CLAT 2014: An Open Letter to Smriti Irani and Mr. Biri Singh Sinsinwar
Apprentice Lawyer

CLAT 2014: An Open Letter to Smriti Irani and Mr. Biri Singh Sinsinwar

Anuj Agrawal

Following the withholding of CLAT 2014 results due to technical discrepancies, there is a growing sense of uneasiness amongst this year’s CLAT applicants.

Although the technical discrepancies may be the immediate cause of the unease, other contributing factors include an incorrect answer key (that was subsequently corrected) and the fact that applicants have till June 5, 2014 to visit GNLU in order to check their individual OMR sheets. In fact, for the last one, CLAT mentor Rajneesh Singh has started a Facebook group titled, CLAT 2014 – I want to see my OMR

In this open letter to the HRD Minister, Smriti Irani and BCI Chairman, BS Sinsinwar, Debajyoti Das lists down the various problems with the existing setup and the way forward.

To

Ms. Smriti Irani,

Human Resource Development (“HRD”) Minister, Government of India

&

Mr. Biri Singh Sinsinwar,

Chairman, Bar Council of India

&

To whomsoever it should concern out of their innate moral conscience and official professional conscience.

Subject: Gross Mismanagement regarding the Common Law Admission Test, 2014

Dear Ma’am/Sir,

Ideally I would have addressed the issues arising under the captioned matter to the Organising Committee of the Common Law Admission Test (the examination hereafter referred to as the “CLAT” and Organising Committee hereby referred to as the “CLAT OC”) i.e. the Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar (GNLU). However, by all outward appearances they remain completely inaccessible and seem busy with the mismanagement of the CLAT exam for this year. Transparency in governance, a zero tolerance policy towards corruption and the enforcement of efficiency as an essential part of governmental machinery were some of the key highlights of the campaign led by the Prime Minster of India, Mr. Narendra Modi. The latest casualty in the organisation of the CLAT this year has been the blanket withdrawal of the already published results in light of what has been officially described quite casually as “technical discrepancies”.

As your esteemed offices will certainly acknowledge, such last minute withholding of results, questions the transparency of the exact parameters on which the current results are lacking efficacy. The lack of clarity on the future course of action further raises fundamental questions on the possibility of corruption in the admission process. At a bare minimum it depicts a high level of inefficiency which has to be understood from the perspective of thousands of professionally committed and hardworking law aspirants who are currently undergoing nothing but a test of patience and emotional harassment at the uncertainty surrounding the current scenario. It is in deep hope that your esteemed offices will urgently intervene in the matter and absolve us all from the information blackout that I am writing to you.

At a macro level it is my hope (a hope shared by thousands of others no doubt) that your intervention will also ensure a transparent transition and also ultimately result in certain objective parameters set out for the kind of quality expected out of the CLAT OC. It would perhaps be a bright day for all of us to have a supervisory body setting out specific guidelines on the various actions to be taken by the future CLAT OCs regarding the organisation of an exam as prestigious as the CLAT.

BACKGROUND LEADING UP TO THE CLAT

The highly successful experiment that began with the humble establishment of the National Law School of India under Bangalore University has sky rocketed from its launch way back in 1988. The National Law School of India, Bangalore has become a separate university since then (“NLSIU”) and other elite universities have come up subsequently, each leaving a mark on the landscape of the legal education of India. Within two decades of the establishment of NLSIU and in absolute acknowledgement of the scale of its success, seven such elite law schools were conducting separate entrances i.e.

(1)          NLSIU, Bangalore

(2)          National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR), Hyderabad

(3)          National Law Institute University (NLIU), Bhopal

(4)          West Bengal National University of Juridical Studies (WBNUJS), Kolkata

(5)          National Law University (NLU), Jodhpur

(6)          GNLU

(7)          Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU), Raipur

(8)          Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University (RMLNLU), Lucknow

Slowly but surely as more National Law Universities (NLUs) were established and the demand for pursuing a professional legal education in these institutions of excellence started increasing, the inconvenience of having to write separate exams for each separate NLU started increasing as well. Subsequent to a Public Interest Litigation filed before the Supreme Court of India in 2006 and in furtherance of various consultations initiated by the HRD Ministry and the University Grants Commission, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between various Vice-Chancellors of the National Law Universities in 2007. As a result a common entrance for the NLUs namely, the CLAT was born.

BRIEF HIGHLIGHTS OF PREVIOUS CLAT ISSUES

The CLAT exam for the admissions to this year’s batches of these elite law schools, was recently conducted on May 11, 2014 . However, it would perhaps be wise to take a note of the previous CLAT exams as well.

CLAT, 2009 was the first major lapse in the organisational achievements of the CLAT OC, as the paper was leaked. The original schedule of May 17, 2009 had to be rescheduled to May 31, 2009. The end result was not only the general misfortune of the rescheduling but also an admittedly substandard and wildcard level of questions being asked in the paper.

CLAT, 2011 had the even more embarrassing distinction of having almost a dozen questions where the answers were underlined in the question paper itself. A level of negligence which cannot by any stretch of imagination be a callous omission but is gross negligence and a matter of national shame for an exam looking to create the top most lawyers of the India of tomorrow.

CLAT, 2012 had an equal share of controversies. The preference list was erroneously uploaded and had to be redone. There were also raging debates about the published answer key, as has been the case this year.

