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A swimming pool, a football ground, fancy hostels, state-of-the-art architecture, acres and acres of wide open spaces to (ahem) frolic about in. These are just some of facilities the National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam (NLUJAA) does not have.
Well, not yet, at least.
Located in a busy part of central Gauhati, NLUJAA at best resembles your run-of-the-mill local law college, as opposed to one of the 17 CLAT “national” universities.
However, nit-picking over the infrastructure (or lack thereof) is just the tip of the iceberg. Until recently, the university was in an utter shambles.
Barely twelve months ago, the students at NLUJAA had gone on protest against the administration’s abject failure to provide them with basic requirements. The dramatically titled A Saga of Grieved Souls, a memorandum on the state of affairs at the university, highlighted the absence of permanent faculty, insufficient books in the library, and lack of medical facilities, among other problems. What makes all of this harder to believe is the fact that the fees at NLU Assam is one of the highest among the NLUs. Surely, paying upwards of 2 lakh per annum should mean that you never have to go on a hunger strike. Surely.
Another interesting point to note from that dark period in NLUJAA’s history is that the students alleged that erstwhile the Chancellor and Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court Sreedhar Rao J. refused to hear their grievances after conducting an initial inspection of the university. However, founding Director General Dr. Gurjeet Singh reveals quite a different experience with Justice Madan Lokur, who was Chancellor during his time. In this interview, he credits Justice Lokur with being instrumental in setting up the university. It makes one wonder as to how much the initiative taken by a Chancellor affects the well-being of a law university.
However, the storm seems to have passed now; Vice-Chancellor Prof Vijender Kumar has managed to steer the ship through choppy waters. It is evident that the ex-Registrar of NALSAR is determined to set the record straight.
In an earlier interview with Bar & Bench, he elaborates on how the students’ grievances are being addressed, one by one. And it seems as though his plans have more or less come to fruition. His most important achievement is the appointment of 21 permanent faculty members, at a time when the university had none to speak of. So how has he managed to do this?
A majority of NLUJAA’s faculty comprises young academics under the age of 40, with experience teaching in other NLUs. And the students seem to be satisfied with the quality of their teachers – special mention is made of Prof Yugal Kishore, who teaches Environmental Law and Dr. Nandakishwor Singh, the Political Science faculty. This seems to be the most effective way of ensuring permanent faculty at a time when it is difficult for law universities to attract experienced teachers.
Prof Kumar also brings my attention to a number of newly formed research centres at the university. The Centre for Child Rights in particular is on the verge of doing some good work, having recently tied up with NLSIU’s Centre for Child and the Law. It is a much needed initiative, given Assam’s history of child rights violations.
The Vice-Chancellor is confident that once they move into the new campus, NLUJAA will have everything a top NLU has to offer. However, plans of shifting have been in the works since the university’s inception. As per the latest plan, the shift is scheduled for some time this month i.e. before the end of December.
As if to taunt the students, a model of the proposed campus is put up on display near the entrance. What is even sadder is that the first graduating batch has spent the better part of five years without catching so much as a glimpse of the promised land, especially since the existing facilities are sub-standard.
The library pales in comparison to the ones in the top NLUs. As far as the moot court hall and the gym, well, they exist. What the campus is desperately lacking is hostels; the students have had to take up accommodation in surrounding areas, making it particularly difficult for the ones from far off places.
I am sitting in a classroom full of enthusiastic first-years laughing at lame jokes and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Wait for Civil Procedure Code. Only then you will know the true meaning of life.’ There is so much hope in this room; so much ambition. One wants to be a teacher, the other wants to work for the UN, yet another a judge. I can only hope that if they become jaded after five years, it is on account of general law school life and not because of a faulty administration.
The location of the university also means that diversity has taken hit. While most NLUs can boast of students from multiple states, most of the non-localites at NLUJAA are from neighbouring states.
As much as they might complain (and justifiably so) about the lack of infrastructure, the students have had to make do with what they have. The occasional lack of swimming pool rant aside, they seem to be content, or rather relieved that things have attained a semblance of stability. What they do take issue with however, are the long hours in the classroom.
The fact that they have six subjects a semester, as opposed to the conventional five, means classes go on from 10 AM to 4 PM, with working Saturdays. Consequently, the frequency of extra-curricular activities has suffered, and you know what they say about all work and no play.
It is an early sunset in the North-Eastern state and the students are making their way back to their accommodation through the crowded market nearby. Those demons of maladministration have been exorcised and they have reason to believe that the sun will shine brightly upon them, sooner rather than later.