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Dispute Resolution & ADR – Is ODR a humpless 'Camel'
By Aastha Prasad
Dec 04, 2021

THE NITI Aayog on Monday released a report on Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) to advance access to justice and ensure that cases do not end up landing before higher courts.

Retired justice AK Sikri-led a committee on the action plan for online dispute resolution -- set up by the Aayog -- has suggested in its report that the government builds up requisite infrastructure and sufficiently enhances capacity if it intends to mainstream ODR and make it broad-based in India.

"India can be at the forefront of this global ODR movement...However, to give a boost to ODR in India, the government and the judiciary must lead by example," the report emphasises.

We as students of Law have been studying ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution) for long and the novel term ODR naturally catches eye and now that NITI Aayog has released the report prepared by the Commission headed by Retired judge of the Supreme Court, it shows the seriousness of the Government in moving ahead with this concept.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has become an important aspect of the legal system in the last decade since it allows for quick resolutions and often results in outcomes that are beneficial to both parties. Online conflict resolution is an extension of the same, with the sole difference being that it involves the use or help of technology in the resolution of disputes.

This strategy is normally compared to ADR, but it incorporates technology to make the process more efficient. During the continuing COVID-19 Pandemic, ODR grew increasingly popular, with even regular courts using video conferencing to hear cases. While using Online Dispute Resolution as a method for resolving disputes can be beneficial to the parties because it provides benefits such as efficient management, ease of access, synchronised communications, and speedy disposal, it is also accompanied by many concerns about compromised confidentiality, literacy rates, and the actual ease of use by all.

Online Dispute Resolution has been successful in bringing about the long-awaited change that was much needed. It served as a conduit for not only facilitating contact between the parties, but also assisting them in settling their differences in the privacy of their own homes. Not only do the benefits of the technique apply to persons who are involved in conflict settlement, but it also helps to reduce the burden of the court and spares the parties from the unneeded trouble of going to court, which may be time-consuming.

In a disagreement, the parties can use the Internet and web-based technologies in a variety of ways. Online dispute resolution can be completed wholly via the Internet using email, chat, and videoconferencing, with parties meeting in person for face-to-face engagement if necessary. In online dispute resolution, a combination of "online" and "offline" (such as face-to-face) approaches is frequently employed.

In the resolution process, ODR systems use both synchronous and asynchronous communication. Synchronous communication refers to continuous contact/interaction between the disputing parties and the mediator/arbitrator/negotiator (assigned by the dispute resolution agency), such as videoconferencing and instant chat. Asynchronous communication, on the other hand, occurs at intervals or in a discontinuous way, such as in email exchanges. Mediation, arbitration, and negotiation are all options for online conflict resolution.

The success of Online Dispute Resolution is predicated on the availability of technology at both ends, namely the justice-dispensing authority and the justice-seeking individuals. Because of aggressive competition among service providers, there has been a significant increase in internet usage in India since 2016. According to internet live numbers as in March,2021, India is the world's greatest internet consumer, about 58 percent of the population had online access and is still increasing. However, this does not mean that all such consumers may be able to understand and move on to ADR, because of the poor literacy rate and lack of awareness.

As a result, the vast majority of the population still lacks the most basic requirement for establishing Online Dispute Resolution. However, one positive aspect of the trend is that the number of users has increased year over year, and at this rate, the population with an active internet connection will be sufficient to make Online Dispute Resolution available to every corner of society in the coming years. The only challenge will be creating awareness about ODR and sensitize such active users about ODR.

The next biggest challenge that might be linked to the introduction of Online Dispute Resolution is Cyber security and privacy. It is first necessary to examine why privacy is so important. It's also crucial to look into whether using Online Dispute Resolution has any implications for privacy concerns. Privacy has long been regarded as an important aspect of India's justice system, as it is necessary not only to ensure that the parties to a dispute receive justice, but also to protect the rights of others involved. The involvement of larger parties in disputes necessitates such disclosures during the resolution of disputes that it is an imperative necessity that it is not jeopardised in any way. Such disclosures can have a negative impact on a company's bottom line as well as expose trade secrets. Not only can the release of sensitive material have an influence on huge organisations, but it also has a significant impact on individuals or families that choose mediation or other alternative dispute resolution methods.

When using online services for any reason, such as banking, discussion, or dispute resolution, one is hesitant to do so due to the level of security provided by the service providers. People are frequently victims of hacking, and they lose their money, reputation, and personal information as a result.

The government and the courts have recently grown more watchful in their approach to the development of the ODR mechanism. The ministry of corporate affairs has partnered with law schools to establish online consumer grievance centres, which is one of the important actions made. One of these centres is the online consumer centre of the national law school in Bengaluru, which uses the internet to address consumer complaints. Independent private Online Dispute Resolutions like CORD, Presolv360, and CADRe have been formed to reach the needy, spread technical awareness, and resolve conflicts at the initial level. When it comes to recent government initiatives to implement Online Dispute Resolution, the E-Assessment by the Internal Revenue Service and the INDRP by the national stock exchange deserve special recognition for their contributions to the development of ODR.

Finally, it can be claimed that while the expansion of Online Dispute Resolution has relieved the judiciary of the burden of cases, the efficiency of the system has not been up to par due to a lack of strong digital infrastructure. Only individuals who are technologically literate and had access to appropriate gadgets can reap the benefits.

Although the government's positive intent in creating an atmosphere for Online Dispute Resolution is inadequate, but the government's recent measures have made up for those omissions, and it can be stated that the future of ODR in India is quite bright. Because ODR is still in its early stages in India and faces numerous obstacles in its proper implementation, it can be concluded that while using Online Dispute Resolution has not yielded exceptional results to date, it will undoubtedly become one of the most successful ways to resolve disputes in the future, when cyber security and other technological issues are addressed.

It is high time that a large-scale awareness programme for ODR is taken up involving all the stakeholders and the law schools should incorporate this as a subject in the course curriculum. Let the ODR become QDR (Quick Dispute Resolution) .

(The author is a Law student of United world School of Law, Karnavati University)