NLAT 2020
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[Breaking] NLAT 2020: Candidates who engaged in malpractices have been disqualified, NLSIU submits; Supreme Court reserves verdict

The Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah will deliver its judgment on September 21.

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today reserved its verdict in the challenge to the conduct of the National Law Aptitude Test (NLAT) held for admissions to National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bangalore this year.

The Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah will deliver its judgment on September 21.

Appearing for NLSIU today, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar said he would address the Court on three issues - role of the Executive Council vis-a-vis the Academic Council of NLSIU; whether NLSIU, being a member of the NLU Consortium could have conducted a separate exam; and the nature of the exam itself.

Justice Bhushan also asked Datar to address the fact that a large number of students were deprived from appearing for the exam because of the short notice.

"So violation of Article 14 also needs to be addressed", the judge said.

Datar submitted that the third prayer in the petition - to direct NLSIU to accept students this year on the basis of CLAT scores - was not available since NLSIU has been removed from the Consortium.

However, Justice Bhushan pointed out,

"They have removed [NLSIU] only from the office, not from the Consortium."

Datar then informed the Court that yesterday, the Governing Council of NLU Consortium had asked NLSIU to transfer the funds to NALSAR, Hyderabad, which was made the new Secretariat of the Consortium.

In response to this, Justice Bhushan said,

"Mr. Datar, they have to conduct the CLAT for aspirants all over the country. This is not only about one University."

Justice Bhushan also said that he would ask the NLU Consortium to clarify whether it will allow NLSIU to be part of the Consortium.

Arguing on the Executive Council's power to introduce the NLAT, Datar said that if a regulatory body has not made regulations, then the chief executive body can act. He also referred provisions in the NLSIU Act that empower the Vice-Chancellor to take actions in certain situations which can be addressed and approved later.

Referring to litigation before the Supreme Court on CLAT, Datar submitted,

'There is no mandate from the Supreme Court for holding a common test like CLAT...We just came together to form a society for this."

Justice Reddy then asked,

"Legally, as part of the society [Consortium], could you have separated from the society to hold the exam?"

Justice Shah added,

"Did you inform the Consortium that you were going to hold a separate exam?"

Datar replied,

"Number of times. I had mentioned that we have a trimester system, don't postpone CLAT further. This was not a knee-jerk reaction."

Datar further informed the Court that the Consortium had met on August 28 to decide to hold CLAT on September 28, in view of the lockdown in West Bengal.

"But why not hold it on September 13? Deliberately they put it to September 28", he asked.

On the point that the decision to hold CLAT on September 28 was unanimous, Datar argued,

"They say unanimous as if I am a party to it. Meeting of the Consortium was held on August 27 and they say resolution was with my consent. In my affidavit I have said it did not have my consent."

He went on to submit that the bylaws of the Consortium are in the nature of a contract.

"If performance of the contract become impossible, I can take my own decisions."

He added,

"Petitioners are alleging that I have violated the bylaws, but I want to ask that where in the bylaws does it justify for them to postpone the exam without consulting all the VCs?"

On the exam itself, Justice Shah asked,

"...the point is students were preparing for a 2 hour long exam and suddenly at such short notice they were told that now their exam is only 45 minutes long."

Datar replied,

"The syllabus is the same. But instead of a 2 hour exam we have shrunk it to 45 minutes. Marking system is the same as CLAT."

Justice Reddy then asked,

"Why only 20,000 something students could appear for your exam? This is a top law school. There was shortage of time for students to apply."

Concluding his arguments, Datar responded,

"There was plenty of time to apply. And we have engaged the best possible vendor for conduct of the exam."

Senior Advocate Sajan Poovayya was next to make submissions on behalf of NLSIU. Addressing questions on how the format for NLAT was different from that of CLAT, he said that the former exam was for 45 minutes, and was of a lower pressure threshold.

On concerns that malpractices took place during the conduct of NLAT, Poovayya said,

"The press release on malpractices said that we had taken note of complaints and we have zero tolerance for malpractices and we will look into it."

Elaborating on the safeguards put in place to prevent cheating during the home-based proctored exam, Poovayya said,

"In remote proctored exam, even the data on key strokes of the computer system is collected...We made use of AI-based proctoring, which assesses aspects such as the number of times window switch took place...Other safeguards are answer behaviour pattern and device information."

He added,

"The results are not out - they will be out subject to My Lords' decision - but we have analysed all the data from the exam and it has been found that those candidates that engaged in malpractices have been disqualified."

Sajan Poovayya

As regards paper leak, Poovayya argued that while questions for each batch taking the exam were same, the order of the questions was unique for candidates and there was no possibility of a paper leak. He added that the question paper was downloaded 25 minutes through the exam.

Hypothetically, If the question paper was made available prior to beginning of the exam, he would not contend that there was no paper leak, Poovayya had added.

Next to make submissions was Senior Advocate PS Narasimha, representing the Consortium. He said at the outset,

"We are all here for saving the institution. Today the question is if the very existence of this institution."

He said that after judicial intervention, the Consortium was formed for the purpose of holding a common entrance exam.

Concluding his arguments, Narasimha said,

"What will happen to the whole purpose of it if everyone wants to walk on and walk out? It is not a private club, all of them subserve an important obligation. Everything will collapse."

In his brief rejoinder submissions, Senior Advocate Nidhesh Gupta contested the submission made by the NLSIU Vice-Chancellor that the signature in the decision to hold CLAT on September 28 was not his.

Senior Advocate Nikhil Nayyar, appearing for one of appellants, argued that students are prejudiced because of the NLAT format. Further, he raised concerns regarding the short notice of the exam, the fact that the mock exam was held a day before, and that NLAT provided for negative marking for unanswered questions, unlike CLAT.

After hearing the parties, the Court proceeded to reserved its judgment. The verdict will be pronounced on Monday, September 21.

Yesterday, the Court adjourned the matter after hearing arguments by Senior Advocates Nidhesh Gupta and Gopal Sankaranarayanan, who appeared for the petitioners and a CLAT aspirant, respectively.

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.

A day before the exam 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.

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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