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"You have already decided to hold the exams. Students are ready. Hold the exam, but no results can be announced till the pendency of the proceedings", the Court observed.
The Supreme Court today allowed National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bangalore to conduct its separate examination, the National Law Aptitude Test (NLAT 2020) this year.
However, the results of the exam will be subject to the Court's final decision in the matter.
The matter was taken up for hearing by a Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah.
NLSIU's move to conduct a separate law entrance exam this year owing to the delayed conduct of the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT 2020) came under challenge by one aspirant's parent along with former NLSIU Vice-Chancellor, Prof Venkata Rao.
Today, Senior Advocate Nidhesh Gupta argued that the decision of NLSIU to have a separate entrance exam is violative of the by-laws of the Consortium of National Law Universities. Informing the Court that NLSIU was part of the NLU Consortium, Gupta said,
"By-laws have a provision regarding how a common exam will govern admissions to PG and UG law courses across all the NLUs."
After Gupta took the Court through the chain of events leading up to NLSIU's September 3 notification, Justice Bhushan asked,
"Main question is can NLSIU hold a separate entrance, not the mode."
Appearing for Prof Rao, Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan informed the Court that the number of students who registered for NLAT was one-third the number of candidates who signed up for CLAT.
At this point, the Court expressed its willingness to issue notice in the matter. However, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for NLSIU, pointed out that the exam was scheduled to be held tomorrow. Justice Shah then asked,
"Question is, is this permissible? If you don't want to file a counter, we will consider your submission."
Datar went on to explain the reasoning behind holding a separate entrance test.
"If admissions were not completed by September, then the institute (NLSIU) would have lost Rs 16 crore by not admitting the 120 UG students and other PG students. CLAT was postponed thrice. Postponement was not ruled out in the emergency executive council meeting."
He further assured the Court that NLAT was only for this year and that next year, NLSIU would go back to CLAT.
Justice Bhushan then said,
"You have already decided to hold the exams. Students are ready. Hold the exam, but no results can be announced till the pendency of the proceedings."
Justice Shah clarified,
"NLAT result will be subjected to the court proceedings."
Senior Advocate PS Narasimha, appearing for the NLU Consortium, argued,
"All the law universities used to hold their own exam. The Court considered this issue, [after which] the Consortium was set up. Justice SA Bobde had looked into this problem and sought to institutionalise this."
Sankaranarayanan sought to point out that West Bengal and Bihar are under lockdown tomorrow, the date of the exam. Datar pointed out that the exam was an online one.
Amidst these protestations, the Bench went on to direct the respondents to file a counter to the plea within 3 days, and listed the matter for September 16.
The petition filed through Advocate Sughosh Subramanyam and Advocate-on-Record Vipin Nair on behalf of Prof Rao and an aggrieved parent claims that the decision of the present Vice-Chancellor Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy to conduct a separate test would convert NLSIU from being ‘an island of excellence’ to ‘an island of exclusion’.
The Supreme 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 petitioners stated that the NLSIU did not have any powers to develop an alternative admissions process. The Executive meeting in which it is stated that NLSIU was authorised to develop such an alternative proceess itself is illegal and without basis.
The decision by NLSIU to conduct its own entrance exam was unilateral and taken in haste, the petition further says. The notification issued to this effect had also intimated that NLSIU would not accept CLAT scores for admissions to its law programs this year.
The petition also raises concern that the technical requirements prescribed for the students to write the exam pose an undue burden on aspiring students. The examination is stipulated to be conducted online, through artificial intelligence-based and human proctoring, which requires constant streaming of audio and video data throughout the duration of the examination.
The petitioners say that an onerous and unreasonable obligation has been placed upon aspiring students by requiring them to arrange for their own laptops, and in complete variance with the mode of the CLAT 2020 examination.
The four major points highlighted in the petition filed through Advocates Sughosh Subramanyam and Vipin Nair are that :
The present NLSIU Vice-Chancellor did not have requisite consent from the academic council for conducting a separate examination;
The reasons for conducting a separate test are whimsical and baseless;
The technical requirement of having a laptop and 1 Mbps of internet speed for taking home proctored examination, is onerous, arbitrary, discriminatory and illegal;
That the legitimate expectations of the students stand breached.