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In the quaint town of Srirangam, located in Tiruchirappalli district, stands the Ranganathaswamy Temple, the largest functioning temple in the world. This magnificent edifice was built by kings of the Chola dynasty as a tribute to Lord Vishnu. A few kilometres away, past the village of Navalurkuttappattu, stands another cluster of buildings dedicated to another godlike being.
I am wondering why anyone would build an NLU so far away from the state’s high court, smack dab in the middle of nowhere. The answer is not that difficult to fathom though. Srirangam happens to be the constituency of the state’s Chief Minister, J Jayalalithaa.
At this point, you might ask how all of this could possibly be related to a law school review. Over the years, the poisonous roots of Tamil Nadu’s politics have become a fixture in many institutions.
Maladministration cause by a mixture of political lobbying and sheer incompetence. And if the stories are to be believed, this same disease has hampered the growth of the fledgling National Law University, the latest of the 16 CLAT universities in India.
The founding Vice-Chancellor, Prof Murugavel, was known to be a faithful member of the Amma brigade (his office was apparently a mini-shrine with dozens of pictures of the deity). After a two-year stint, he resigned citing differences with the university’s Executive Council. However, according to one source, the Council’s hand was forced once the shambolic state of affairs at TNNLS was unveiled.
For one, a lack of permanent faculty meant that regular classes would not take place, leaving the students to fend for themselves. Secondly, and quite shockingly, the VC would spend most of his time at Chennai, leaving the administration in the hands of a “Caretaker”, a post concocted out of thin air. To make matters worse, said Caretaker was as competent to run a law school as a child is to perform brain surgery.
The neglect is evident in the students of the present third year, and for good reason. Having been promised the moon, the university has fallen spectacularly short of their expectations. The sense of purpose characteristic of law students in their initial years is all but dead. However, there is a silver lining. Some students believe that the university is “20 times better than what it was” a year ago. The reason? A change of guard at the helm.
V Arun Roy was brought in as Prof Murugavel’s temporary replacement. An IAS officer, Roy is the first graduate from a national law school to be appointed the Vice-Chancellor of an NLU.
The NLSIU graduate makes no bones about the issues that plague the university, admitting that he has been brought in for some serious damage control. Juggling the posts of VC and Registrar-in-charge with aplomb, Roy is also making improvements to the library and getting the mooting and debating culture up and running at TNNLS.
In this interview conducted in his office (the Amma pictures are gone), Roy says that hopefully the next vice chancellor will continue to make improvements at TNNLS. Perhaps his greatest achievement in the short span he has been in charge is that he has managed to ensure that regular classes take place for all batches.
Given the fact that almost every Indian law university faces a faculty shortage problem, how has TNNLS addressed this challenge? Apart from hiring professors from neighbouring colleges, the university has also managed to attract fresh LLM graduates from other NLUs. Among these is Assistant Professor Anshuman Singh, a graduate of the National Law University, Delhi.
During our terse conversation, Singh admits that it is an exciting time to be a part of TNNLS, especially with Roy’s vision driving them forward. Singh evidently has an excellent rapport with his students (frequently calls them ‘Da’) and the fondness is mutual – the students say that it is a breath of fresh air to learn from competent, and young faculty.
On the infrastructure front, TNNLS is right up there with the best NLUs. The state government has given them a generous 75 crore grant, strictly to be used on infrastructure. The once neglected library is currently being stocked with all the requisite books and journal subscriptions. The hostels are spacious, although bear in mind the university is not operating at full capacity yet. The standout building is the auditorium, which could easily pack in more than a thousand people. Also in the pipeline is a canteen, a gym, and a music room.
With half of the seats reserved for students domiciled in Tamil Nadu, diversity at the university has taken a tangible hit. The location doesn’t make matters any better; quite understandably, a majority of the non-TN students are from the southern states. The food, I’m told, can get pretty monotonous, with the region’s staple diet of rice and sambar/rasam being a daily fixture on the menu. Campus life is picking up, with students being encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities.
With NLUs mushrooming from Srinagar to Srirangam, it remains to be seen how the newer ones will fare in the future. Especially since a lot of them fall prey to corrupt/incompetent (sometimes a heady mix of both) administration.
As far as TNNLS is concerned, the worst seems to be over and the future can only get brighter. Unless, of course, there is a change in the State government.