Interview with Adv. Saravanan Dhandapani, the founding chairman of CNICA

“It’s hard to beat a person that never gives up”- Babe Ruth

Mr. Saravanan Dhandapani is an Advocate enrolled into the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu. He is the founding chairman of the Council for National and International Commercial Arbitration (CNICA). He’s one of the leading forces in the Arbitration space world-wide. His journey is one of the perfect examples of how one can achieve new heights with perseverance.

After the formal greetings, Sumanta Talukdar on behalf of E-Justice India began the Interview.

Q1. Sir, please share with us your educational journey in academics and the profession so far.

Ans. I qualified as a law graduate from the University of Madras in the year 1992 and I enrolled myself as an Advocate as the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and then I interned under a senior counsel in Madras High Court under Mr. K.T. Palapandian.

I practiced originally in the civil trial Court and then I shifted my practice to the High Court in the Constitutional as well as Writ Jurisdiction.

While I was interning with my senior, he was the standing Counsel for a few Public Sector undertakings like oil and natural gas corporation. During that time, I used to appear in arbitration along with my senior.

The comfort, convenience and less formal procedure of arbitration made me develop my interest towards arbitration.

Initially I was appearing as a counsel till 1999 and thereafter I had an opportunity after the seven-8 years of my practice to sit as an arbitrator.

Q.2. Sir, what was your first matter as an arbitrator and what was the journey after that like?

Ans. It was a banking related dispute and after that I continued my tenure as an arbitrator for various corporates, individuals, partnership disputes, partition disputes, International Commercial arbitration, domain name disputes, etc. for the past 20 years and I have been acting as an arbitrator even as of today. As an arbitrator, I disposed more than 100000 cases and also, I have been doing online arbitration for an American Arbitration center. Likewise, I am doing online arbitrations for Malaysia, Hong Kong and also the national internet exchange for India. So that is the advantages of being a practitioner in India there’s so much of potential in various fields both in terms of quantity and quality.

I also sat as an arbitrator with former supreme court judges,  former chief judges and former judges of high courts and ever  foreign arbitrators from Australia, Sweden, Poland, Malaysia and as of my professional career as an arbitrator, I was the founding chairman of an arbitration center in Chennai called the Council for National and International Commercial Arbitration (CNICA) founded in the year 2004 under the aegis of the trust for alternative disputes resolution.

In those periods, it was the foremost arbitration center after the Indian council of arbitration and IBCDAR this is the first arbitration institution in Tamil Nadu and we have been running it successfully for around 16 years and in 2005, the trust has formed a mediation center called the CNICA mediation center it was inaugurated by the former chief justice of Delhi high court Mr. A.P. Shah. CNICA mediation center is the second of its kind in the whole country.

Q.3. Sir, apart from teaching your juniors, have you ever assumed a formal role as a lecturer or professor in any college or university?

Ans. I have delivered guest lectures in few colleges and I am also a trainer for Arbitration and mediation in dr. Ambedkar Law university, Tamil nandu and a central government institution called NSIC and under the banner of our arbitration and mediation center, we used to conduct training classes, seminars, conferences and periodical study circles and even during this pandemic, we have been conducting webinars with luminaries around the world like the former director of IR Asian arbitration center Prof. Mr. Sundar Raju, mostly focusing on International commercial Arbitration and recently we have also conducted a seminar on sports arbitration with speakers from Switzerland and China.

Q.4. Sir, Are you a first-generation lawyer?

Ans. Yes, I am a first-generation lawyer.

Q.5. It’d be very inspirational for the students and 1st generation Lawyers if you share with us as to what a student or a lawyer should do if he wants to establish himself as an arbitrator in today’s times?

Ans. First of all, I’d like to say that the Legal profession is a very hon’ble and noble profession and more particularly in the technology world, I’d encourage everyone to study the laws and along with it, go with the technology.

