She revelled in Public Interest Litigations but now believes in mediating
Laila Ollapally is not averse to picking up a fight for the sake of others. She has fought numerous legal battles through Public Interest Litigations. But she also believes in mediation. “As of now, I am busy as the Coordinator of the Mediation Centre of the High Court of Karnataka, along with two other coordinators. There are eighty advocates working as mediators. This is a very beautiful arrangement evolved after a thoughtful process to cope up with the ever-increasing number of litigations. Many countries are now adopting this method to clear the backlog in courts. We are all complaining about the lengthy list of pending cases and the unduly long periods of time taken for disposal of cases. By setting up such centres, nearly 90 percent of the cases which are simple civil cases are disposed of without the interference of the court,” she says.
In this system, mediators take the cases from the court, mediate by guiding the parties in communication and negotiation techniques, make them aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the case and help them craft a settlement on their own. In the end, the case is turned over to the court just to pass a non-appealable decree based on this settlement. “We have so far taken up 12000 cases and the settlement rate is 62 percent. In this method the settlement arrived at is most amicable and the case normally does not end with a bitter note as in a regular litigation. Parties even reunite. It is a pleasure to settle cases in this manner. The best part of this system is that the entire service is free for the litigants and even the court fee is reimbursed. This is my pet project and I want more and more people to be aware of this system so that a lot of money and time is saved,” says the enterprising woman, who was recently in the news for her victory in a PIL filed by the residents of Koramangala Layout, a posh area in Bangalore, against the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA).
Laila Ollapaly: always ready to fight for the right cause
Laila, as a resident of that locality went into the depth of the case, collected a lot of relevant and useful information and meticulously led the citizens’ association towards victory. The case was regarding allotment of a civic amenity site, where the popular Post Office Park existed, for construction of a private property. Instead of just holding on to that site, she found out more details, which would help her put up the case in a stronger manner.
“In fact, the citizens were unaware of the rule that 10 percent of a layout should be earmarked for lung space and BDA officials and lawyers were unaware that Koramangala layout did not meet that requirement in full. Thus winning the case was not difficult,” says Laila.
“My first victory was a case of consumer protection against Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA). My client’s husband, who had gone to inspect a site allotted to him, got electrocuted when he accidentally came in touch with a high tension wire that was running right near a house under construction. The high tension wire should have been shifted before allowing construction of houses in the area. It was a pure case of negligence on the part of MUDA,” she recalls.
Now a grandmother, Laila is the daughter of Justice T K Thommen of the Supreme Court. After her M A (Economics), she joined a bank, but soon realized that banking was not her cup of tea. She decided to study law and subsequently joined King and Partridge, a leading legal firm. She worked there for nearly eight years. While there and even after she started practicing independently, she started taking up cases relating to social issues.
“I have been working a lot for protection of the rights of mentally ill persons, along with my friend Nirmala Srinivasan. And because of our concerted efforts, the National Mental Health Act, which has many provisions that are very primitive and based on the Lunacy Act of the British era, is being reviewed and suitable amendments are being worked out. At present, the High Court should set up a separate cell in every court to protect the rights of persons with mental illness,” she says.
Laila Ollapally and Nirmala Srinivasan set up the Action for Mental Illness Trust in association with a self-help group, to take up the cause of persons with mental illness. Through this Trust, the Dharwad Mental Hospital, which was in a deplorable state and resembled a jail of hardcore criminals, with patients being kept in chains, was opened up. Several other orders for benefit of the mentally ill have also been obtained from courts by the Trust.