The dream that was ILI
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The dream that was ILI

Murali Krishnan

“The Indian Law Institute was founded in 1956 primarily with the objective of promoting and conducting legal research. The objectives of the Institute as laid down in its Memorandum of Association are to cultivate the science of law, to promote advanced studies and research in law so as to meet the social, economic and other needs of the Indian people, to promote systematization of law, to encourage and conduct investigations in legal and allied fields, to improve legal education, to impart instructions in law, and to publish studies, books, periodicals, etc.”

The above are excerpts from the website of Indian Law Institute (ILI/ Institute). Prof. LR Sivasubramaniam, who served as the Secretary of the Institute in its initial years had conceived the idea of formation of ILI on the lines of American Law Institute.

The ILI was set up on December 27, 1956 as an autonomous body registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. Inaugurated by the first President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the then Chief Justice of India SR Das served as its first ex – officio President. Justice Das, in his speech during the inaugural ceremony said that,

“We are, thus, launching the Institute on its career of usefulness, full of hope that it will take its rightful place as one of the great centres of legal research.”

(Interestingly, despite these words, Justice Das had expressed his reservations about the future of the Institute to Justice BP Sinha as mentioned later in this article).

KM Munshi, the first Executive Chairman summed up the composition and object of the ILI in the following words:

“The formation of Indian Law Institute is an important event in the legal history of this country since for the first time, the judiciary, the practitioners and the teachers connected with law have come together in a common organisation for the purpose of conducting research in law.”

The Institute in its initial years boasted of exemplary academicians and administrators who manned it. Prof. AT Markose, Prof. MP Jain, Prof. SN Jain, Prof. Upendra Baxi (Research Director), Prof. PM Bakshi and Prof. Alice Jacob all served as the Institute’s Director from time to time.

However, despite such eminent associations, the ILI witnessed troubles even in its’ initial days. One significant issue was with respect to the post of Executive Chairman, a post that was created to don the role of the organisational head of the Institute.  Dr. KM Munshi served as the first Executive Chairman. After his retirement, Justice B Jagannath Dass took over. Both Munshi and Justice Dass were persuaded into accepting the post by Chief Justice BP Sinha who extended his full support to the Chairman and the Institute. Subsequently, Justice Sinha himself came to adorn the post of Executive Chairman after his retirement as a Supreme Court judge.

This period marks the beginning of the troubles of the ILI. As the organisational head of ILI, Sinha showed deep interest in the day to day affairs of the Institute and its functioning. However, it is alleged that this was not taken kindly by the research staff which began a campaign for abolishing the post of Executive Chairman. Sinha in his book “Reminiscences and Reflections of a Chief Justice” recounts his disappointment at leaving the Institute. He writes,

“I can only say that petty jealousies and egotistic personalities combined to put me out of the picture. Thus, the dreams with which I took over as the Chairman of the Institute ended without fulfilment. Soon after, the post of Executive Chairman was abolished…..It is more than 18 years, when I walked out of the Institute with a heavy heart and no tangible work of research has been done so far.”

He also does not hide his concern about the quality of research in ILI that he subsequently used to be acquainted with from the periodicals published by the Institute. He writes,

“As a life member of the Institute, I continue to receive the issues of the periodical published under the auspices of the Institute which only show that the magazine exists but there is no trace of any real research work being done…Thus, the Institute has been reduced to the position of a body publishing regular issues of its periodicals containing articles by learned men not incorporating any research but stating the law as it is.”

In 2004, the Institute was conferred “deemed university” status and has been offering LLM and PhD programmes since then. After the exit of Dr. KNC Pillai as the Director of ILI in 2008, the functioning of the Institute was seriously hampered. Dr DS Sengar took over as Director after KNC Pillai, but resigned in 2009 in circumstances shrouded in mystery.

Prof S Sivakumar then took over as the Director In charge. Sivakumar received his first jolt when a petition was filed in the Delhi High Court alleging that he had furnished false information regarding his eligibility at the time of his appointment. The Court initially ordered the Executive Committee to look into the matter and submit a report. The Executive Committee gave Sivakumar a clean chit but the High Court rejected it and directed Sivakumar to submit on affidavit, details of his teaching experience.

This turned out to be a major embarrassment for the Institute as the High Court’s refusal to agree with the ruling of the Executive Committee of the Institute was a clear signal that all was not well with the functioning of the Institute and those at its helm.

In the meantime, many eminent professors left the Institute including Prof. Kamla Sankaran, Prof. Avasthi and Professor MRK Prasad.

The controversies did not end there.

The elections to the Governing Council of the Institute this year were marred by drama as Advocate Janak Raj Jai alleged malpractice in the elections, contending that ballot papers were withheld from “inconvenient members”. He also alleged a nexus between Senior Advocate Rakesh Munjal and Director In charge Sivakumar. He even wrote to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) seeking the appointment of a commission of inquiry to probe the irregularities and illegalities in the elections. This request met with no response. As pointed out by Jai, Munjal did win the elections and is currently the Elected Vice President of ILI. When contacted, Munjal denied these allegations.

When there was no action taken by the CJI, Jai had resorted to a 48 hour fast in protest against the apathy of the officials but his pleas fell on deaf ears.

The Institute functioned without a permanent Director for about 2 years, until the media took up the issue and reports of the sorry state of affairs in the Institute appeared on Live Law. Two months after the report appeared, Professor Manoj Kumar Sinha was appointed as Director of the Institute. To say that there was a long delay in filling up the vacancy of the head of an institution which was started with the object of spearheading legal research in India is an understatement. The reasons for such red tapism when it concerns the appointment of the Director of an Institute whose ex officio President is the CJI himself, is baffling.

The question of whether the CJI should be the ex – Officio President of the Institute is very pertinent. It is interesting to note that the first ex – Officio President of the Institute, Chief Justice SR Das was initially very reluctant to take up this responsibility.  He was persuaded into the accepting the post with a clear understanding that he would not be bothered with the administrative matters of the Institute. Apart from Justice BP Sinha, none of the other CJIs have taken any substantial interest in the functioning of ILI. The functioning of the Institute in the past few years does not befit a research institute whose President is the Chief Justice.

If the interest evinced by the CJIs in the recent past is any indicator, the association with the apex judicial body of the country has not done the Institute any good. To be fair to the CJIs, the administrative head of the apex court in the country might find it difficult to cram into his packed schedule, the additional burden of supervising a law Institute.

However, it is the allegations of favouritism in appointments to various posts and discrepancies in elections that continue to raise eyebrows.

The words of Justice SR Das to Justice Sinha are worth quoting at this juncture:

“Sinha, I do not think that such an Institute will last long or produce any good results; such institutions have come and gone without leaving any trace behind.”

What prompted Justice Das to make such a comment? We will never know.

(This is the first part of the series on ILI. More on the appointment of the Director and the academic and administrative issues in the Institute will follow in the next part. Bar & Bench would like to thank Dr. Janaj Raj Jai for his valuable inputs and research).

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