The Common Law Admission Test: Perpetuating Exclusion Since 2008

The CLAT has been a source of constant exclusion since its very inception
The Common Law Admission Test: Perpetuating Exclusion Since 2008
CLAT 2021

The Common Law Admission Test (hereinafter referred to as CLAT) was devised in the year 2008 for managing admissions to National Law Universities (NLUs). The CLAT used to be conducted by all the participating NLUs on a rotational basis, but due to constant year on year inconsistencies and to bring parity in the pattern of the question papers, a CLAT Consortium was established in 2019.

This piece seeks to argue how CLAT has been a source of constant exclusion since its inception because the foundation of these NLUs envisaged bringing in of second-generation reforms in the field of Legal Education, and the aim of establishing these universities will not be realised until the admission test to these prestigious institutions is reformed.

This article will primarily deal with class, region and language-based perspectives on the examination of CLAT, and will provide a logical explanation as to why CLAT is replete with exclusionary policies.

LEGAL EDUCATION IN INDIA:

The Bar Council of India (BCI) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) are the regulating bodies concerned with legal education in India. Rule 17 of the Bar Council Rules specifies that no college shall provide legal education unless its association to any university has been authorised by the Bar Council of India.

Legal education in India has traditionally been offered as a three years graduate degree(L.L.B.). However, the status quo was altered in 1985, after the suggestions of the Law Commission of India when a strong need for reforms was felt. This led to the establishment of specialized law colleges specifically dedicated to legal education by the Bar Council of India, aimed at raising the quality of the legal profession in India.

Following these recommendations, the first National law university in India was established as the National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU, popularly 'NLS'). This successful experiment led to the creation of more such National level law universities popularly known as National Law Universities(NLUs), which are currently 23 in number.

These modern-day law schools were created with a renewed commitment to offering an integrated, multi-disciplined and multi-purpose approach to legal education.

Though initially, all these universities conducted separate entrance examinations, it was only in 2008 when a national level joint entrance examination for admission in all the NLUs called Common Law Admission Test was introduced. After 2008 there has been a significant rise in the number of students appearing in CLAT every year.

The exponential rise in popularity of CLAT since its inception in 2008 can be attributed to the fact that a 5-year integrated law course saves 1 precious year of a student who has decided on pursuing law post-high school graduation, this makes the 3-year course of law obsolete in today’s times and has turned legal education synonymous with NLU’s.

EXORBITANT CLAT APPLICATION FEES:

The application form for CLAT costs Rs 4,000, which in itself acts a barrier to legal education for many in the country. It needs to be noted here that almost 20% of the Indian population still lives below the poverty line, i.e., around 20% of the population has per capita income below Rs 1000. In addition to this, even the MHRD in its report on CLAT 2018 has pointed out that CLAT is the most profitable entrance examination of the Country which has amassed profits of around 95%, attributing the reason for profits to the high application fee.

Generally, all other national level entrance examinations for admissions to public universities like IIT, NEET, NIFT etc. charge students somewhere between Rs. 500-2500. As per the Supreme Court Unni Krishnan, J.P. v. the State of A.P. it has been unambiguously ruled that "education cannot be allowed to be converted into commerce". The high-profit margins earned by the NLUs in conducting CLAT falls foul of the ruling of the Apex Court.

The exorbitantly high CLAT application fees have impacted the demographics of these NLUs in favour of those coming from financially well-off families, a report by IDIA suggests that 51% of the students surveyed reported having a family income of more than 10 lakh per annum. Therefore, the application fees for CLAT acts as a first point barrier to the NLUs for many in the country.

LOWER PENETRATION OF CLAT CENTRES:

It is to be noted that India’s vastness in size requires a lot of exam writing centres, to enable students from remote areas to get an equal opportunity for giving the entrance exams. The 8 North Eastern States of India have just 4 exam writing centres for CLAT 2021, except Delhi & Chandigarh, no Union Territory has an exam writing centre for next year’s CLAT.

This impact of such lower penetration can be seen in the form of almost negligible representation (Less than 2% as per IDIA Diversity report) in the NLUs from these remote areas. Most regional representation in NLUs is from states having the maximum no. of exam writing centres, so the pattern of representation suggests a directly proportional relationship between the representation from regions and the penetration of exam writing centres.

The 2021 IIT Mains examination has 321 test centres including 10 outside of India, whereas CLAT 2021 has just 203 test centres across India. Therefore, to make the CLAT more inclusive and ensure more participation from remote areas, the number of centres should be drastically increased and should be brought at par with other national level entrance examinations.

LANGUAGE BARRIER:

The evaluation criterion of CLAT is predominantly based on the English Language Skills of a candidate, and in a culturally & linguistically diverse country like India conducting entrances of prestigious public universities in the medium of one language only perpetuates blatant exclusion. Other entrances like IIT (Mains & Advanced), NEET etc. are conducted in other language mediums also, as against CLAT that is conducted in English Language Medium only.

A survey conducted by Lok Foundation and Oxford University, administered by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy suggests that less than 10% of the people in India are comfortable in speaking English.

The data points out the glaring exclusion that CLAT is endorsing for more than 90% of the Indian Population by keeping only English as the medium of examination.

The impact of this exclusion can be directly understood from the data of the Diversity Report of IDIA which points out that only 2% of the students in NLUs have reported that they have taken school education in Hindi or Vernacular Medium. The utter disregard of the CLAT towards an inclusive examination has made these NLUs institutions of elites with negligible linguistic or cultural diversity.

CANDIDATES WITH VISUAL DISABILITY:

It has been pointed out by many visually special candidates, that the pattern of question paper is such that they are in a disadvantageous position in comparison with other students. The CLAT has constantly quizzed students with questions based on illustrations and graphs, these questions are difficult for visually impaired students to comprehend.

This has resulted in an abysmal representation of visually disabled students in the NLUs. To ensure equal representation and accessibility to students through CLAT, the consortium should immediately take cognizance of the issues faced by visually challenged students and implement remedial policies.

SKY-HIGH CLAT COUNSELLING DEPOSIT:

The candidates are required to deposit a counselling fee of Rs. 50,000 as a deposit within two weeks of the declaration of CLAT result. Even though this deposit amount is adjustable, the short time period allowed for depositing this fee to participate in the centralised counselling process is problematic considering the demographics of the country.

This exorbitant fee is an additional barrier other than that of a high application fee which has been imposed by the CLAT. It is suggested that this high deposit amount should be significantly reduced or there should be a provision for reasonable concessions to those who don’t have the requisite resources to immediately submit the deposit amount to make the CLAT counselling process fair and inclusive.

CONCLUSION:

These entrance examinations act as a gateway of entry to NLUs which embody the principle of equality and social justice. However, due to the reasons presented above many hardworking and meritorious students are deprived of realising their dreams to attend the best law universities in India.

The irregularities in the entrance examination defeat the very purpose for which the NLUs were set up replacing the traditional institutions offering law. Such an exclusion leads to depriving the underprivileged opportunity of voicing their concerns in general and in policy-making procedures.

Hence, there is an urgent need for reform in the examination procedure so that Prof. N. R. Madhava Menon’s vision for legal education can be achieved.

(The authors are third-year students at the National Law University, Delhi)

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