Dr. Nachiketa Mittal,
Dr. Nachiketa Mittal,
Apprentice Lawyer

A Crack in the CLAT Consortium

NLSIU has every right to decide its admission process. But some questions do arise.

Bar & Bench

- Nachiketa Mittal

The pandemic COVID-19 has changed our lives forever. From the economy to education to health care to national security to basic governance-- everything is under severe pressure and testing times.

Be that as it may, we shall move on and combat the crisis.

In doing so, education will play a vital role in preparing us for a better tomorrow. But the education system is suffering a severe setback and the Universities and colleges are grappling to ensure continued learning and teaching to mitigate the academic loss.

Legal education is among one such disciplines. The National Law Universities (NLUs) who are seen as the primer law schools of the country are undergoing a crisis of a kind vis-a-vis their admission process for the new academic year.

Out of the 23 NLUs, 22 were part of Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) Consortium for 2020-2021 admission process. The National Law University (NLU) Delhi has always been conducting its separate entrance, despite the formation of CLAT after Varum Bhagat vs Union of India case was heard by the bench of the then Chief Justice of India.

There seems to be no plausible justification that why none of the Chancellors (Chief Justice of the High Court of Delhi) of NLU Delhi ever asked NLU to join CLAT.

This crisis can be for another article, as we have a fresh debate cropping up. On September 3, 2020, the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru notified its separate all India entrance exam for the academic session 2020-2021.

NLSIU has withdrawn from CLAT Consortium citing its worry of undergoing a crisis of facing ‘Zero Year’ if the admissions would not be completed before September 2020. It has also said that its unique system of trimesters would further disadvantage it if admissions were to be further delayed.

There is no problem with this decision legally. It is well within the autonomy of every NLU to decide its admission process being a creation of distinct State Legislative Assemblies.

As per the latest notification, NLSIU is now going to conduct online home based entrance examination separately. Applications were opened on September 3 and will close on September 10. The national entrance will be organized on September 12.

The NLSIU notification clearly states that “NLSIU shall not be responsible for any connectivity issues, or failure of internet connection during the examination”.

Be the as it may, NLSIU has every right to decide its admission process. But some questions arise.

Firstly, is a one week notification for admissions and also becoming ready with home based uninterrupted internet connectivity adequate? Secondly, since the National Law Institute University Bhopal, is the only second NLU to have trimester pattern of pattern of teaching, would it also withdraw from the CLAT? This is because if trimester scheme of teaching is the basis for NLSIU's withdrawal, it should hold good for NLIU as well.

But there could be a major problem in it.

The present serving Vice-Chancellor of NLIU Bhopal is the sitting President of CLAT Consortium. Hence, NLIU’s withdrawal may not be quite likely and easy. Thus, if trimester indeed is the basis for NLSIU’s decision of separate entrance examination then, we see a bigger problem for NLIU.

Unless NLIU has a better scheme of mitigating academic loss vis-a-vis despite sticking with CLAT.

This is just one part of the problem.

The third question could be that why the entire CLAT was not possible to be organized through online home based entrance examination? One may not discredit that this option would have been deliberated in the CLAT Consortium. But the majority would have decided otherwise.

If that be so, was the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of NLSIU a sole dissenter? Hence, NLSIU VC perhaps took a different route in good faith, taking the faculty and the Executive Committee of the law school into confidence.

Fourthly, whether the rest of the Vice-Chancellors of 21 NLUs aren’t thinking practically enough? Or are they taking abundant caution to not leave any aspiring law student who signed up for CLAT suffer the challenge of internet connectivity for the admission process?

Fifthly, is it not an irony that NLSIU houses the Permanent Secretariat of CLAT and has itself abandoned it at least for this year? These are not just the intriguing questions about CLAT 2020 but reflect a crack in the CLAT Consortium and perhaps in its very foundation.

If one may pierce deeper it may also reflect the lack of consensus in the Executive Body of CLAT Consortium, of which the NLSIU VC is an integral member. The dissent theory therefore could be an undeniable possibility.

Be that as it may, for academic year 2020-2021, NLSIU joins the club of NLU Delhi which has been simply never cared for CLAT scheme of admission process. The aspiring law students who look up to several NLUs are simply under stress.

What should have been an excitement filled entry into the law schools, would not remain as cheerful given the precarious stands of the CLAT Consortium.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Hence, could the CLAT Consortium do away with all India internet based examination at all for the new academic year? There are still several prestigious colleges and universities who follow a well-structured merit and cut off criteria based on passing marks of secondary school (12th) examination to admit students every year.

There is nothing perfect in these times of COVID-19 and the exceptional circumstances we all are facing. Given that, could such a digression from online based CLAT not be made. It may have its own flip sides but as we stand today, we need to settle for the most viable option that may allow equal participation to majority of the aspiring students in the admission process.

This method may still cover CLAT Scheme of common process of admission for all participating NLUs.

If this can be a workable solution with certain modifications, we may perhaps precent more NLUs walking out of CLAT Consortium. I hope the fine sense of judgment and consensus was temporarily under lockdown and may not remain impaired by the pandemic for long.

And a well-reasoned, conclusive and sound academic decision may soon follow, saving the fragmented CLAT Consortium for the academic year 2020-2021, in the larger interest of thousands of aspiring law students.

(Nachiketa Mittal is the founder of India's first Virtual Law School)

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