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Prof (Dr.) Paramjit S. Jaswal has been at helm of the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab (RGNUL) since February 2011. In this interview with Associate Editor, Anuj Agrawal, the Vice-Chancellor spoke about the changes he would like to make at RGNUL, the changing face of legal educaion and why the profession of law is one of the best in the world.
Bar & Bench: First of all, thank you for speaking to Bar & Bench and the hospitality as well. Could you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: Well, in 1982 I started teaching Constitutional and Administrative Law in Punjab University and a year later I moved to Jammu University where I taught for five years. After Jammu [University], I came back to Punjab University and taught here for another three years. Thereafter, I went to England to do my post-doctorate from London University and after a course on human rights in France and training in Geneva, I came back [to India] in 1992.
In 1994, I was given a Young Talented Teacher award by the University Grants Commission which carries an amount of 1.5 lakh rupees along with a three-year paid leave to do research. I submitted my project in 1998 and was with Punjab University till 2005. That year, I took leave to set up two private colleges in the state and in 2008, I came back to Punjab University. I was then the Chairman of the Department of Laws [at Punjab University].
In 2010, I got an offer to be the Vice Chancellor of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur and I joined there in December 2010. Shortly thereafter I got the offer to head this place [RGNUL] and so I shifted here.
Bar & Bench: What were your impressions of HNLU, Raipur?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: Well, I was very comfortable in the short time that I got at Raipur but HNLU had its own share of problems. The faculty was not well established, the library was very poor, there was a lack of online databases etc.
The students were very good though and even those faculty members who were not permanent were extremely cooperative. I did manage to generate some amount of enthusiasm among the students and the faculty in the one and a half months I was there.
You know when I was to leave [HNLU], the whole community of students went on strike, asking me not to leave it. They did not want me to leave.
Bar & Bench: So then in February 2011, you came to RGNUL. Looking back, what are the changes that you have brought about and what are your plans for the future?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: When I reached here, the new campus had not been fully developed; only one block of the hostel was functional. I have put in my best to develop the new campus. The [new] campus is state-of-art; environmentally friendly….each hostel is supported by 3-acre lawns. Each [hostel] room is air conditioned so that they [the students] can work in a nice environment.
Secondly I have tried my best to build up the library. So I have subscribed to online databases, tried getting rare books etc.
Two more things I have done: Earlier, no effort had been made to oversee the placements. After I came here, I established a placement cell with a faculty in charge. We also published placement brochures, not only for the 2012 batch but for the 2013 batch as well. Secondly, I have also placed a lot of emphasis on extracurricular aspects such as mooting etc. There is a lot of enthusiasm in the students here.
Bar & Bench: RGNUL is a fairly young institution. How do you plan on attracting good faculty?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: First by providing good facilities to the teachers, paying them salaries as per their entitlement, providing them with a congenial working environment and just giving them more openness to work. The best example [of attracting faculty] that I can share with you is that when I moved from HNLU, Raipur after barely two months, two faculty members followed me here.
Bar & Bench: Do you provide any sort of financial support to your students?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: – We have amended our regulations and we select two students from each year depending upon their merit and economic background, we provide them concessions with regard to fees. It is a kind of fellowship. In addition to that our university has also has got support from the Central Government; five students belonging to the SC and ST category are given full fee concession. We then collect these fees from the Central Government.
Bar & Bench: Do you think such initiatives are important given the high fee structure at most NLUs?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: As far as we are concerned we are still on the lower side as compared to the other law schools.
Bar & Bench: But why are fees so high?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: Because if we have to survive, we need to become a self-sufficient institution. Plus we need to meet the cost of the infrastructure that we provide.
Bar & Bench: Do you encourage students to take corporate law firms jobs?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: I am not exactly for the corporate sector to be very frank. In a corporate structure, the beginning is very good but the saturation point is reached very quickly. The chances of moving up are very less. Whereas for a litigating lawyer the beginning may be difficult but after that, the sky is the limit.
Most of the NLUs are criticized for only producing corporate lawyers but in my University, almost 50 per cent of the graduating batch opted for litigation. In fact one of the students from the first batch even won his first matter in the Supreme Court arguing against a senior lawyer.
Bar & Bench: Do you think it would be possible to create a network of the national law schools?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: In fact it’s a very positive feature of our NLUs. We are 15 in number and all the 15 Vice Chancellors (VCs) knew each other much before we reached these positions.
We all have a background in law and most of us have either been in the legal or academic profession for the last 25-30 years. And quite often, our objectives, demands and problems are the same. We keep meeting each other and most of us are, in one way or the other, involved in the other’s university. For example, I am on the academic council of NLU- Delhi, I am also on the academic council of NALSAR, Hyderabad and I am visiting professor at CNLU, Patna and so on and so forth.
