRI Incubator. We are updating their websites and ODR portals and are also launching new portals for them. New tools, software and functionalities would be added to these portals too once these tools, software and functionalities are approved and strengthened by TLCEODRI Incubator.

We are also in the process of launching online education and skills development projects and initiatives in the fields of ODR and related techno legal concepts. These education and skills development initiatives would be supported by our DPIIT recognised startups and other govt recognised startups. The aim is to spread awareness about ODR and its usage in India as much as possible.

For selective stakeholders and our collaborators, we would discuss cutting edge research and development works at our ODR Forum. That is an invitation only forum were those who can make a change would discuss and improve existing technologies, tools and models for ODR and its implementations. A special focus would be given to open source software and tools so that tech neutrality for ODR can be ensured at global level.

Let us collectively make ODR a ground reality in India and make India a global hub for techno legal ODR products and services.