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CLAT in Supreme Court; Shamnad Basheer files PIL for permanent body

Murali Krishnan

In 2007, an order of the Supreme Court changed the landscape of legal education in India for the better.  In Varun Bhagat v. Union of India and Others, the Supreme Court’s directions led to the creation of the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT).

It now appears that Court will have to intervene once again to regulate the CLAT, which has been plagued by problems since its inception.

Intellectual Property Rights expert and IDIA Founder Trustee, Shamnad Basheer has filed a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking the constitution of a permanent body for conducting CLAT.

In the petition, in which all the 18 National Law Universities (NLUs) have been arraigned as Respondents, Basheer has also prayed for the constitution of an expert committee to review the working of the CLAT and suggest institutional reforms.

The petition filed through Advocate Liz Mathew and Gopal Sankaranarayan alleges violation of Article 14 and Article 21 on the ground that that the mode and manner of conduct of CLAT is resulting in repeated violation of the fundamental rights of thousands of prospective law students.

As per the petition,

“Despite the growing popularity of CLAT, its planning and execution over the years has been marred with serious institutional lapses and inefficiencies, such as arbitrary and sub-standard question papers, incorrect questions and answers, questions that have no reasonable nexus to one’s aptitude for the study of law, wrongful allotments of seats, unnecessary delays and an opaque administration that fails to comply with basic standards of transparency and the norms underlying the RTI Act.”

The petition details the following significant problems plaguing the CLAT:

Errors in CLAT papers

The petition alleges that every CLAT question paper including the 2015 paper has been riddled with various errors, including wrong questions, answer keys, and widespread plagiarism. It also raises several instances of incompetence in the conduct of the exam such as release of merit lists and allotment of seats etc. The petition contains a compilation of errors that have crept into the CLAT papers over the years.

Erroneous Questions and Answers

According to the petition,

“In the most recent CLAT 2015 exam conducted by RMNLU, experts estimate that more than 30 questions in the test paper were faulty in that questions were either framed incorrectly, were arbitrary and didn’t make sense, the answer keys were wrong or the questions had more than one correct answer.

….out of 200 questions bearing 1 mark each, the total number of incorrect questions spanned as many as 40 questions, the equivalent to 20% of the total marks…”

The Petitioner has submitted that owing to a significant number of student complaints, the CLAT Implementation Committee (IC) formed an “expert” committee to review the questions and answer keys. The first expert committee admitted to only three errors in the UG paper. Surprisingly, a second expert committee that was constituted later found that there were no errors at all in the paper. Basheer has alleged that.

“…a review of some of these questions will highlight the sheer travesty of justice in having an expert committee defend an otherwise indefensible paper, which has harmed the futures of thousands of students.”

The petition then goes on to highlight the erroneous questions in the question paper. It further points out that the questions on legal aptitude were hardly a test of legal aptitude. Rather they demanded an extensive knowledge of arcane legal facts and principles which cannot be expected to be known by an ordinary law aspirant.

Basheer has also pointed out allegations of plagiarism against the question paper setters of CLAT 2015.

“Apart from various errors in the questions/answers as outlined above in the 2015 CLAT paper by RMLNLU, the paper setters have also been accused of extensive plagiarism.

Specifically, it has been alleged that as many as 135 out of the 150 questions in the Elementary Mathematics (Numerical Ability), English, General Knowledge and Current Affairs, and Logical Reasoning sections of the UG test paper, or 67.5%, that is, more than two-thirds of the total questions have been plagiarized from different sources.

Out of these, 27 questions in the General Knowledge and Current Affairs section were shockingly found to have been copied from a single source, www.gktoday.com, a Jaipur-based website. These 27 questions, amounting to 13.5% of the total marks of the paper, were copied from a question bank published by the said website in the months of February and March 2015.”

Maladministration

The petition highlights instances of defects in CLAT Merit List and announcement of results, wrong allotments and lack of transparency.

Basheer has also submitted that RTI applications seeking a copy of the MoU entered into by 14 NLUs in 2014 was rejected.

Inconsistent Policies

The Petitioner has contended that the absence of a permanent institutional setup for the co-ordination of the CLAT exam has led to the lack of consistency and uniformity in implementing the CLAT.

In particular, the syllabus, question paper pattern and other related processes have varied from year to year without any rationale, deliberation or adequate notice to students.

Fundamental Rights

Basheer has contended that the present practice of paper-setting is arbitrary and irrational, in that there is a huge inconsistency in the standards and quality of questions papers set each year, and it, therefore, violates Article 14 of the Constitution.

He has further submitted that due to the CLAT examinations being opaque, ad-hoc, arbitrary, inconsistent and plagued by plagiarism and inaccuracies, they breach the rights of students under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

Prayers in the petition

Basheer has made the following prayers:

(a) Pass a Writ of Mandamus or any other appropriate writ, order or direction to appoint an expert committee consisting of key stakeholders from the legal ecosystem (comprising members of Academia, the Bench and the Bar) to review the working of the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) and suggest institutional reforms with a view to placing it on a more robust institutional pedestal such that the exam is of a very high calibre, standards are consistent and the exam is conducted in the most professional and scientific and error free manner each year; and/or

(b) Pass a Writ of Mandamus or any other appropriate writ, order or direction to the Respondents to constitute an independent professional permanent body tasked with conducting CLAT on an annual basis on behalf of the Respondent Universities in a scientific, competent and consistent manner, minimising the scope for errors in paper setting and in the administration of the exam, including framing of syllabus, determination of application fees and concessions, format of exam, declaration of results, announcement of merit lists, counselling and allotments;

(c) Pass a Writ of Mandamus or any other appropriate writ, order or direction against the Respondents to be fully transparent in the conduct of CLAT and comply with proactive disclosure norms as provided for under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Read the writ petition:

Shamnad_Basheer_v._Union_of_India.pdf
Preview