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If things go as per plan, the country’s eighteenth national law university, and the first of three planned for Maharashtra, shall start operations very soon. Speaking to Bar & Bench, Vice Chancellor Bhavani Prasad Panda revealed that the first batch of 60 students would be joining the University in June this year.
It has been a bit of an uphill climb for Dr. Panda. After receiving the appointment in September last year, Panda reached Mumbai a month later. A week after that, Maharashtra held its state elections, and the State government would only be sworn in by the end of October. To make things worse, the university’s Chancellor was CJI Dattu, who had just taken charge in end-September last year.
Panda says that some of the biggest problems are a result of the Maharashtra National Law University Act itself, a piece of legislation that appears to be a direct copy of the WBNUJS Act.
“[The Act] is nothing but a replica…but [NUJS] was started more than 10 years ago, they should have studied the drawbacks. But they did not do that. They have made the Chancellor the Chief Justice of India. Better would have been the High Court’s Chief Justice. And they made three universities in one Act but still do not know how to go about it. They have earmarked certain funds. For Nagpur and Aurangabad, I am told they have funds as well as lands.”
Like IITs and IIM’s, national law universities have become a means to score political victories rather than institutes of learning and research. It is enough to establish an NLU, or three, within the state; it is of little consequence what is taught or by whom. In fact, the battle for NLU’s within the State even reached the Supreme Court.
Unsurprisingly the initial days have been a struggle; Panda only received an official residence in November. The original plan was to house the NLU in the State Judicial Academy situated in Uttan, a distant suburb of the city. When he visited the academy, Panda realized that this plan came with a vast set of logistical problems. Apart from distance from the city, the fact of the matter was that the judicial academy barely had any space to share. With an annual calendar packed with events, the academy would never have been an ideal location.
However, things soon began looking up.
In Delhi, CJI Dattu nominated Justice Fakkir Kalifulla as his representative at NLU-Mumbai. And once Justice Kalifulla came into the picture, things sped up. An Advisory Committee was formed, with the likes High Court judges and academicians like Faizan Mustafa and D. Lakshminath, both of whom head national law universities. On January 7 this year, the Advisory Committee held a meeting. Panda was frank about his intentions.
“I said categorically, we are already late by 30 years and now we have to go 60 years ahead. If you think we are starting just another law school, let us not do it. I have no fun in wasting my time, nor do I need your salary. It has to be a world class university.”
With the backing of Bombay High Court’s Chief Justice, as well as the State Education Ministry, Panda was able to get an official residence and temporary campus at the Ismai Yusuf l College in Jogeshwari. It is here that Panda had planned to set up a permanent campus as well.
“The [Ismail Yusuf] campus itself is 62 acres, and there has been a lot of encroachment that has taken place. I informed Chief Justice [Mohit Shah] that this would be better than Uttan. Logistically it would be sufficient.
And in Mumbai, I cannot dream of much. Give me 10-15 acres and I will build it vertically. After all, 5 acres here is worth 60 acres elsewhere. Also, I don’t want too a big space because it becomes a security problem.”
Ambitious he certainly is. But for the moment though, the plans are on a much smaller scale. There will be a limited intake of 60 students, with admissions tentatively planned to be held through a separate entrance examination. And even though, NLU-D’s Ranbir Singh is on the new university’s Advisory Committee, the Academic Council rejected plans to conduct examinations through NLU D’s AILET.
As for the faculty, Dr. Panda says that initially, the 60 students shall largely be taught by a mix of visiting professors, and teachers employed on a contract basis. Regular appointments shall be made in due course, says Dr. Panda, but in the meanwhile he is also looking out for adequate faculty quarters.
The classes themselves will be held at the Ismail Yusuf College, within a two-storey building that has adequate space for the 60 students. The same building’s roof shall be covered and converted to a library, says Panda.
“Right now I have a building already for use. That building was almost new and hardly occupied. So I requested the government to give me the building so that I can start the classes this year. And we have the building now.”
When it comes to hostels for the students, Dr. Panda says that Ismail Yusuf College has agreed to lend two floors in the existing university hostel, for a period of two years. What happens after two years though, is anyone’s guess.