Exclusive Benches will be set up in all High Courts to deal with commerce matters, Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily said on Saturday. The Bill on setting up commerce Benches was already passed by the Lok Sabha. It would now have to be passed by the Rajya Sabha. Once Parliament adopted the measure, courts would be set up to fast-track trade and commerce cases.

Mr. Moily was speaking at a national conference held here to discuss amendments to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

Calling for a speedy and effective arbitration mechanism, he said efforts should be made to make India the preferred destination for international arbitration.

‘Arbitration in a mess’

Justice R.V. Raveendran of the Supreme Court said that at present arbitration in India was in a mess. All parties involved claimed that the process was expensive. Instead of worrying about international arbitration disputes coming to India, the Law Ministry should be more concerned at such disputes going away from the country.

Had some provisions of the 1940 Act on arbitration been included in the 1996 Act, it would have been more workable. The 1996 Act was for a developed nation, while India was still a developing nation. Moreover, most of the arbitration cases involved the state, he said.

Karnataka Governor H.R. Bhardwaj, who is also the Chairman of the Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution, said foreigners wanted to know whether their investments would be safe in India and whether they could rely on the local legal system for redress of grievances. “I always tell them that India is a democracy and there is the rule of the law.” They, however, pointed out the lack of an effective and expeditious alternative dispute resolution mechanism.

Stating that Karnataka had one of the best legal systems in place, the Governor cautioned against bringing down this edifice. The Bar and the Bench should cooperate with each other. The Bar should take the lead in not only pointing out defects but also in suggesting remedial action.

Mr. Bhardwaj regretted that 90 per cent of the population still had no access to legal help. Economic reforms would not succeed unless they were backed by legal reforms, he said.

Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court Madan B. Lokur called for strengthening the Arbitration and Conciliation Act to make it more effective.

Justice N. Kumar of the Karnataka High Court and T.K. Vishwanathan, adviser to the Law Minister, spoke. Several High Court judges, Advocate-General Ashok Harnahalli, the former Advocate-General B.V. Acharya, arbitrators and advocates were present.

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