When losing may feel like winning

Mindful of Voltaire’s caution, that sums up the travails plaintiffs and respondents have to endure in India’s excruciatingly slow and sometimes expensive judicial process, Ramakrishna approaches the problem at hand in a way by which he could make the parties to the dispute believe that losing may sometimes feel like winning.

On Saturday, at the Bangalore Mediation Centre (BMC), housed at the Nyaya Degula building, Ramakrishna has been assigned the task of mediating a vexed dispute between a 28-year-old widow seeking maintenance from her father-in-law.

Tough job
Sitting at the head of the table, flanked on either side by “the parties”, Ramakrishna has a tough job in hand for, after explaining the “obvious benefits” of an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, he immediately encounters deeply entrenched positions.
“Neither side wants to make a climbdown,” Ramkrishna tells Deccan Herald. “But this is just the first session in which the parties are informed about another means they could adopt to end the bitterness and acrimony,” Ramakrishna, who practises at the Karnataka High Court, says.

At BMC’s Hall No 15, Vaishali Hegde is mediating another contentious land dispute between two brothers. Pointing out the advantages of search for common ground, outside the environs of a courtroom where the brothers were at draggers drawn, Hegde guides the parties through the laid down procedures of the dispute resolution service that is still in its infancy.

BMC came into being in January 2007 following a 2002 amendment to Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Court and the Karnataka Civil Procedure (Mediation) Rules of 2005, which was framed under directions of the Supreme Court.

 As part of its objective of “peace-making through mediation”, BMC, headed by Karnataka High Court judge Justice K L Manjunatha, has been involved in trying to amicably settle disputes ranging from matrimonial issues, including child custody and divorce, to property partition and sometimes even arbitration in company matters.


Aware that the centre is in a fledgling state, Justice Manjunatha says: “A beginning has been made, though I wish more and more people are made aware that this alternative mechanism could potentially be beneficial to all — courts as well as the litigant public.”
The centre functions under the auspices of the High Court. Depending upon its nature, the high court refers a case to the BMC where a mediator must try to negotiate an agreement between the parties within 60 days. |

However, if particularly tough cases require more time for settlement, the parties to the dispute could move the High Court seeking extension of time. The bonus, of course, is that services at BMC are free of cost.

“It is a fast and fair system, provided the parties to a dispute approach a negotiated settlement with an open mind. Experience says that only when the two parties are prepared to lose some ground that they can achieve the more desired objective of common ground,” says BMC director K N Phaneendra, who is a district judge and a certified mediator.

According to Phaneendra, since its inception, the centre, which has so far handled a total of 11,499 cases, has had a 61 per cent success rate. But for individual mediators like Hegde, the success rate has been about 40 per cent.

While facilitators like Phaneedra realise the importance of mediation in a conflict-ridden world, there are others at BMC who believe that more and more judges in the higher judiciary must undergo training in mediation “for their own good”.

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