BANGALORE: Mediation is catching on in the city with more than 60 per cent of all cases referred to the Bangalore Mediation Centre being resolved out of court.
The centre, just off KH (Double) Road, handles about a 100 cases every day, according to mediators who volunteer at the centre.
As a free alternative to litigation, mediation centres bring relief to an already burdened legislative system. The rules for mediation were framed by the High Court of Karnataka in 2006 and the centre was set up in 2007. Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure empowers the courts to allow settlement of disputes outside court, mediation being one of the four alternative mechanisms.
Prashanth Chandra, a mediator for seven years and an advocate for 27, is a convert. "Mediators must always listen actively. They must learn to put all their biases outside and listen with an open mind and perfect detachment. They must have excellent communication skills and infinite patience as well. After all, mediation is just litigation with a human face," he says, adding that emotions often play a large role in disputes.
Prashanth Chandra is one of the 80 or so dedicated advocates with at least 15 years' prior practice who come in two to four days a week. They were initially trained by practitioners from the US.
When ego is hurt
Recalling a challenging case, Prashanth says, "Some months ago, someone from an influential family in Bangalore came in for mediation. She had agreed to sell her property, the contract was drafted, but on the day of the agreement, she decided to withdraw. After eight years, the case was referred to the mediation centre. In the beginning, when we discussed the matter, she was adamant that she didn't want the case to be resolved. She wanted to go back to court."
Prashanth then called her into the centre separately another day. Over a long conversation, he discovered that her ego was hurt. "The second party, the one who wanted to buy her property, had not personally gone to meet her on the day of the agreement. He had deputed his driver to pick her up. After this useful piece of information was gleaned, it was only a matter of time before the case was resolved," he explains.
Sunil A Shettar, deputy director of the Bangalore Mediation Centre, says, "When the mediation centre was set up, many people thought no cases would be assigned to it. Now we're resolving even 25-year-old cases passed down from the Supreme Court. Precious lives are saved here in this building. Why should litigants break their backs running to the courts, wasting all their time and money on something so fruitless?”
In litigation, he believes, there are no winners. But in mediation, both the parties are winners as the final decision is always arrived at with mutual consent.
Another incentive of mediation is that the total court fee spent by the litigants is returned if they arrive at a settlement.
Shettar, who has been deputy director for a year, confesses he initially didn't believe in the idea of mediation. But over time he was convinced of its benefits. "In Western countries, 98 per cent of cases are resolved through mediation. In India, the percentage is reversed. There is just not enough awareness.”
He wants mediation to become part and parcel of the court system, the "appropriate course" as some courts refer to it.
In mediation, both parties are given the opportunity to air their grievances — sometimes even through emotional outbursts — and then their relationship is restored. "It is important that we as mediators remain neutral. We cannot be partial or show personal interest in their affairs, which would go against the very nature of mediation," says Bharat Kumar Mehta, who has been volunteering at the centre almost since its inception.
How it works
A mediator meets both parties and their advocates at a joint mediation session. He/she explains the process to them. It is also an opportunity for the mediator to discuss issues affecting settlement. The parties get to express their views and their terms for settlement. The job isn't easy on the mediator's pocket though. "It does hamper our actual practice.