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In Conversation Professor Dr NK Chakrabarti Director of KIIT Law School

In Conversation Professor Dr NK Chakrabarti Director of KIIT Law School

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Professor NK Chakrabarti has been a teacher of law for almost thee decades and now heads the KIIT Law School in Bhubaneshwar (KLS). Professor Chakrabarti tells Bar & Bench about the challenges faced by younger institutions, the ways in which KLS stands apart from other law schools and shares his thoughts on the scope of the legal profession in the country today.

Bar & Bench: Could you tell us more about yourself?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: After getting my LLM in 1985, I joined the West Bengal Education Service as Asst Professor of Law and taught at the Hoogly Mohsin College from July, 1985 and I continued that up to November, 1996. I got my PhD from Burdwan University in 1992 which was also when my thesis was published in the International Justice of Comparative Criminology and Offender Therapy in New York.

Then I joined the Calcutta University, Faculty of Law where I was appointed as Senior Lecturer then Reader, and then promoted to Professor on January 1, 2007. I was the first, not only teacher but also first post-graduate in law with a specialisation in tort and crime in the Calcutta University.

I have already published 7 books, more than 50 research papers and I have also visited and presented papers in World Criminology Congress, the Congress at Seoul etc. In 2011, I participated in American Correctional Association Congress at Florida.

Bar & Bench: So you are quite an experienced campaigner in the field of academics. But since 2009, when you joined KLS as its Director, have you found it difficult to shift from academia to administration?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: Actually I thought that this is the formative stage of the institution. It was established in 2007 and it was Prof Mitra (founder professors of NLSIU and founding Vice Chancellor of NLU Jodhpur) who got me here. I did my PhD under Professor Mitra and in 2009, after Prof. Mustafa left to head NLU-Orissa; Prof. Mitra called me and told me to come here.

I am very happy here since I am given the freedom as required by any academic administrator. This freedom gives me opportunities to experiment in teaching methods, developing curriculum, encourage students to do more academic writing etc.

Every semester we are willing to change our curriculum. It is actually very difficult but we do that. Every semester we revise the syllabus before starting the course, the teachers are given full freedom to do this. Even during the semester, if the teacher thinks that there is something to be added, that can be done.

There are no obstacles or difficulties in getting this done. That kind of bureaucratic approach is not present here and I enjoy that. One of the most important features of KLS is that we have specialisation in honours. In earlier times, specialisation was at the LLM level but we have it at the LLB level. This was contemplated by the Bar Council of India in 2009 but we started it in 2007.

At present, we have specialisation in taxation, criminal, international, business law and also intellectual property law. We are recruiting teachers for these courses. In fact, we have already recruited 30 teachers for this.

Bar & Bench: So part of the reason you came here is that it is a young institution. So what do you see it becoming in the next 5-10 years or so?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: I think that since KLS is a private institution, we have to show that we are, to some extent, different from the conventional and traditional law schools. Also, I think we are the only private law school that is experimenting with specialisation at the undergraduate level. This requires infrastructure such as classrooms, teachers, books etc.

The money we have invested in the library is more than that done by maybe two or three national law schools. It was more than one crore rupees last year. A couple of years ago, we spent more than crore and a half on books for our library. We have built three floors as library, one floor completely for the lending section, one for the reading section and one for the journal section. The teachers recommend the books and we purchase.

Bar & Bench:Coming to faculty, with the large number of law schools, do you find it difficult to hire faculty?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: I do acknowledge that there is a dearth of teachers. But if you give [the teachers] the proper honour, remuneration [then you can attract good faculty]. Also young generation loves an institution that has good infrastructure. That is something we can provide. The entire building is centrally air-conditioned, the campus is wi-fi enabled, every teacher has his or her own separate chamber, and we provide them with laptops. We encourage teachers to present papers both within the country as well as at foreign conferences.

If you look at our faculty profile, most of them are either coming from national law schools or from foreign universities. I have always with me, a minimum of 10-15 applicants for 1-2 posts. I think if you pay properly and your infrastructure is good, then you will get good teachers.

One thing I do admit is that most of the teachers are young.

Bar & Bench: On what basis are students granted admission to KLS?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: From last year, we have been organising one exam for all the schools which we call the KIIT Entrance Examination. This is a common exam for all those taking admission in the undergraduate courses. Of course for the Law and BBA course, there are some different questions asked. Last year more than 3,000 students appeared out of which we took 200 students.

