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I am sitting behind Satyajeet Mazumdar, a recent law graduate (GNLU, 2011) working for the Centre for Social Justice, as he weaves his Honda Activa towards Ahmedabad’s famous restaurant Atheetee. I have just finished a really inspiring interview with Nupur Sinha. When we do reach there, I will down endless cups of basundi and realise how Gujju’s manage to be so full of energy all the time. But right now, I am needling Satyajeet on his decision to join an NGO rather than opt for something where the pay is higher. I keep asking him whether he envies his friends, whether he regrets his decision and whether he wished he was doing something else. “Anuj,” he tells me, “I go to work every day, knowing that I am making a real difference. I come back with the same feeling.” I shut up after that.
As far as making first impressions go, the Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar (GNLU) does a pretty good job.
The main academic/administrative building at GNLU is an imposing sight. It is impossible to ignore the building from the main road and as you walk through the gigantic parking lot and climb up the steps, you cannot help but stare at the gleaming construction. The facade is a combination of lines and curves and I am told that this is a reflection of the journey of a law student, from the confused twirls to the focused straights (go figure). The steps leading the administrative block culminate at a giant cube, below which is a plaque upon which are inscribed the words of the Preamble to the Constitution of India.
When it comes to physical infrastructure, looks like GNLU is heading in the right direction.
I am sitting in one of the “mooting rooms” in the GNLU library. The GNLU library is a well-stocked, three storey building and is filled with the subdued buzz that such places attain when exams are not around the corner. I am sitting in the mooting room and speaking to one of the students, Kapish Mandhyan.
As is the case with a lot of law students, one of the things which strike you almost instantaneously about Kapish Mandhyan is his confidence. The second thing that strikes you (and this does not take too long either) is his ability to talk. Let us not mince words over here, the man can talk.
Kapish is one of the principle organisers of GNLU’s flagship mooting competition, the GNLU International Moot Competition (GIMC), an event which was going on during my visit to the campus. Surprisingly calm, Kapish tells me about the importance of getting good judges (“We decided that with GIMC we are going to get the best judges possible”) and how much time and effort goes into hosting one of these events (“…. deciding the law for the moot took three months of discussion.”)
By most accounts, GIMC 2012 was a success with participation from 37 law schools from India and abroad. I think what Kapish and his team have managed to pull off is something which law students are getting increasingly good at: providing a national platform for law students to interact and compete. This can only be a good thing.
GNLU’s Director, Bimal Patel is certainly not one of the most eloquent speakers I have met but there are certain facts which even his detractors (who have been anonymously vocal) cannot dispute. One, he has managed to build an impressive campus including a good library, large, airy classrooms and, what are planned to be, comfortable hostels. Two, he is extremely easy to reach out to. Drop him an e-mail and you can expect an answer within forty-eight hours, something which would be unthinkable in some of the older and more traditional law schools. Three, and this is something which others might not be aware of, he takes an effort to attract public attention towards GNLU. There are times when I get two-three emails a day regarding a press release about a seminar, a conference or a mooting achievement of a GNLU student. Four, he shares a working relationship with the State government, something which can be of immeasurable help when it comes to building an institution.
Having said that, I must also point out that there are some things which I do not agree with. One, I do not buy the “universal jurisdiction” argument at all. Two, I don’t think that having only young faculty is necessarily a good thing. Three, sending students to work with courts is a welcome move but this has to be done in a careful, planned manner. Very often, judges are not used to working with paralegals or clerks and I can only imagine their reaction to seeing a dozen or so eager students at their doorsteps. The mismatch of expectations could be quite problematic.
I am sitting in the office of Assistant Professor RK Singh and we are talking about one of the courses he is taking on the recent developments in Contract Law. We are discussing what it means to be a faculty member at GNLU and he is telling me about the pros and cons of life at GNLU. After explaining one particular point, Singh stops and asks me whether he has been able to give a clear picture and whether I would want him to repeat it once again. I smile. Once a teacher, always a teacher, I suppose.
I also have the chance to share a few words with Assistant Professor Girish R, the Registrar Jabbal Dolly (who tells me about the introduction of a compulsory foreign language course), the Dean of Academic Affairs, Ramakrishna Udayakumara B.N. and Associate Professor Parameswaran K. I am struck by the fact that, just like the students, the faculty is also drawn from different parts of the country. It would make for an interesting study, this phenomenon of getting people from all over the country to study, learn and spend five years (or more) of their lives together.
I am on a “guided tour” of the campus and my intrepid hosts for the occasion are Kinnori Ghosh and Chintan Potdar. They show me the conference room, talk me through the library and even allow me to gasp all the way to the terrace of the administrative building. From the terrace I get a good view of the entire campus.
The campus itself is still in a state of construction, with the hostels slated to be completed before the start of the 2012-13 academic year. As of right now (February 2012), students are attending classes at the new campus,returning every day to their hostels situated about 5 kilometres away. Other than the hostels, also under construction are sporting facilities, accommodation for the faculty, an auditorium and the like.
On the way to the waiting car, Chintan hands me a visiting card. A second-year old student with his own visiting card! I cannot recollect the last time I felt so “out of the loop”. At the same time (or perhaps I am reading too much into it) this shows that law schools are getting increasingly competitive. In turn, law students need to be increasingly resourceful to make sure they stand out.
To be honest, I have been unable to make up my mind about GNLU. On the one hand it is has impressive infrastructure, a rising profile and tremendous support from the State government. At the same time, potential faculty may find the remuneration to be far more attractive at the nearby Nirma Institute and a large intake of students (160 a batch) work against the institution. While on the topic of large intake, it should also be mentioned that GNLU has a large State-quota of 40 seats.
The campus is quite a distance from both Gandhinagar proper and Ahmedabad city and the closest “hang out” joint is 5-6 kilometres away. I can very well imagine a parallel economy sprouting up in the next few years to provide the bare essentials (maggi, chai, juice etc). I am also told that the campus will have several educational institutes in the near vicinity so students may have the chance to explore other cultures.
With regard to faculty, the general consensus that I managed to gather was that there are perhaps one or two competent faculty while the others are simply not up to the mark. To be fair, this is something I have heard consistently from students of every school and it is something which makes me quite angry. I remember the disillusionment of landing up in class and being “taught” by people who could barely string together a sentence. That can be an extremely unpleasant experience.
Looking back, I wish I could have gotten to speak to more students than I did. I also wish that the campus had been complete so that I could have gotten a better idea of what campus life is like. I think GNLU has managed to build a good brand name in a remarkably short span of time. If it is able to tackle factors such as faculty profile and academic output, this will be one law school to watch out for.