skip to Main Content

Digitizing Governance: Exploring India’s Shift to Digital Offices


The blog studies the emergence of regulatory agencies as digital offices in India and the issues they present in the Indian setting. While digitization promises to revolutionise dispute resolution in India, concerns have been raised about accessibility, data privacy, and infrastructural preparedness. The suggested method promotes a hybrid paradigm that combines physical and digital infrastructure to achieve inclusion and efficiency. By resolving these issues, India may use digital offices to democratise dispute resolution while protecting citizens’ rights and privacy.

New Laws Pave the Way for Digital Offices

The Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023 and the Telecommunication Act 2023 notified in the year 2023 introduce an unprecedented change in governance. The Acts set forth that the regulatory bodies established under these Acts shall be ‘digital offices. The Digital Data Protection Act 2023 requires a Data Protection Board to be established by the Central Government.[1] Section 28(1) of the Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023 states that ‘The Board shall function as an independent body and shall, as far as practicable, function as a digital office, with the receipt of complaints and the allocation, hearing and pronouncement of decisions in respect of the same being digital by design, and adopt such techno-legal measures as may be prescribed.[2]

The Telecommunications Act 2023 has been notified with the intention to replace the two telegraph laws and provide a regulatory framework for the telecom sector. Any telecom related dispute shall be adjudicated by an ‘Adjudicating Officer’ and ‘Designated Appeals Committee’ appointed under the Act. The Act asserts that the Adjudicating Officer and the Designated Appeals Committee shall, as far as practicable, function as ‘digital offices.’[3]

A digital office as defined under the Digital Personal Data Protection Act is an office which adopts an online mechanism in its proceedings, from receipt of complaint to disposal of the case.[4] These two offices will mark the inaugural instance of their kind in India. The intent behind this initiative is optimization of the dispute resolution framework. By digitizing the entirety of proceeding, the legislature endeavours to democratize the process by enabling online complaint submission and subsequent redressal. It is a move to serve the populace as it promises time and cost efficiency.

Cross Border Perspective: Digital Offices on the Global Stage

There are jurisdictions where adjudicatory bodies are functioning as digital offices. The ASEAN Strategic Action Plan on Consumer Protection (ASAPCP) set forth the development of ASEAN Online Disputes Resolution (ODR) Guidelines. The Guidelines suggest actions to be undertaken by members of ASEAN Committee to design and operationalize the ODR System. These ODR Systems are online platforms that apart form allowing the consumers to electronically file a complaint, enable parties to resolve their dispute without the need of physical appearance before anybody.[5] There shall be electronic filing of complaints through upgraded consumer portals. The Guidelines define ODR as a subset of ADR which employs technology-assisted processes wherein parties utilize a digital platform for communication and information management to resolve a dispute.[6] The objective of ODR system to resolve B2C consumer disputes in a speedy and cost-effective manner.[7] The main methods of settlement through ODR Systems would be mediation or conciliation with rather flexible, informal, and straightforward procedures.[8] Steps are being taken by ASEAN member States to operationalize these ODR Systems.

Digitizing Governance
[Image Sources: Shutterstock]

In 2013 the European Parliament passed a regulation on online dispute resolution for consumer disputes.[9] The Regulations aim for out-of-court settlement of disputes arising out of contractual obligations from online sale or service contract between consumer who is a resident of, and a trader established in the European Union.[10] In 2016, EU’s Online Dispute Resolution Platform came into force. The platform aims to facilitate a simple and cost-effective settlement procedure for contractual disputes involving delivered products or services, eliminating the need for parties to engage in formal court processes. Once a customer makes a complaint through the ODR platform, the concerned online trader is automatically sent a notification regarding the complaint, and he has 10 days to respond to the same. If the trader does not take notice of the complaint, the complaint is automatically dismissed within 30 calendar days and no action is taken. The consumer will have to resort to mechanisms outside the ODR System. When the trader responds to a complaint on the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform, both parties have 30 days to decide on a dispute resolution body. Parties can pick among alternatives suggested by the platform. If the trader is forced to employ a certain dispute resolution organisation owing to regulatory requirements, the trader must inform this to the consumer. If the parties fail to agree on a dispute resolution body within 30 days, the complaint will be closed after expiration of the said period. Once a body is decided on, it has three weeks to affirm jurisdiction. Following approval, the body implements its procedures and proposes a remedy within 90 days. The ruling, which is available on the ODR platform, may or may not be legally binding, depending on the body’s guidelines.[11] Similarly, the ‘Consumidor’ offered by the Brazilian National Consumer Secretariat and ‘Conacilianet’ offered by the Federal Consumer Attorney’s Office, Mexico are ODR Systems offering platform for out-of-court online settlement of consumer disputes.

