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If matter has pan-India ramifications, how can we adjudicate it? Jharkhand HC reserves orders in challenge to NLAT 2020

"What if students from each state file writ petitions before respective High Courts? What if one High Court stays the exam and another High Court dismisses it?", the Court queried during the hearing.

Aditya AK

The Jharkhand High Court today reserved its order in a petition challenging the move of National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bangalore to conduct its separate examination, the National Law Admission Test (NLAT).

The matter was heard today by a Single Judge Bench of Justice Rajesh Shankar.

At the outset, Justice Shankar raised reservations over whether the matter should be entertained by the Jharkhand High Court, observing,

"Why is the petition filed before Jharkhand High Court? What if students from each state file writ petitions before respective High Courts? What if one High Court stays the exam and another High Court dismisses it?"

He went on to point out,

"NLSIU and Consortium office are situated in Karnataka. How can Jharkhand High Court hear the matter?... If a matter has pan-India ramifications, how can we adjudicate it?"

At this juncture, the Court was informed that petitions challenging the NLAT were also pending before the Supreme Court and the Madhya Pradesh High Court. Senior Advocate Sajan Poovayya, appearing for NLSIU, told the Court that notice has not been issued in either of these pleas. He added,

"It is not that the Jharkhand High Court does not have jurisdiction, but it may choose not to exercise its jurisdiction on grounds of forum non conveniens."

Justice Shankar responded,

"Forum non conveniens would come into play in this case... It is a difficult situation when petitions are filed in different High Courts."

Appearing for the petitioner, Advocate Shubham Gautam pointed out that the plea was first filed before the Jharkhand High Court.

"This is the first writ petition filed in the country", he said.

He went on to raise concern,

"What is these matters are not listed before Supreme Court and Madhya Pradesh High Court before exam takes place? This notification is in blatant violation of a Supreme Court order on CLAT exam."

He futher argued,

"While NLSIU has provided option for students to appear in test centres, it has said in its notification that NLISU will not be responsible for technical faults, internet disconnection etc. There is no such centre in Jharkhand."

However, it was later pointed that NLSIU had arranged for a centre in Dhanbad, Jharkhand.

Poovayya countered that NLSIU has now decreased the internet requirements to 512 kbps internet speed. Further, he submitted that NLSIU has made special arrangements with IDIA to cater to needs of students who do not have access to computers/internet.

Poovayya further informed the Court,

"We have reduced the number of questions without changing the pattern. We are not testing students on the aptitude of law... 30,298 students have already registered. Only a handful of students are raising grievances against NLAT."

The Court eventually expressed that it wants to examine whether students from Jharkhand will face any difficulty in writing the exam. To this, Poovayya responded,

"Arrangements will be made in case students are facing difficulties. Even lawyers are offering their offices to students who want to write the exam."

Justice Shankar also sought to know whether NLAT would be conducted only for this year. Poovayya response that a decision has been made only to conduct a separate exam this year. The Executive Council of NLSIU will meet later to decide on the issue, Poovayya added.

After hearing the parties, the Court proceeded to post the matter for orders tomorrow, observing,

"The main issue is that of jurisdiction of the High Court, given the pan-India ramifications of the exam..."

The petition prays for quashing the notification issued by NLSIU yesterday intimating its decision to hold the NLAT on September 12 for admissions to the University.

The contentions made by the petitioners include:

  • NLSIU's decision to declare a separate examination for admission to its 5-year BA LLB programme for 2020-21 is illegal and arbitrary;

  • NLSIU's September 3 notification issued to that effect is violative of clause 15.7 of the bye-laws of the Consortium of National Law Universities;

  • NLSIU's decision to hold a separate examination without withdrawing from the CLAT consortium is illegal, arbitrary and whimsical;

  • NLSIU's decision to hold a separate examination, while being a permanent member of the CLAT Consortium of National Law Universities is unlawful and arbitrary;

  • NLSIU's withdrawal from the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) violates the rights of the petitioners to have an examination in a just and fair manner;

  • NLSIU's decision to hold a separate entrance exam after aspirants filled the registration forms for CLAT is violative of the principle of promissory estoppel;

  • Declaration of a new date of examination and a new exam pattern by NLSIU around 10 days before the declared date of examination is illegal, arbitrary and whimsical

  • NLSIU's action is against the established precedents of the Supreme Court for the conduct of fair and just examination

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