In view of the burgeoning pendency of cases in courts across the country, the Supreme Court of India recently observed that there was a “dire need” to enact the Indian Mediation Act.
In fact, courts and many other fora have time and again advocated the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms to resolve disputes.
However, the fact remains that ADR mechanisms have not quite taken flight in India, for various reasons. HumLab, an organisation that aims to build an innovation ecosystem to introduce new approaches and ideas to systems of law and justice, is looking to change that.
Now, with a view to setting up an online ADR institution, HumLab, in association with Vayam and ICICI Bank, has launched the E-Alternate Dispute Resolution Challenge 2019 (E-ADR Challenge). This is one of the Agami Challenges, which are invitations for innovators to develop solutions for specific, clearly-framed problems in the legal sector.
The challenge invites innovators and practitioners to set up an institution that will offer e-arbitration services, and will be an online aggregation platform for providers of mediation and conciliation.
As the Conceptualist and Challenge Partner, ICICI Bank has pledged to send 10,000 of its disputes for resolution by this institution.
Bar & Bench spoke to HumLab founder Sachin Malhan to get a better idea of the challenge.
Bar & Bench: What is the idea behind the E-ADR Challenge?
Sachin Malhan: 90% of disputes really shouldn’t be going to courts, especially the small to medium-sized disputes. We do have ADR happening, but I don’t think methods like arbitration are scalable as they are now. It is either a very expensive process or you don’t have enough trained experts. Mediation is only now gaining credibility to resolve commercial matters.
The idea behind the challenge is to build a scalable platform for dispute resolution that can tap pools of arbitrators and mediators, and can even offer some kind of technology-aided resolution. It is a bit like the Uber of dispute resolution. We also want to spur the creation of new classes of dispute resolution professionals.
Rather than waiting for someone to build the institution, we decided to do it in the way some of the best run processes for innovation are happening globally, which is through an innovation challenge.
B&B: What are you looking for in applicants?
SM: We have put some sort of a vision – that the institution must be online, capable of handling certain volume, etc. With this vision in mind, we have invited teams of innovators to apply and tell us why they are in the best position to build the institution.
So, they have to demonstrate the quality of their responses to these specifications, and show their credibility and qualifications. That is the challenge in a nutshell.
This challenge does three things. One, it builds awareness about online dispute resolution. Two, it allows us to look at the best ideas – whether from India or abroad. Three, it allows us to learn from everyone. We are not going to resolve 10,000 cases with 50 mediators and arbitrators; it is going to require thousands. It paves the way for retraining retired judges, and creating a career opportunity for young lawyers who can train in online mediation.
The challenge runs till March 18, and after that a jury will come together and select the winning consortium, which will work with all the other collaborators who are there right now – ICICI Bank, HumLab, Vayam, Centre for Advanced Mediation Practice, Omidyar Network and others. They will work with us to roll out the institution. The idea is to start by August-September.
B&B: Tell us more about the role ICICI Bank has played in this initiative?
SM: ICICI Bank has so many matters that they don’t want to go to court for. If this institution is created, they have committed to referring 10,000 of their disputes to it. They have also agreed to pre-pay the estimated cost of each dispute resolution up front, so that the institution can build with that capital.
What is interesting is that other companies are finding it interesting. The potential is huge. The possibility is that in 5-7 years, we could have a system dealing with millions of these disputes and taking the pressure off the courts.
B&B: Where have existing systems of ADR/Online ADR failed in India thus far?
SM: Firstly, in India, you have to imagine dispute resolution on a very big scale. It is not enough to just connect existing arbitrators and mediators. The people really interested in doing this – the big companies – want a mechanism that can deal with thousands of disputes. Therefore, there has been a sort of mismatch in terms of vision.
Secondly, credit to ICICI for being the first company to commit 10,000 cases to it. They don’t want to go to court against people they want to continue to serve as clients, and they also want to trigger the building of a new sector.
Thirdly, the timing of everything is right. A new Bill is coming out, and even the Supreme Court has said that a Mediation policy is badly needed.
Applications for the E-ADR Challenge close on March 18. To learn more about the initiative, click here.