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The recent move of the West Bengal government to amend the National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) Act to introduce domicile quotas and allow greater state interference in matters of fee fixation and student admissions has drawn the ire of the NUJS student body. The move has also reignited a popular demand for conferring upon National Law Universities (NLUs) the status of Institute of National Importance (INI).
A statement issued by the Student Juridical Association (SJA) at NUJS has condemned the proposed amendments as reeking of state governmental interference and threatening the independence and the national character of the University.
In this backdrop, the NLU Student Consortium has also released a statement, expressing solidarity and reiterating that it is high time that the Central government grant the INI tag for NLUs. Further, on the occasion of Constitution Day, the student representatives also held a Show of Solidarity demonstration to draw attention to their cause.
In its statement, the Consortium has highlighted that an abysmal state of affairs – characterised by lack of basic facilities, decent faculty, proper residential areas, functional libraries and other necessities – is a recurring theme across NLUs. This in turn has also provoked student protests in at least ten NLUs in the recent years.
These problems, the Consortium points out, is fuelled by a sheer lack of funds available to NLUs, which in turn increases their reliance on the respective states. The statement goes on to raise the concern that home states are increasingly introducing domicile quotas in NLUs, which can be tied to the lack of autonomy endowed on the NLUs.
“This lack of funds is further coupled with increasing state government interference in the administration of NLUs. In the recent years, almost all NLUs have witnessed a trend wherein state governments are increasing the domicile quota through state amendment bills. Today, ten NLUs have 50% state reservation and seven others have 20% or more.“
In this regard, the recently proposed amendment to the NUJS Act for a 30% domicile quote has been specifically highlighted.
“The Bill also undermines the institution’s autonomy by conferring the power on the state government to determine the fee-structure and allow admissions on the basis of a qualifying exam, bypassing the nationally instituted Common Law Admission Test (CLAT). Given NUJS is a founding member of the CLAT consortium, such a provision could possibly set-off a similar trend among other NLUs to opt out of the CLAT framework. Such developments are not only alarming but also antithetical to the idea of National Law Universities.”
This proposed amendment, inter alia, seeks to grant the state government powers to decide and fix the student fees without consulting with the University or its governing bodies. Further, the government has also proposed the grant of ‘free-ship’ in tuition fees for at least five percent of economically backward students.
The Consortium has also made reference to a similar move to introduce domicile reservation at NLSIU Bangalore last year. The Karnataka Legislative Assembly had passed the National Law School of India (Amendment) Bill 2017, which proposes to reserve 50% seats in the University for students who are residents of the state.
A Clandestine Attempt to Restrict Autonomy