Technology is going to transform every parts of the society and in future, especially now the concept of video conferencing and webinars are getting popular by the day  and it is going to be the hour of the day in the future and even the supreme court is going to encourage all the areas to conduct cases through video conference and therefore, the students will have to study law coupled with technology laws like AI and online disputes resolution. Like in china, they are resolving the disputes through robot arbitrators.

The machine itself is giving the judgements of the stereotypical cases. From March 2019 within a span of 1 year they disposed 300000 cases. That is going to be the order of the day and order of the world in the legal sector in the future. In future, the physical hearing, the personal court visits and person to person contacts will reduce and therefore my earnest request to all the students and the budding lawyers to concentrate on the technology related laws.

Even in India, there are Online Disputes Resolution (ODR) platforms emerging. By hiring the ODR platforms, many cumbersome processes gets eliminate d from the system like the person’s time, money, travel everything is saved and therefore the future in ODR as it has no boundary at all and anyone  can appear from any part of the world even the arbitrator can be from any parts of the world and therefore the entire scenario of Dispute resolution sector being changed.

Q.6. Sir, we’ve already seen this model being the norm in various countries where the counsels appear in front of the courts remotely through video tele conferencing or telephonic conversations from various parts of the world do you think this will be the norm in India as well post Co-vid?

Ans. Definitely this is going to be the everyday norm not only in the High Courts but this will be the order also in the Lower courts. Example- last week my friend attended a hearing through video conferencing in Tamil Nadu therefore, it is going to be a part of every divisons of the judiciary.

Q.7. sir, many law schools in the country especially the tier 2 and tier 3 ones have not adopted arbitration formally into their curriculums yet and if a law student in her 2nd or 3rd year of laws wishes to pursue a career in arbitration, how should they start according to you?

Ans. Apart from reading books, if a law student chooses to include arbitration in his/her area of practice, the first thing they must do is to choose specialization in arbitration and they can work or intern under the arbitration centers both online and offline.

They must learn about all the intricacies of the alternate dispute resolution and management system so they must get into the practical experiences. There are so many things they can learn from the arbitration centers. It’s never too late to start. Even many of my friends joined the arbitration centers after becoming a lawyer and from thereon they went on to become international arbitrators after gaining all the necessary experiences.

Now they travel to different parts of the world to deliver lectures and speeches on prestigious events. So, one should join the arbitration centers to learn and expand their horizon and after learning all the intricacies, they can strike very well in the horizon.

Q.8. Sir, my next question is a very obvious one which I’m sure you get asked a lot. After an individual goes through the necessary drill, how does one find the clients and builds a practice in their respective areas?

Ans. Firstly, a lawyer cannot become an arbitrator after he completes 10 years of practice. As an arbitration counsel, there are plenty of opportunities because the arbitration law is beyond the technicalities of evidence and CPC. Therefore, the object of the arbitration law is to make the lawyers and clients to delve in the merit of the cases. There’s a big advantage here because many trials fail due to not following certain technicalities and therefore arbitration eliminates all these technicalities and focuses directly on the merit of the cases. It is either you’re entitled to the relief or not.  When you understand that, you make justice more accessible to all. ADR will transform and drastically increase the accessibility of Justice to the people from all the parts of India.

Q.9. Sir, in life, whenever we’re in a journey, we learn some lessons the hard way only when something unpreferable happens with us along the way. Please share with us one such lesson that you learnt.

Ans. Being a lawyer, our duty is to perform our duties required by us by the case. We must concentrate on how well we can present the case of the clients. A lawyer shouldn’t at all get into the results of the case. Whether it is positive or negative, we should not bother about it. We shouldn’t carry those results into our mind. if you carry those results into your mind, it’ll affect you personally and along with it, your work.

Therefore, it my advice to all the lawyers and students that you should only focus on the quality of the work and not about the results. Don’t carry the result into your mind and that’s only how you can do good work.

Q.10. Sir, will you please share a story with us about your journey that we can refer to for inspiration and motivation?

