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I know that NLUs as a rule are situated in areas far flung from the city, but this is pushing it.
Having traveled more than 25 km from the city of Raipur, there are precious little signs of civilization. Judging by the arid, treeless surroundings, I might as well be on Mars. This area, I’m told, is being prepared as part of the state government’s pet project to transform the new capital, Naya Raipur, to a smart city. Activists in the state will tell you that the land acquired to this end has been done illegally, much to the detriment of the Adivasi villagers.
Even as I shed a tear for the unscrupulously displaced denizens, I reach the sprawling campus of Hidayatullah National Law University, Upawara (it’s too far from Raipur, really).
The progress of HNLU, in some ways, mirrors the changes the state of Chhattisgarh has been undergoing over the past couple of years. There has been an emphasis on improving infrastructure, and the University can now boast of some of the best facilities an NLU can offer.
However, that was not always the case.
Stories chronicling the history of an NLU often begin with widespread dissatisfaction among students. And so it was with the sixth national law university, which was lacking in pretty much every aspect. Prof Sukh Pal Singh, the current Vice-Chancellor will admit this himself, saying that he started out in 2011 not from zero, but from negative, largely due to lack of financial support from the state government.
And the scars of the past are there to see when one meets the students. The few final year students I met are just counting down the rest of their days in what had been their home for the better part of five years. The first year students are reaping the benefits of change, and seem a much more upbeat bunch. However, there is one thing all sets of students agree on – the quality of the faculty.
With just two Professors and one Associate Professor on board, the faculty is largely inexperienced, and in the words of the students, “not very good”. This is largely down to the University being located on another planet. Prof Singh points out that there are no schools nearby for teachers to send their children to.
Another factor is the government reservation policy mandating 58% faculty members to be from the state.
Unfortunately, Prof Singh has found nobody with the qualifications to fill these posts. Old school as he may be in his views, the VC has tried to address the faculty problem by bringing in young law postgraduates to fill up his posts.
Nevertheless, the students receive a lot of support from the University in participating in extra-curricular activities. An enthusiastic group preparing for HNLU’s annual sports and cultural fest, Colossus, is especially grateful of this fact. And the results are there to see, with the University doing well in moots of late. It is one of the few NLUs that completely funds students who go abroad for moots and seminars, thanks to a grant from the state government.
Given the location of the University, it is extremely difficult to go out into the city, even though the college Mars Rover ferries students for the 30 km journey. It is therefore essential to encourage on-campus activities to help students unwind. To this end, the University has built sports facilities that rival any other NLU. Apart from a full-size cricket pitch, and basketball and volleyball courts, HNLU will soon be the only NLU to have lawn tennis court. Much fancy.
But that is not the best facility HNLU has to offer.
A caricature of Justice Mohammad Hidayatullah, drawn by a student, hangs on a wall in the library. Although the portrait is not a very flattering rendition, the former Chief Justice of India can take solace in the fact that the University named after him boasts quite an enviable library.
It is a stunning piece of architecture, which uses natural light to its fullest. Equally impressive is the collection of books and journals, which according to Prof Singh, is updated every year by spending close to Rs. 1.5 crore.
They’ve gone all out on the canteen as well. Chinese to South Indian to Italian; I have not seen so much choice on offer in any other NLU. It is hard to see how students could go tired of the food; however, one look at the amount of oil in the Chicken Chowmein makes you wish a hospital was closer.
I don’t want to die on Mars.
How have the placements been over the years? Steadily improving. Last year, 58 students landed jobs in various firms (including BigLaw) and LPOs. This is a far cry from a couple of years ago, when students had to rely on PPOs for jobs since the distance was a major deterrent for recruiters. The state government is doing its part by offering HNLU graduates posts in the Chhattisgarh Law & Legislative Department.
So does HNLU actually compete with the best? Not just yet. And there are a number of reasons for this. Due to the faculty issue, HNLU’s scope for introducing new certificate and diploma courses is severely hampered. This is something Prof Singh will look to address during his second term as Vice-Chancellor.
Moreover, students reveal that there is no tangible activity on the part of the legal services clinic. While it is true that most NLUs do not have a very proactive legal aid cell, it is something very much required at HNLU, given the socio-legal condition of the tribals in Chhattisgarh.
The location is still a disadvantage, but that is likely to change in the near future. The University finds itself surrounded by the rudiments of Naya Raipur, touted to become a booming centre for industry and technology. A law firm or two might just consider opening an office there once the city is up and running.
There might well be signs of life on Mars.