Law School (mini) Darshan: National Law University, Delhi
Apprentice Lawyer

Law School (mini) Darshan: National Law University, Delhi

Bar & Bench

“Do you read the papers? How often?” I pause. For a brief moment I forget who the interviewer is and who is the interviewed. I meekly answer the questions and the conversation resumes its brisk pace. But that is Professor Ranbir Singh for you.  Currently heading the National Law University, Delhi (NLU-D), Prof Singh has built quite a reputation as an institution builder, first at the National Law School in Bangalore and then at NALSAR, Hyderabad. The man is tough, aggressive, ambitious and an extremely persuasive speaker. I must have spent about 20-25 minutes speaking to him and by the end of it I was almost convinced that NLU-D is the place to study law. When it comes to pure marketing, I don’t think any one comes close to the Professor, I really don’t.

It would be unfair to call the following report a “darshan” since I spent a total of five hours at NLU-D. What follows are my brief, flitting impressions; a recounting of images and memories during a visit which was simply too short.

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Dwarka is a bit like the Saki Naka of Delhi minus the traffic snarls and the “hep” factor. This suburb of Delhi is roughly an hour away from Connaught Place on the Metro and consists of large, residential colonies in various “Sectors” with each Sector numbered in the logic-defying manner that exemplifies Delhi city. In that sense I think NLU-D is a bit of an oddity: I certainly did not get the “in city” feel of a campus such as NUJS nor did I experience a “cut off from civilisation” feel of a campus such as NALSAR. Either way with the hostel timings, I don’t think students would have much of a chance to go to the city.

Having said that, the fact of the matter is that being located in Delhi is a huge positive. To me, NLU-D is equivalent to a national law school in Bombay. You have access to the chambers of some of the best lawyers in the country, innumerable non-governmental organisations, law firms and so on and so forth. Furthermore, a lot of appellate tribunals are located in Delhi, allowing access to fairly niche sectors. In terms of location alone, NLU-D holds a distinct advantage.

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If I were to list my favourite parts of the Law School Darshan series, interacting with law students would be in the top three. I enjoy speaking to them and hearing their views largely because it reminds me of my college days but also because I am continuously amazed at how sharp some of the kids are. And it is not the intellectual sharpness (of which I am a poor judge) that I find incredible, but more the presence of mind, the “street smart” element, the ability to know how to get things done.

Example: I am walking towards the library with a student who has kindly agreed to show me around the campus. Just as I am about to enter, the guard jumps up and eyes me with more than a hint of suspicion. All the student does is quietly murmur “VC saab ka guest hai (He is a guest of the Vice Chancellor)” and the guard sits down, zeal temporarily forgotten. Perhaps I am making too much of it but I just thought that it was the perfect example of true advocacy, of using words in a manner which is both economical and effective.

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I am sitting in the Boy’s Mess and having lunch. The “rajma rice” is quite good and I would rate the mess food as the second best (after Jodhpur) of all the NLUs that I have eaten at thus far. Of course, I don’t have to eat here seven days a week so perhaps I should not really comment on this.

I don’t understand why the canteens are segregated though. What is to happen to the practice of sharing a plate, irrefutable proof that a couple were, in fact, a “couple”? I wonder.

It is at the Mess that I bump into a couple of students and they tell me a bit about what they think of NLU-D and its administration. It is difficult to remove perception from the truth but I left the Mess with the feeling that the student voice could be given a lot more attention at NLU-D.

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I am walking through the academic block and I waltz into one of the first-year classrooms. Almost every student stands up to greet me, each looking so wonderfully prim and proper in the NLU-D blazer and uniform. It appears that they have mistaken me for someone who is about to take a lecture. It takes a supreme effort to keep a straight face. But I do and move on.

On the infrastructure front, NLU-D looks well covered. The classrooms are generously large (the batch strength is 80 a year), faculty rooms are comfortable and the library is quite impressive. The TPS Chawala library is still a work in progress but I was definitely impressed by the collection, both by its depth as well as it variety. Online subscriptions were plentiful and no student had any complaints on the internet front.

The hostels are new and well maintained, and the (double occupancy) rooms seem quite comfortable. There is a common room with a television and I don’t really apprehend any complaints about the quality of hostel life. Student life also seems to be fairly active in nature. Other than moots, there are regular conferences and seminars and the student body regularly holds intra-university events. Just a few weeks ago, NLU-D launched its own student-run newspaper.

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I am moving towards the air-conditioned bliss that is the Delhi Metro with the distinct impression that NLU-D is just so much about Ranbir Singh. During my visit, I came across a faculty member who was about to be roped in from another national law school. Between this visit and the publication of this piece, Professor Singh has gotten one more faculty member. I know for a fact that he has initiated discussions with at least two teachers at different national law schools.

The fact of the matter is that Professor Singh is attracting talent and he is doing it an aggressive manner, offering new positions and modulating faculty responsibilities. And his efforts do not end with faculty. Full financial assistance for any international moot? That is simply unheard of yet I have no doubt that it is true. As with NALSAR, Singh has managed to get significant financial contributions for NLU-D.

The NLU-D campus shares space with a judicial academy which conducts training for judicial officers, something which, no doubt, means additional revenue for NLU-D. More significantly, this means greater access to the judiciary. NLU-D conducts its own entrance exam, a move which Professor Singh admits was partly driven by financial considerations.  At the same time, I wonder if the (comparatively) lower level of competition has an effect on the quality of students. Furthermore, NLU-D is yet to have a graduating batch and, like most young institutions, will take its own time to truly establish itself.

So what do I think about NLU-D? I think it is an exciting place to be at right now, headed by a man who is extremely well connected and not afraid in using those connections. He is also using his NALSAR days to get faculty and I doubt that NLU-D will be plagued with the financial problems faced by other NLUs.  And, once again, the importance of the location cannot be underestimated.

All in all, this is one law school worth keeping an eye over for the next few years. Right now though, I am steeling myself, elbows pointed forward for the human stampede that follows “Agla station Rajiv Chowk hai”.

This visit took place in April 2012. I wish to thank the authorities and students at NLU Delhi for their time and patience.

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