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ADR: The legal necessity for Post Covid India

Name – Garvit Bhardwaj

College - Faculty of Law, University of Delhi

"Discourage litigation, persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point Out to them how the normal winner is often a loser in fees, expenses, cost and time"- These words of Abraham Lincon have passed the test of time as to how reduced litigation can be beneficial for society. But a highly commercialized and developing society like ours is bound to face disputes which shift the emphasis from avoiding litigation to providing faster means to resolve unavoidable conflicts.

The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis is likely to lead to an upsurge in the number of cases before the judiciary. For instance, consumer, tenancy, and labor disputes are likely to see a rise soon and our judicial system stands incapable of handling them effectively.

The Indian Judicial system, even after 75 years of independence, is still facing crippling backlogs and delays. Approximately 73,000 cases are pending before the Supreme Court and about 44 million in all the courts across India. More than 1 lakh cases have been pending in courts for more than 30 years, as of January 2021. A weak judiciary hinders social and economic advancement, which results in lower per capita income, higher rates of poverty, less private economic activity, deteriorated public infrastructure, and increased rates of crime.

ADR is the most obvious and efficient solution to these problems. It is a non-adversarial method that allows for the preservation of social order, cooperation among individuals, and the chance to lessen animosity. The goal of ADR is to uphold the ideals of preamble-guaranteed social, economic, and political justice as well as the integrity of the society. Equal justice and free legal assistance are further goals pursued by ADR in accordance with Article 39-A of the Directive Principle of State Policy. The success of ADR is evident by the disposal of more than 50 lakh cases every year in the last 3 years by Lok Adalats.

Alternative dispute resolution strategies are now becoming increasingly accepted in a variety of legal and business sectors both at the National and International levels. India ventured into the formalization of ADR with the passage of the Legal Services Authorities Act in 1987, the Arbitration and Conciliation Act in 1996, and the draft Mediation bill in 2021 promises to further strengthen the dispute resolution infrastructure. Additionally, India has also brought into force the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, 2018.

It is crucial to have stable policies and access to a fair, quick, and efficient dispute resolution mechanism as India grows as a hub for foreign investments. The majority of international investors opt for arbitration as their dispute resolution method in their contracts, with the arbitration hearings taking place in a neutral nation. The Chief Justice of India, Justice NV Ramana, recently addressed the "India-Singapore Mediation Summit" and encouraged the use of ADR to reduce the backlog of pending legal cases in India.

A quicker and user-friendly dispute resolution system is a prerequisite for Indian development. The vision of Niti Ayog of New India @ 75 encompasses an Accelerated GDP of 8%, Investment rate rising from 29 % to 36 % of GDP along with USD 800 billion worth of exports by 2022-23. The realization of these goals depends heavily on a simplified legal environment which is one of the most crucial metrics for investors while determining how long it will take and how much it will cost to settle a business issue in a nation.

According to the World Bank’s Ease of doing business report 2021 India’s rank in ‘enforcement of contracts’ has remained stagnant at 163. To induce investment in our economy from abroad while at the same time making it easier for domestic manufacturers to thrive, Creating and sustaining an efficient and economical dispute redressal system should be one of the topmost priorities of the Government.

Building trust, confidence, and efficiency are essential for rebuilding the economy in light of the pandemic. In order to prevent, manage, and settle problems quickly and cooperatively, it is necessary to investigate innovative systems. To meet this goal, ADR and Online dispute resolution(ODR) will play a crucial role.

Though derived from ADR, ODR’s benefit extends beyond just e-ADR. ODR can use technology tools that are powered by AI/ML in the form of automated dispute resolution and curated platforms that cater to specific categories of disputes.

The Indian judiciary has been leading the way in digitization via eCourts Mission Mode Project. Successful use of technology has been extended to other institutions like The Lok Adalat which has been transformed into online versions- e-Lok Adalats. Similarly, RBI released an ODR policy for digital payments, the MSME sector saw the introduction of the SAMADHAAN portal, and the Department of Legal Affairs is in the process of collating the details of ODR service providers across the country.

With the development of legal tech start-ups that are promoting the cause of out-of-court resolution fairly and with finality for diverse conflicts, the private sector has also experienced innovation.
ADR may eventually become the preferred method of resolution for all low-value, high-volume disputes, including those involving e-commerce transactions. It can also help settle family disputes, property disputes, and commercial conflicts with equal ease.

In the pre-COVID-19 era, there have also been conversations about the future of ADR and dispute resolution and one conceivable future is the use of a digital platform. The Indian courts now strongly encourage using electronic filing. For instance,There are designated e-Courts in the Delhi High Court where filing must be done solely electronically.

In the early stages of COVID-19 lockdown, essentially no cases were being decided by courts or arbitral tribunals, and the courts were only taking on the most urgent or very urgent cases. However, doing it this way will result in delayed justice, which is the same as justice being denied. Finding a solution is now necessary as a result. We have now observed the Courts and arbitral tribunals addressing the issues via video conferencing during the COVID-19. National Green Tribunal, much before COVID-19 started taking up its matters listed before the Zonal Benches through Video Conferencing.

In terms of layers of justice, ADR and ODR can help in dispute avoidance, dispute containment, and dispute resolution. Its extensive application can strengthen the rule of law in society, ensuring that contracts are more strictly enforced, and raise India's ranking for the ease of doing business.
Courts should be a service, not a place. It can be a service that is accessible, formidable, intelligible, pervasive, robust, and designed with an outcome-oriented framework. However, the burden of delivering this service does not have to fall on the shoulders of the court alone. The advent of ADR has helped push towards this recalibration, to an extent and the integration of ODR in the legal system is a step further towards an efficient and streamlined judicial environment.











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