Supreme Court and NLAT
Supreme Court and NLAT
Litigation News

NLAT cannot be termed “a success” by the widest stretch of imagination: Rejoinder filed in plea challenging conduct of NLAT before SC

Counter-affidavits have also been filed by NLSIU, through its Registrar, Prof Dr Sarasu Esther Thomas and its Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy.

Meera Emmanuel

Close on the heels of the conduct of the National Law Aptitude Test (NLAT), a rejoinder has been filed in the Supreme Court reiterating that the exam should be scrapped and that admissions to National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bangalore be based on Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) scores.

The rejoinder has been filed by the petitioners in the petition moved by former NLSIU Vice-Chancellor, Prof Venkata Rao and an aggrieved parent to challenge the NLAT.

A counter affidavit in the matter has also beein filed by the NLU Consortium through its Secretary and NALSAR Vice-Chancellor, Prof Faizan Mustafa, supporting the petitioners' stance.

Moreover, counter-affidavits have also been filed by NLSIU, through its Registrar, Prof Dr Sarasu Esther Thomas and its Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy.

The rejoinder filed by the petitioners asserts that NLSIU has miserably failed in conducting the NLAT and has made a large number of candidates suffer. The exam and its procedure lack transparency and cannot be termed “a success” by the widest stretch of imagination, they add.

The NLU Consortium's affidavit contends that the cavalier attitude with which NLSIU has conducted the examination, without any regard for collective decision making, and jeopardising the lives of thousands of students, all while knowing that the NLAT examination was impossible to conduct, demonstrates its malafide conduct.

The decision to conduct NLAT has effectively defeated the effort and orders of the Supreme Court in reforming the admission process to National Law Universities by consolidating it under the leadership of the Consortium, the Consortium further states.

On the other hand, the affidavits filed on behalf of NLSIU and its Vice-Chancellor makes submissions justifying the conduct of its exam, questioning the maintainability of the plea before the Supreme Court, and urging for the writ petition to be dismissed with exemplary costs.

Contentions in the NLU Consortium's counter-affidavit:

The Consortium states that the NLAT exam conducted on September 12 raised various issues which put in question the integrity of the NLAT and violate the students’ right of equality or opportunity including:

  • Lack of publicity for the exam: NLSIU did not widely publicise the exam. No known advertisements were made in newspapers and no effort was made to each out to all those who had enrolled for CLAT. Over 40,000 aspirants were deprived of their right to compete for a seat at NLSIU, particularly students from marginalised classes.

  • Lack of physical accessibility to centres: NLSIU had outsourced and conducted test centres through an agency named TestPan. However, no centres were organised in North East India, West Bengal and other parties of the country.

  • Technical errors leading to mishandling of tests: There were many reports of the failure of the software during the NLAT. It is reported that students were not allowed to appear for no fault of their own. A re-exam was also conducted by NLSIU without the leave of the Court. The technology of the exam was not satisfactory.

  • Concerns of mass-cheating: The proctoring software employed by NLSIU was fraught with errors.

  • Leakage of the re-exam paper’s questions: Inter alia, it is submitted that the proctoring protocols could not be followed since a Safe Assessment Browser (SAB) tool was not insisted upon.

  • A different format, place and time of the exam etc. was followed.

Earlier submissions made by the Consortium have also been reiterated, i.e. that the decision to conduct NLAT was in violation of NLSIU’s parent Act, in violation of the MoA and the bylaws of the NLU Consortium, and that the ostensible purpose for NLAT’s conduct i.e. to avoid a “Zero year”, is baseless.

Contentions raised in the petitioners' rejoinder:

  • NLSIU’s decision to conduct NLAT was a parallel move, which is legally impermissible.

  • It is widely pointed out that thousands were unable to meet even the revised technical requirements needed to write the NLAT.

  • The “accessibility measures” taken by NLSIU were a mere eyewash to score brownie points amid widespread criticism.

  • Test centres were only available in a little over 35 cities, which are primarily capital cities, which is wholly unreasonable and inequitable.

  • Instead of releasing properly formulated notifications, NLSIU has chosen to surreptitiously change its stance by updating its Frequently Answered Questions on its website. There has been no newspaper publications. Rather, the information has been released through social media, which has limited reach.

  • The mock NLAT itself was problematic and flawed, and it was reported that candidates faced numerous problems. Myriad possibilities for cheating were also flagged by media portals.

  • Widespread technical issues were reported by candidates during the NLAT on September 12. It is also noted that legal news portals anticipated these problems and reported on these issues live by inviting candidates to share their issues.

  • Whereas a re-test was conducted, the question paper was also reported to have been leaked, bringing into question the integrity of the protocols of NLSIU and the integrity of the exam.

  • There has never been a leak of this magnitude ever reported in any of the earlier law entrance examinations held by the consortium.

  • NLSIU Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy, is not only complicit in the entire NLAT debacle, "but is, in fact, the architect of this entirely avoidable chaos."

  • Justifications of avoiding a zero year cannot trump the legitimate expectations of students and their fundamental rights.

Contentions made by NLSIU and Vice-Chancellor Prof. Sudhir Krishnaswamy

  • The petitioners lack the locus standi to maintain the writ petition.

  • The decision to implement NLAT is entirely justified as it is the only way to avoid a zero year, where students would lose the opportunity to join NLSIU in the current academic year.

  • The Executive Council of the Chief Executive Body of the NLSIU has categorically authorised NLSIU to conduct its own admissions process.

  • The NLAT is held pursuant to this categorical and unanimous decision of the Executive Council.

  • The MoA and bylaws of the Consortium of NLUs do not prohibit a member from conducting its own admission test, especially when CLAT is not held by the Consortium.

  • Even assuming, without admitting, that the bylaws do not permit it, the same would be a dispute among the Consortium members and it cannot be urged in this writ petition.

  • It would be in the interests of justice and equity that NLSIU be permitted to release the exam results of NLAT and complete its admissions so as to commence the academic programme in a timely manner as per the revised academic calendar.

  • The writ petition may be dismissed with exemplary costs.

Another counter filed on behalf of NLSIU's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sudhir Krishnaswamy, adds:

  • The NLSIU Vice-Chancellor is neither a proper nor necessary party in the matter. The petitions are seeking Prof Krishnaswamy’s impleadment on vague and unsubstantiated allegations.

  • In his capacity as the NLU Consortium’s Treasurer Secretary (a post from which he has been divested in the wake of the decision to conduct NLAT), Prof Krishnaswamy has acted in the best interests of the Consortium, and has performed several responsibilities with regard to the conduct of CLAT 2020.

  • There is no legal basis for the claim that there was a conflict of interest, as Prof Krishnaswamy discharged both his role as NLSIU’s Vice-Chancellor and as Treasurer-Secretary of the Consortium for the benefit of both entities. There was no personal benefit derived. Prof Krishnaswamy further asserts that he has attempted to meet the highest standards of professional conduct, while segregating his roles.

  • The decision to postpone CLAT to September 28 was not taken with the consent and approval of Prof Krishnaswamy. A claim made in this regard as been denied. This decision by the Consortium was vociferously protested against by him.

  • Approval to conduct NLAT was also obtained from Justice UU Lalit of the Supreme Court, who heads the Executive Council of NLSIU.

  • Despite assuring the NLU Consortium of his commitment to conduct CLAT 2020, the Consortium reacted in an adversarial manner.

The matter is due to be heard by the Supreme Court tomorrow. In the last hearing, the Court had allowed NLSIU to go ahead with the exam's conduct on September 12, but directed that the results of the exam would be subject to the Court's orders.

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