NLAT, Supreme Court
NLAT, Supreme Court

NLAT 2020: "It was not an exam for merit but for someone's competency in manipulation", petitioners argue as Supreme Court adjourns matter

The matter will be heard tomorrow, September 17, at 11:30 AM. Senior Advocates Arvind Datar and Sajan Poovayya will make submissions for NLSIU.

Debayan Roy

The Supreme Court today adjourned the hearing in the challenge to National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bangalore's move to conduct its separate entrance exam - the National Law Aptitude Test (NLAT).

The Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah adjourned the hearing tomorrow, when counsel for the University will make their arguments.

Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy, MR Shah
Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy, MR Shah

Appearing for the petitioners, Senior Advocate Nidhesh Gupta first took the Court through the NLSIU Act and the regulations of the Consortium of National Law Universities. On NLSIU's decision to hold NLAT, he said,

"If you don't want to be a part of the Consortium, you can leave. But as long as one is a part of it, they must adhere to the bylaws. In view of the pandemic, CLAT had to postponed like other exams which had been postponed."

He went on to argue,

"Consortium had earlier stated that online home-based exam is not fit for all, especially the ones who come from the poor backgrounds. NLSIU had stated that there would be no transparency and there could be ... manipulation. They have also issued later notification, etc."

At this point, Justice Bhushan intervened to ask,

"But is this relevant to set aside NLAT, 2020?"

Gupta responded,

"What NLSIU has done is not fair and they have registered criminal cases and cyber complaints. They have their own notifications in this regard."

The Court then queried,

"The exam was from home?"

Gupta replied in the affirmative.

Referring to an affidavit filed before the Delhi High Court by NLSIU Vice-Chancellor Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy in his capacity as Secretary-Treasurer of the NLU Consortium, Gupta said,

"Does NLSIU ever inform his own EC about the affidavit filed in Delhi High Court on August 25 where it states that test cannot be home-based? Does NLSIU tells its own Executive Council that they themselves signed on August 28 that CLAT will be on September 28?"

Highlighting alleged malpractices that took place during NLAT, Gupta said,

"...their document implicitly recognizes the possibility of malpractices in home-based exam and in fact allows such malpractice to continue. NLAT was reduced to a farce. It was not an exam for merit but for someone's competency in manipulation!"

Concluding his submissions, Gupta brought the Court's attention to the disparity in the number of registrations for NLAT compared to those for the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT).

"78,000 to appear for CLAT out of which 28,000 appeared for NLAT. It is not possible that two-third of students don't even aspire for the topmost law institute of the country."

Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for a student who has registered for CLAT, was next to argue. He said that this was the third round of litigation concerning admission to NLUs, and that it was held before that a common exam was the best option.

He then argued,

"No one was informed it was a home proctored test. It was only on the website. There was complete suppression of information to the EC. Supreme Court ordered that there will be exam on September 12. But on 14th, they conducted 3 exams."

Shedding light on the malpractices that took place during NLAT, Sankaranarayanan said,

"When NLAT took place at 12 pm, at 12:52, the paper was leaked and it was everywhere."

Addressing the University's concerns that a zero year would be effected on account of postponement of CLAT, Sankaranarayanan submitted,

"Zero year cannot be at all declared by the University. It can only be made by the government. On August 10, the Centre said before the Standing Committee of Parliament that in no way this year will be declared as zero year, and that institutes will have a relaxed schedule."

The Court then proceeded to adjourn the hearing for tomorrow, after Senior Advocate Arvind Datar said that he and Senior Advocate Sajan Poovayya would require an hour to make arguments for NLSIU.

NLSIU's move to conduct a separate law entrance exam this year owing to the delayed conduct of CLAT 2020 came under challenge by one aspirant's parent along with former NLSIU Vice-Chancellor, Prof Venkata Rao.

The Court was urged to quash the September 3 notification announcing the conduct of NLAT for NLSIU admissions this year. Another prayer made is for quashing of NLSIU's notification regarding the technical requirements to write NLAT and for a direction to NLSIU to accept students this year on the basis of CLAT scores.

The four major points highlighted in the petition filed through Advocates Sughosh Subramanyam and Vipin Nair are that :

  1. The present NLSIU Vice-Chancellor did not have requisite consent from the academic council for conducting a separate examination;

  2. The reasons for conducting a separate test are whimsical and baseless;

  3. The technical requirement of having a laptop and 1 Mbps of internet speed for taking home proctored examination, is onerous, arbitrary, discriminatory and illegal;

  4. That the legitimate expectations of the students stand breached.

On the last date of hearing, the Court allowed the conduct of NLAT 2020 on September 12, noting that the results of the exam would be subject to the Court's final decision in the matter.

The petitioners recently filed a rejoinder before the Court, asserting 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.

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

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.

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.

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