Ans. Smiling, he said “see, I hail from a village in southern part of India. I understand all the challenges someone faces in the circumstances like this. I started without any legal background at all. And just like all the other lawyers in the field, the mantra has always been hard work hard work and hard work for me.

That’s what every lawyers and students should adhere to. Another aspect is that only hard work won’t pay you. Get into the people.

Go and participate in the seminars, conferences, panels, study circles and debates and one more thing is that you will have to get yourself equipped with the new knowledge and qualifications from time to time either through certification course, training programs and network with the people and academicians and it will take you to good heights ”

Q.11. Sir, please comment on the Cyber law Jurisprudence in the Country.

Ans. Cyber Law is a very important subject for the current situation but unfortunately, not only India but the other highly developed countries have not been able to adequately equip itself around all the developments happening around the cyber world.

The reason is that it is a very fast pacing industry and every other day, there’s something new in the horizon.

The laws have not been able to catch up and meet the regulations of the changing dynamics and as a result everybody including you, me and even the hon’ble judges are affected by the loopholes in the regulations. And therefore, in Europe they have the private data protection bill in the Rajya Sabha and in India we have also a similar legislation tabled in the Rajya Sabha but as of now, the assent has not been given by the president of India. And through your platform, I request the government of India to give an assent to the bill and look into the requirements of regulations in the industry.

Q.12. what are the changes would you like to see in the ADR Jurisprudence of the country?

Ans. If you’d have asked me this question three or four years back, I think I’d have more things to say but as of now, owing to the recent amendments to the arbitration and conciliation act, the provisions almost fulfill the litigants and  even the mediation act draft is published to receive the opinions of the public therefore, as far as the Indian scenario is concerned we are strongly moving along the lines of ADR practice and the people can get their disputes resolved with minimal efforts.

Q. 13 Sir, what are the changes would you like too in the academic’s side of the legal profession.

Ans. See, everyone from a law student, law professor, Advocates to the hon’ble judges has to equip themselves with the latest laws and developments therein. Therefore, there should be more online platforms with more accessibility to provide education and training to everyone alike. In India, we already have seen the rise of such platforms. I am happy that many scholars and students are taking the initiative, but this has to be done in a more familiar and accessible manner so that everyone can educate themselves with the developments in the field.

Q.14 Sir, we’re marveling over the mammoth numbers of cases you have worked on. And undoubtedly, one requires to be a very disciplined for that. Please shed some light on how one can train themselves to be someone like that.

Ans. First of all, thankyou for the compliment on the work. See, the thing is this has not happened in 2 or 3 years. This has happened over 2 decades. One has to read and read and think out of the box.

I was a procedural advocate in the High Court and it was cumbersome as the procedures used to take a lot of time. And at that time the arbitration and conciliation act came out in 1996 and I found it to be very less time consuming and convenient than the traditional methods and I find those things very appreciable. Thereafter, I used to think about specializing in the field of arbitration. Therefore, we have to think out of the box and not succumb to the norm and routine.

Q.15. Sir, what habits according to you does a student needs to cultivate?

Ans. The students must create google alerts to all the subjects they are interested in and whenever it is possible, they must subscribe to all the legal news portals so that they are always up to date with the latest developments of the field.

Apart from reading the books, the students and lawyers should also learn how to read the latest case laws from the Indian and the international courts and that will also lead you into choosing good books.

Q.16. sir, another thing which we are asked a lot is how do we get an internship under Mr. D. Saravanan himself?

Ans. They can drop an email to . they can send their request along with their resume. we will consider and get back to them.

Q.17. sir, what is an intern expected to be and know in order to be a part of the CNICA?

Ans. First of all, they must be interested and very meticulous in their internship. They must be akin to research and be equipped with all the basic knowledge regarding Arbitration and ADR. Instead of us teaching the basics to them, when they are equipped with the knowledge, they learn the nuanced parts of the subjects which will help both the interns and the institution.


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