A lack of Constitutional vision: Why controversy always surrounds CLAT

The exam has been a part of a system that carries out gross injustice to candidates appearing for it, year after year.
CLAT 2021
CLAT 2021

Over 62,106 candidates appeared for this year's Common Law Admission Test (CLAT 2021), held on July 23.

However, no sooner had the exam been completed, than controversy erupted over the variance in distribution of the question booklet and OMR sheet to students at different times at different centres across the country.

Students subsequently took to social media, raising questions about how the pattern of the paper was different from the agreed syllabus, with static GK and core legal knowledge related questions featuring in prominence in the question paper.

Errors in the answer key, without explanations, heightened the anger of the candidates.

Many students felt the practice of charging a fee of ₹1,000 per objection to be unfair and exorbitant. The Kerala High Court has also accepted a PIL and issued notice to the CLAT Consortium over the demand of ₹50,000 for registration for the counselling process. The Consortium subsequently allowed several CLAT 2021 candidates to provisionally participate in the counselling process without paying the fee.

Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR, Hyderabad, Prof Faizan Mustafa on his YouTube channel recognized the discrepancies in the conduct of CLAT 2021, and sought to address the fact that some students got more time than others.

However, his reply that 10 minutes don’t make a huge difference in terms of the result, is in tune with the pattern of casual injustice meted out to candidates appearing in the exam.

Usually, 0.25 marks separate 100s of ranks in the CLAT examination. Therefore, 10 minutes extra given to any candidate is a gross injustice to all the other candidates who did not get such a benefit. The grievance mechanism cannot address this discrepancy now, as students will lack factual proof. The injustice cannot be accurately quantified in terms of marks.

CLAT is no stranger to controversy, as the exam has been criticized for a variety of reasons over the years. The common complaints through the years have been high registration fees, unprecedented questions and the conduct of the exam.

The storm of criticism that CLAT had been subjected to in 2018 led to an overhaul of the entire system. It led to the establishment of the CLAT Consortium, and did away with the yearly rotation of authority to conduct the exam.

CLAT is an exam meant for entry into the premier law schools of the country wherein students are to be taught the nuances of the Constitution and methods to fight against injustice for the greater good of society.

But the exam itself has been a part of a system that carries out gross injustice to candidates appearing for it, year after year.

The Law Commission of India, in its 14th report under the chapter for Legal Education, had opined,

“Law has not been looked upon by the universities as an education or cultural subject...course of university seems to have too much in view the practice of the lawyer and case law, and too little the science and principles of law. There are already a plethora of LL.B.’s half baked lawyers, who do not knew even know the elements of law and who are let loose upon society as drones and parasites...this is what may truly be described as mass production of law graduates.”

The examination and the tuition fee at NLUs remains one of the highest in the country, and is justified on the ground of need for autonomy of the institutions from government control.

There exists a reservation of seats for NRI sponsored candidates, a unique feature of NLUs wherein higher fees can be charged if a student has financial backing from an NRI relative. This reservation policy has been called arbitrary, for the elite, an affront to the meritorious candidates, and therefore unconstitutional by Orissa High Court and yet continues to persist.

The IDIA diversity reports conclude that NLUs are increasingly elitist in nature. CLAT plays a huge role in this, with the exam increasingly becoming a gateway for the rich to access higher education. The discrimination then extends to the process of recruitment, that is often biased towards economically superior students owing to the high cost of education attached to studying at NLUs.

Such a system affirms the belief that the only means for equality of opportunity for the downtrodden is through charity by the rich.

The late Prof Madhav Menon, founder of the concept of NLUs in India, while speaking at the Think India summit in 2012, had pointed out that legal education needs a long term vision. In his speech, he had drawn the analogy of how our Constitution and specifically the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs) are a vision for the governments for hundreds of years.

He stated that it is the vision set out in the Constitution that has kept India ticking. Therefore, he stated that legal education in India to be primarily based on the principles of constitutionalism and the ethos of India’s Constitution.

The Constitution of India was meant to be a social document through which its subjects were to aspire towards equal rights for all. We must envision the future of legal education based on the ethos of the Constitution.

The CLAT Consortium is the veil of protection for the administrations that run the NLUs who conduct the examination. The buck starts and stops with them.

The author is an Advocate at the Rajasthan High Court.

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