We regularly interact with each other to discuss our problems and share our solutions. Most of us also have Memorandums of Understanding allowing for the exchange of faculty and students.
Bar & Bench: Do you see any similarities between the students at the different NLUs?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: Well they are almost the same. Just as the VCs are well connected, so are the students. In fact, the recent technological advances have really brought the students very close to each other. They are all quite similar in some aspects.
Bar & Bench: Do you think that is a problem in one sense? Are you worried about the lack of diversity in the student body?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: No, in fact, there is a lot of diversity in the student body. I have Bengali, Bihari, Tamil, Odiya students studying here, so I would say that it is a heterogeneous mixture. When we have an extracurricular program or a cultural event, there are items performed from different states.
Bar & Bench: And speaking of student life, what is your opinion about student elections?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: I have devised a different method here. I have constituted different committees such as the mooting committee, placement committee etc. Each committee has a convener and a co-convener.
The students elect these conveners. Of course these students must meet certain criteria such as experience, merit, performance etc. Based on these elections, we form a student body out of these conveners and co-conveners.
This student body certainly helps us because they know the grievances of the students, the problems they face. So instead of a crowd of students coming and approaching us, these representatives speak to us. I find this to be more convenient then speaking to 500 students at a time. And if there is a genuine demand, then we try to find a solution.
Bar & Bench: So do you think elections are required?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: – See, the election in an NLU is totally different when compared to the conventional elections in say DU, JNU or Allahabad University. Those elections are backed by political parties. These elections (at an NLU) may be called “elections” because they are elected democratically but they are more based on merit and student interest.
Bar & Bench: What is your opinion of CLAT?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: It is a very good thing. All the [NLU] VCs are members of the Core Committee; we meet before and after the examination. There is no interference by other NLUs with the University that is conducting the CLAT.
Bar & Bench: – But CLAT has been criticized on various grounds. One of the common criticisms is that if does not come from an English medium background; one would find it extremely difficult to clear CLAT. Do you think such criticisms are valid?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: Fortunately or unfortunately, however you may see it, in India people with an English background are dominating. But this is not to say that people from, say, a Hindi background cannot compete. I studied in a typical village school where “A B C” started in the sixth standard and my English teaching ended in twelfth class. That is all. I was a science graduate and there was no English subject during graduation. I did my matriculation in Hindi medium but I competed with other people [from English medium]. And now I am the VC of an NLU.
Bar & Bench: What do you think of the profession of law?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: Oh it is a wonderful profession, I worship it.
Bar & Bench: Why?
Prof Paramjit Jaswal: Many reasons. One, it is because of this profession I know about my rights and I know about my duties. Two, it is one profession where I can help other people. Three, there is so much faith in this profession. You go to a lawyer who asks you to sign on a blank piece of paper and you may well place your full faith in that lawyer. Just like the medical profession, which is also a respected profession, here also issues of life and death are involved.
Bar & Bench: Do you have any advice for students who are perhaps thinking of studying law?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: Law does not only mean that you will be a litigating lawyer. With a background of law, you can do many things. If you are an administrator for instance, your administration is on a different wave length: your decisions are supported by the principles of natural justice etc. It [legal education] arms you with the strength of knowledge.
Bar & Bench: Speaking about teaching, what are your thoughts on having students submit 5 projects every semester? Don’t you think that is placing an excessive burden on the students?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: Well, it is a part of the teaching process. I have introduced a new concept where a group of 4-5 students are given one project topic. Each project will have 4-5 portions with one student working on each portion. Then they submit a joint project.
Bar & Bench: But what if one student works very hard whereas another does not?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: To counter this we have individual vivas and individual project presentations. If a student has not worked on a project, it is quite easy to find this out. This process not only promotes research but also teaches the students leadership qualities. After all a leader is the one who not only knows how the work is to be done but how to make others work. Furthermore, the topics of the projects are from the syllabi so it is also works as a teaching methodology.
Bar & Bench: What do you do in your spare time?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: I love reading judgments of the Supreme Court. I don’t have any particular hobbies as such but I do like listening to light instrumental music and old songs. I travel when it is compulsory to travel but in administration and in academics it is not possible to be away from the university for a long period of time.
Bar & Bench: Do you have time for academics after becoming the VC?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: I continue with my academic work even now. I teach classes here in the university.
Bar & Bench: Which do you enjoy more?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: Oh teaching for sure. Teaching is my first love (smiles).
Bar & Bench: Why?
Prof. Paramjit Jaswal: It is the only profession where you are paid for your own pleasure. Of course, I do have administrative work along with the teaching but academia is my first love.