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Saturday, Apr 13, 2002

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Resolving disputes with less pain

S. Gopikrishna Warrier

Ms Geetha Ravindra

CHENNAI, April 12

WITH the first batch of neutrals being trained by the city-based Indian Centre for Mediation and Dispute Resolution (ICMDR), Chennaiites who do not want to go through the legal process for their disputes can now opt for mediation.

Among those who have opted to take the training and become panel members at the Centre include retired high court judges, administrators and experts, according to Ms Aparna Vasu, Director, ICMDR. They are being trained by Ms Geetha Ravindra, Director of the Department of Dispute Resolution Services at the Supreme Court in Virginia State of the US.

According to Ms Vasu, Indian law offered the space for alternate dispute resolution (ADR) in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

ADR provided an alternative to those seeking legal redress. Once a solution was reached between the disputants before a mediator, the agreement had the effect of an arbitration award and was legally tenable in any court in the country.

"This can save time, money, and also personal and business relationships," she said. Since the disputants were personally involved in the process of reaching a solution, the chances were that they would be more satisfied with the results.

ADRs have over the past decade become an accepted way of dealing with legal cases in the US, according to Ms Ravindra. "In fact, nowadays, ADRs have become the appropriate dispute resolution mechanism."

The State of Virginia receives 8,000 cases for mediation in a year. Studies had shown that in 93 per cent of the cases, those seeking mediation had been satisfied with the process, Ms Ravindra said. In around 85 per cent of the cases, some kind of settlement has been reached.

Cases which earlier took three to four months, were being resolved in weeks, she said. This meant considerable savings, both for the litigants and the judiciary. More importantly, those involved had control over the proceedings. Ms Ravindra said the Bar in the US had become comfortable with the ADR system and all law schools offered mediation as a course. While some of the States, like Florida, had made mediation a mandatory part of the legal process, some others, like Virginia, made it voluntary.

At a policy level, many of the larger corporate entities had accepted ADR as an option for settling disputes, she said. One large automobile manufacturer who was finding it difficult to settle incentive disputes between its dealers, set up an outside ADR panel. The external panel gave greater credibility to the settlement process.

In another instance, a Virginia-based company that had supplied faulty intra-uterine devices took recourse to ADR, thereby compensating thousands of customers across the world in a matter of weeks, she said.

Though ADR could be used for any kind of dispute, it had its limitations when one of the disputants was far more powerful than the other, according to Ms Ravindra.

She said institutionalising ADR within the Indian legal system would ensure that more parties had access to the option.

`Mediation catching on in India'

MANY Government and quasi-Government organisations could benefit by taking their disputes to a mediator, as this was "a less painful, less costly and less time-consuming way of solving disputes," the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary, Mr P. Shankar, said on Friday while inaugurating a three-day training workshop organised by the Indian Centre for Mediation and Dispute Resolution (ICMDR).

All over the world, mediation was emerging as a popular method of resolving disputes and, of late, courts were welcoming this initiative as it helped lessen the burden on judicial institutions.

Addressing the inaugural session, a senior advocate and one of the founders of the ICMDR, Mr Sriram Panchu, said mediation was the fastest growing method for resolving disputes. "It is heartening to know that this method is fast taking root in India and is being used by various organisations to resolve disputes. Mediation is a voluntary process whereby the mediator, a trained neutral, facilitates negotiation between parties in dispute and assists them in understanding their substantive interests in order to arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement."

He said that in commercial and financial sectors, particularly in matters related to real estate, employment, banking, insurance and public disputes, mediation had worked well. The advantages with this method were a reduction in legal costs, saving of time for professionals, confidentiality, creative and innovative methods of problem solving and potential for the parties concerned to preserve their personal and working relationships.

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