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The Karnataka High Court Division bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Ravi V Hosmani recently struck down the NLSIU Amendment Act. The Act, which aimed to bring 25% domicile reservation, was held as contrary to parent Act, and not satisfying the twin tests of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.
The reason domicile was put to question is because of it getting representation primarily from Bangalore students with elite socio-economic background getting benefit out of it and the amendment act being violative of Article 14.
The bench also opined that the Pradeep Jain case, which marked one of the earliest instance of allowing domicile reservation, was based on regional backwardness. While observing this, the bench held that the entire state of Karnataka cannot be called backward so as to provide reservation for every student of Karnataka.
This was followed by the Calcutta high court which issued an interim stay in the writ petition challenging the state government's 30% domicile reservation at NUJS Kolkata.
In this piece, without going into legality of the reservation, I shall be proposing a domicile model for National Law Universities which will allow representation of backward areas of a state without diluting the national character of the universities.
For the purpose of illustration of this model, I have taken WBNUJS as a model law school with an assumption of 30% domicile reservation being allowed in the law school.
As per the first list for all the national law universities released by the CLAT consortium, out of 103 seats at least 47 seats are occupied by West Bengal candidates. The allotment below suggests how these seats ought to be allotted.
For the year 2020-21, WBNUJS provided the following seat allotment as per the notification for this year:
Table 1: Seats Allotted towards All India Category in NUJS as per academic year 20-21
Table 2: Seats Allotted towards Domicile in NUJS as per academic year 2020-21
For the purpose of discussing Domicile Model, we will only analyse 36 seats of the categories highlighted in Table 1 and Table 2 i.e. General(22), EWS(4), SC(8), ST(2).
Table 3: Categorisation of the cities based on Urban Agglomerations, Census 2011
The categorisation of the cities has been done based on the Urban Agglomerations/Cities having population 1 lakh and above based on Census 2011. Kolkata has been made a separate category for it has largest proportion of people in West Bengal.
The categories have been divided based on a numerical distinction which can differ in each state. Census of 2011 can be taken into account till the time Census 2021 is out.
Every state can create this categorisation which shall be functional for 10 Years Model of domicile reservation. Currently, NUJS have the domicile requirement as follows:
Candidates residing in the State of West Bengal continuously at least for last ten years or those not residing in the State of West Bengal but whose parents is / are permanent resident of West Bengal having their permanent home address within the State.
For avoiding candidates misusing the domicile reservation, it can mandated that they need to finish their Class 10th or 12th or both( state’s discretion) for getting the benefit of this domicile.
For the purpose of this model, I have resorted to number of CLAT applicants from West Bengal as per the year 2017 that was 2,041.
For the seats of General, the income ceilings should be same as creamy layer of OBC i.e. whose gross annual income is over Rs. 8 lakh cannot avail of domicile reservations in their respective categories. This will make sure that people with higher economic background and their schooling in elite institutions don’t use domicile as an upper hand which ought to be catered to students with non-privileged background.
Same number of CLAT applicants as the share in population.
In this situation, we divided 36 seats according to population representation of categories of cities.
This means 22 seats of General have been divided as 14 seats(65%) from category 1 cities, 3 seats(14%) from category 2 and category 3 cities each while 2 seats(9%) from category 4 cities. Similar division has been done for other categories of SC and EWS as well. With respect to ST seats, top ranker ST from category 2-4th shall get the seat. With respect to 2 state EWS seats, top rankers from category 2-4th shall get the seat.
Once the number of seats is reached from a particular category, the applicant from those categories of cities won’t be eligible to benefit from domicile reservation. This can be illustrated by example of X who ranks 16 in category 1 cities and if 14 seats of category 1 cities are already filled at NUJS, they won’t be eligible to qualify for this reservation.
Category 1 and Category 2 Cities have substantially higher number of CLAT applicants compared to their share in population
As we can witness that in this situation, the number of applicants in category 1 and category 2 cities is substantially higher when compared to category 3 and category 4 cities. Even in this case the same seat allotment shall follow to ensure adequate representation from all areas of West Bengal as it is allotted in the table.
With respect to ST seats, top ranker ST from category 2-4th shall get the seat. With respect to 2 state EWS seats, top rankers from category 2-4th shall get the seat.
If the number of applicants is less than 3 or 2 in the category 3rd or 4th respectively then that additional seat will apply to the category immediately above i.e. category 2nd or 3rd.
Interplay with All India Seats
Now since the purpose of the domicile quota is to make sure that the local communities and the representation of number of people coming from a particular state should be ensured.
This also have to be done to make sure that it does not act as a peril to the other students coming from other parts of the country to maintain the national character as well.
Let’s take an example of all India seats of NUJS where our model can come into being and make sure that both concerns are addressed i.e. adequate representation of students from West Bengal in NUJS alongside maintaining the National character and creating more opportunities for all kind of students coming across the country.
Illustration 1: If within 44 seats of All India General, 7 seats belong to Category 1 students while 2 seats belong to category 2-4 students. Then in that case, these seats should be counted against Domicile General seats i.e only 7 seats should be left for Category 1 students and 6 seats should be left for Category 2-4 students.
This will make sure that all the areas of West Bengal gets representation without diluting the National character and not costing the seats for students from other parts of the countries.
If in the same illustration, 22 seats are directly given for Category 1-4 students, then that will mean that total West Bengal students in 66 General seats would be 22+9 = 31 students i.e. around 47% which probably is the reason for people backlashing the domicile reservation that it will not only dilute the national character but also serve beneficial to privileged few of the state.
Another question which arises in this illustration if what if any of these 7 or 2 students have more than 8 Lacs of Income. In such case also, they shall be considered to occupy the seats allotted to each category as the purpose of domicile is to ensure the representation is reached for the states.
This condition can also be given at behest of the NLU if they want to exclude these students who have more than 8 Lacs of income from overall count, they can do so to ensure people from middle level income utilise domicile seats from these categories.
Benefits of this Model:
· This will make sure that every year NUJS gets 30% reservation in all the categories without peril to any other group.
· It will not dilute the National character significantly while appreciating the importance of students from the home state of an NLU.
· A categorisation of the districts based on population will make sure that tier 1 cities in the state doesn’t get domicile reservation as a platter and the benefits reach down to all regions of a particular state.
· The income bar to the general seats will act as filtering out the students of West Bengal who had access to top private expensive schools and will be helpful for the economically impoverished sections of the state.
· This will ensure that the most of the stigmas of being a domicile candidate will done away with since most of the arguments voiced against domicile stems from top tier city misusing the reservation and getting an upper hand in terms of admission into the college.
This model can be modified according to various factors to be established by NLUs and their respective state governments in order to provide catered reforms to students facing regional backwardness owing to geographical disadvantage.
Since most of the law schools are facing the issue of ever increasing domicile reservation which often have political intentions as it backing, an advent of this kind of model will not only ensure state representation but will also not affect “merit” of a National law university in truest sense.
(The author is a student at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata)