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.

ODR Is The Future Of Global Dispute Resolution

Online dispute resolution (ODR) is increasingly gaining attention of national and international stakeholders. Companies and their customers have now realised that use of ODR is a better option than going to already overburdened courts that is costly, time consuming and unproductive in many cases.

But implementing a sound and effective ODR system is a big challenge and there is no single solution for multiple and complex problems of contemporary times. In fact, most of the existing ODR portals and models are catering to a selective or single segment and such a model cannot be used and extended to other segments.

It has been a long journey for us in the field of online dispute resolution (ODR) that started in the year 2004. We have been spreading awareness about ODR and e-courts since 2004 but both these concepts are still to be used to their fullest possible extent. This never discouraged us to ignore use of ODR for national and international stakeholders.

In order to spread awareness about ODR and to make stakeholders comfortable with ODR process, we launched two separate portals in this regard. The first one is a pro bono portal that is used by Indian stakeholders widely. The second one is a professional portal that we have recently launched after training Indian stakeholders in the field of ODR. We have also launched a ODR training portal in this regard that would train legal and non legal professionals in the field of ODR. We have launched these initiatives keeping in mind the end users and it just takes 2 minutes to initiate the ODR process at our portals.

With this brief background information, let us discuss what ODR holds for the global stakeholders. Whether we like it or not, ODR is the future of global dispute resolution and it would be better if national and international stakeholders start using it right now. This is so because it takes some time before projects like ODR are fully implemented at national and international levels. We can always use open source tools and latest technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning, etc for ODR but that would not solve the challenges before future ODR projects. For any project to be successful, it must have strong and dedicated project implementation and customer support teams. Without a trained manpower, ODR can never be successful. Even the best arbitrators of the world would be needing to adjust their arbitration and mediation practices for ODR.

So it is better if all involved stakeholders are well prepared to handle the future ODR mechanisms. We have already invited domain experts from various fields for our ODR project and once that exercise is over, we would impart a brief online ODR training course to those who would request for the same. It would be a free training course so that the techno legal panelists of our ODR project can help global stakeholders in best possible manner.

Many people believe that ODR is not meant for them. But that is a fallacy and soon they would find themselves in the mid of such ODR proceedings but without any clue. For instance, whenever Perry4Law drafts any agreement, it incorporates the ODR clause. Just like the traditional arbitration clause, if an ODR clause is present in an agreement, in case of disputes the parties would be mandatorily required to engage the ODR panelist or ODR institution. We have the privilege of being the exclusive techno legal ODR institution of the world. That is because we are exclusively providing ODR services in fields like cyber law, cyber security, cyber forensics, e-discovery, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, privacy and data protection, smart cities, international trade, e-commerce, e-governance, etc. The list is just illustrative and more about our global techno legal services can be seen at the TeleLaw Project.

Just like us, many more law firms have now started using the ODR clause and once that is there in the agreement, parties would be required to use ODR mechanisms to resolve their disputes. Also as more and more companies have started recognising the value of benefits of ODR, they are themselves insisting on the use of ODR clause instead of the ADR clause. So their is a gradual and constant shift towards ODR and there is no escape from it.

If we keep aside parties autonomy for the time being, even courts and government have started encouraging use of ODR. Courts around the world are over burdened with cases involving small claims and these cases can be resolved using ODR. For such cases, ODR is the best solution as it is cheap, user friendly, less time consuming and costs of ODR are negligible as compared to traditional litigation or even arbitration. So there is a policy shift towards use of ODR as well and soon such policies would be transformed into applicable and binding laws too. The New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Act, 2019 of India is a step in this direction and soon Indian government would actively start using ODR too. In fact, India may be a global hub for institutional arbitration and ODR soon as we at Techno Legal Centre Of Excellence For Online Dispute Resolution In India (TLCEODRI) are working day and night to achieve that goal.

When law firms, companies, parties and even government have started encouraging ODR, ignoring it is not a good strategy. This is the time that all stakeholders must work to incorporate the ODR concepts and mechanisms in their policies and seek help of those ODR service providers who fit in their business model. As our ODR projects are global in nature, please feel free to use them for your present and future dispute resolution. We can help you from the stage of contract drafting to ultimate dispute resolution and everything can be managed in an online environment. Let us work together to have a litigation and dispute free business culture for global stakeholders.