CLAT 2014 – A NEED FOR AN URGENT RELOOK

A) The Most Appropriate Inappropriateness

What began as a promising endeavour has slowly but surely turned out to be a practical nightmare for students and teachers alike. In an official communication dated May 19, 2014 sent out to all the registered CLAT applicants, the CLAT OC published an answer key but labelled the same as outrageously as the “Most Appropriate Answer Key” (hereafter referred to as the “MAAK”). Is it not a basic requirement on the part of the CLAT OC to make sure that the answers on which the hopes and dreams of thousands of law aspirants in India are dependant, are at least those on which they themselves have absolute belief in? Whilst the fundamental idea of humility perhaps sought to be established is fully acknowledged, the uncertainty underlined in the term “Most Appropriate” leaves a lot of instability in an examination of this scale and stature.

Since the examination itself was conducted on May 11, 2014, it throws up various questions of efficiency as to why the questions and the answers therein were not already prepared and vetted by the relevant sectional experts? The release of the answers should in no way be an experiment  to check and recheck and confirm and reconfirm and validate and revalidate the answers. Any such communication in relation to the aforementioned, must come with a high degree of confidence in the correctness of the answers; and the CLAT answer key should be setting standards of intelligence. Rather, it continues to be lacking in any respect and credibility whatsoever. Would we expect the same from the LSAT (the law school admissions examination in USA) answer key?

As a nation while we are facing the challenges of the 21st century with gusto and whilst the students of India are inarguably rising up to the new and emerging challenges of the 21st century, it seems to me however, that the education processes and standards set by Indian universities sometimes callously continue to sustain in a 19th century arrogance and perhaps a 20th century bureaucracy. Were the answers prepared in the one (1) week subsequent to the examination? Not only are these serious lapses on the part of the CLAT OC but these throw up fundamental questions about why we don’t already have a clear system on the preparation and the release of answers in the first place, in spite of this being the seventh year of the CLAT examination! It is the entire uncertainty of everything that still leaves much to be asked. This is no longer an ad hoc examination subject to basic experimentation, let us make sure that it is not treated as such.

First Suggestion: Let us please have an objective system in place as to who prepares the answers; when they are supposed to be prepared; and when they are to be released to the general public, if at all. Finally let the last part of the date of release be pre-informed for clarity and transparency and let the answers be released with a little confidence in the veracity of the same.    

B) Is a “My Experiments with Truth” style of functioning Enough?

Once the answer key was published by the CLAT OC, they were bombarded with doubts and counter-arguments. Finally, there were three (3) answers whose options were completely changed and there were two (2) more questions where multiple options were ultimately acknowledged as correct answers. At the outset, let me acknowledge that it was a very humble endeavour on the part of the CLAT OC to relook at the answers provided by them and even go ahead and make certain modifications. However, once again this throws up extremely humiliating aspects of the standards of the level at which our question framing and answer framing is done. Why is it that three (3), THREE whole questions were wrongly answered? Who is accountable for those mistakes? Are we as a nation expected to rely on public feedback for the correctness of professional examination answers? Do we have clear sanctions for people who framed and/or cleared the wrong answers? At the most fundamental of levels, is it enough for the CLAT OC to say that they are open to suggestions and that they are open to acknowledging that they are wrong? To my mind that seems only like the bare minimum, especially if they are anyways WRONG. Mahatma Gandhi acknowledging certain mistakes from his childhood in his celebrated book “My Experiments with Truth” were in complete retrospection and in light of problems that had already been solved in his own life. To allow the same liberty to the CLAT OC even in light of prospective practice seems hardly a parallel.

Second Suggestion: Let there be a clear and objective criteria for the selection of the team of people that are providing the service of preparing the questions and answers. Let there also be clear consequences, at least in terms of withholding of payments or fines for publicly acknowledged wrong answers. The names of the people who made the answers should be made public so that at least there is general sense of injury to reputation for being negligent enough to answer questions in the CLAT paper. Most of these people involved in the question and answer framing are acknowledged to be experts in their field, therefore these steps may ensure a little sincerity that should have anyways come with the job.

C) Withholding the Withholder’s holdings

If the previous fundamental concerns were not already unfortunate enough, we had the final icing on the cake with the withholding of the results on June 1, 2014 after the results were declared on May 31, 2014. The toppers across the country have celebrated the results. Many of my students have shed tears of joy. It goes without saying that a lot of students have shed tears of disappointment as well. It is fully acknowledged that if there are any problems then the same should be corrected. It is equally acknowledged that if there are any “technical discrepancies” then the same should be corrected. But the fundamental questions continue to sustain; in the light of pursuing the righteousness of ascertaining and correcting the “technical discrepancies” there has to be a sense of accountability as to who was responsible for the aforementioned discrepancies in the first place. The entire results have been withheld. Once again, I acknowledge that the right thing must be done. However, as a system oriented, transparency oriented, accountability oriented government that you are seeking to establish, we also need to put the blame on the authority/entity/individual responsible for the same.

Third Suggestion: Let us kindly establish an accountable system for the technical teams as well. If there is a technical discrepancy (as the CLAT OC acknowledges officially on the website), let us hold the responsible accountable and establish a clear and objective system to correct the same.

In the end the issue is not just about the problems of the previous CLAT exams and their organisations or the immediate problems of this year. But respected Ms. Irani and Mr. Sinsinwar it is about establishing a clearer and more accountable system for the future. We must start believing and acting like a nation which does not relax in the mediocrity of the  past but the professionalism of the future which we are not only capable of achieving but also need to make sure that we do in fact accomplish and establish.

Yours Sincerely,

Debajyoti Das

Debajyoti Das is a graduate of the Hidayatullah National Law University. A Microsoft Intellectual Property Scholar in 2009, Debajyoti worked at Amarchand Mangaldas in the capital markets team. He subsequently left the firm and is now the CEO of law school preparation institute ClatPossible.

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