In China, cybercrime and e-commerce disputes have generated massive backlogs in courts. To address this, an internet-based court for IP and e-commerce matters was established in Hangzhou. Plaintiffs have to file their cases and upload evidence online. A complaint can be filed within minutes. Plaintiffs can verify their identification by using Alipay or showing their ID to a court clerk in Hangzhou. Court proceedings are held via online video conferences and the proceedings are overseen by an AI judge with an on-screen avatar who urges the parties to submit their claims and conducts the easier, routine functions, while the human judge observes the proceedings and renders decisions in each case. In 2019, it was reported that the citizens completed more the 3.1 million activities using the internet court system.[12] Recently, China set-up two more such courts in Beijing and Guangzhou.

Bits and Bumps: Navigating the Challenges that may Arise

The push to create digital offices is a welcome move, however such designs raise certain concerns. The digital office framework might need some amendments to accommodate citizens with lack of digital literacy and accessibility. In India, internet accessibility is notably limited and digital literacy is not widespread. Besides, till date no adjudicatory body in India has been completely ‘digital by design.’ Though establishment of such offices is aimed at democratizing the dispute resolution process, to ensure equality and fairness, it is suggested that a hybrid model be adopted wherein such offices have a physical set-up and gradually transition into digital offices. Such delay will ensure that millions of Indians who do not have access to internet are not prejudicially affected. It is projected that these offices will receive large volume of complaints. Therefore, building internal capacity and an upgraded platform to handle such bulk cases would be crucial. Such delay would also help in creation of the most optimal design, best suited to the populace. Furthermore, in instituting complaints in these platforms, the plaintiffs would be required to submit and verify their personal information. Most of the times, such information are confidential in nature. In such circumstances creation of mechanism ensuring safeguard on data privacy and confidentiality is indispensable. A hybrid model for the first few years will be beneficial in all these ways.


In conclusion, while the introduction of digital offices is a promising stride towards digitalization, it is imperative that the challenges they pose in the Indian context be responded to. Lack of digital literacy and accessibility among Indians emphasises the need of a hybrid model that integrates a physical office with a digital platform. Such transition will not only protect against exclusion, but also allow for refinement of the process to accommodate the unique needs of Indian population. By finding a balance between innovation and exclusion, India can successfully leverage the power of digital offices to streamline dispute resolution while ensuring fairness to all.

Author: Abhaya Shruti, a  Student at National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email to [email protected] or at IIPRD. 

[1]  Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, Sec. 18(1).

[2]  Digital Personal Data Protection Act, Sec. 28(1).

[3]  The Telecommunications Act 2023, Sec. 37(1)

[4]  Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, Sec. 2(m).

[5]  The ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Guidelines on Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), paras 2-13.

[6]  The ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Guidelines on Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), para 14.

[7]  The ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Guidelines on Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), para 18.

[8]  The ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Guidelines on Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), para 23.

[9]  Regulation (EU) No 524/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on online dispute resolution for consumer disputes and amending Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 and Directive 2009/22/EC (Regulation on consumer ODR)[2013]  L 165/1.

[10]  Regulation (EU) No 524/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on online dispute resolution for consumer disputes and amending Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 and Directive 2009/22/EC (Regulation on consumer ODR)[2013]  L 165/1, art 2.

[11]European Commission, Online Dispute Resolution, <> accessed on 15 April 2024.

[12]  Tara Vasdani, ‘Robot justice: China’s use of Internet courts’, (LexisNexis) , <> accessed on 15 April 2024.

Back To Top