Bar & Bench: Don’t you think 200 students is a large batch size?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: It is large but the investment in the infrastructure requires this batch size. Keeping 30 teachers with full UGC [pay] and Central DA, that requires money. Also we are developing a world class library, this also requires money.

Here we have one teacher dealing with only one subject in a semester. This allows him/her to develop a specialisation in that particular topic. In traditional universities, this is not the case. When I taught, I had to take five subjects. This limited my scope to specialise in one area.

Bar & Bench: What is your opinion about younger teachers?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: What I feel is that the younger teachers possess a high degree of information but their creative thinking is sometimes lacking. I feel that a teacher should think “how to teach”. There is not just one track or route [to teach]. You have to think of new ways in how to attract students to a particular topic. I think that [creative thinking] is lacking.

Just if you throw information at the students, it might not be enough. I do acknowledge that there may be students in the class who may know more than me. But I can command the class because I have some techniques for passing on the information to the majority of the students. Maybe 4-5 students know more than me on a particular topic but if I ask him or a young teacher to teach, they are unable to think creatively or to make it interesting, they do not think about where they should begin or where they should end.

Bar & Bench: But surely this can only come from experience?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: No, no. What I feel from my life is that I always thought about a topic before teaching it. I thought about how I would present [a topic], where should I start. Should I start from a book or from my life’s experience? If I start the class not from any book but from a life experience which happened one or two days ago and then I go to the book, that will help the students learm more then just by passing on information.

Bar & Bench: Do you think that high fees is a problem?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: No, we do not think so.

Bar & Bench: Don’t you think that the high fees mean that such legal education is not an option for a lot of students without taking a loan?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: Nowadays, there are many families having only one child with both parents working and earning a good salary. They are able to afford the fees. Otherwise how else do you explain the fact that we got 200 students last year as well? Not only from one state, but from 7-8 different states.

If the fee structure is like traditional law universities, the problem would be that we would not be able to provide this kind of infrastructure. The central air-conditioning, the foreign books etc. Like I mentioned earlier, every year we invest 50 lakh to 1 crore on books.

That cannot be done [without the high fees].

Bar & Bench: What do you think are the benefits of studying law?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: Nowadays, legal education has multi-faceted dimensions. This was not the case when we graduated. In those days, the corporate sector never recruited lawyers. This started mainly after the law school in Bangalore came into being. And now under their influence, most of the big firms are recruiting young lawyers. With the rise of foreign investment, the number of transaction lawyers is increasing.

One thing I have observed is that even in traditional litigation, there are a few areas such as real estate or taxation, where the number of young lawyers is increasing. I have a student who now has five advocates working under him. Another one has established a law firm with 20 advocates and is now planning to open a Delhi office

But you have to be honest and you have to be a competent lawyer.

Bar & Bench: If someone was considering joining KLS, what would you tell them?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: If they come to KLS, they will get good infrastructure, a good library, an excellent faculty with mix of young and old. Also we organise, every year, a lot of programmes where there is an opportunity to interact with legal luminaries such as leading lawyers, Supreme Court judges etc. We organise moot court competitions.

So the student will have great exposure. Also, I think we are one of the few law schools in Eastern Indian to offer specialisation (and not honours) at the undergraduate level.

Bar & Bench: But do you think they are too young to choose specialisation?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: No. I think the young generation know what the market is like. They are aware of the supply and demand of the market. Also, we provide advice in this regard. Those who are interested in IPR, we advise them to take BSc honours etc.

Bar & Bench: What has given you the greatest joy in your profession thus far?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: Well, the best part would be the recognition given to some of my theories. I raised some questions, in the course of my research, as to whether it is the investment in the correctional institute that can make a criminal into a normal person, a law-breaking person to a law-abiding person. There is an inner mind that a person uses to go from dark to light. That self correction procedure exists, philosophically and psychologically and that is something that I proved through research.

Another paper of mine, published in AIR in 1996, recommended that tribals ought to be provided with certain rights. I was supported by a few other authors. And in 2006, that recommendation eventually went on to become a law [the Forests Rights Act, 2006] made by Parliament. So that was a great feeling.

Bar & Bench: Lastly, any words of advice for students interested in academia?

Professor NK Chakrabarti: I suggest them to be honest first. If you are honest and sincere in your work, either as a lawyer, or a teacher, then you will certainly achieve your goals.