Why the Bar Council of India is threatening to gherao Parliament over the Higher Education Bill, 2018
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Why the Bar Council of India is threatening to gherao Parliament over the Higher Education Bill, 2018

Aditya AK

In June this year, the Union Government’s Ministry of Human Resource Development prepared a Draft Bill to repeal the University Grants Commission Act. The Higher Education (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Act 2018 aims to promote uniform development of instruction in higher educational institutions.

To this end, the Centre has mooted the formation of a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), which will oversee higher education in universities across India. In effect, this move could change the way law universities in India are run.

The Bar Council of India (BCI), the current regulatory body of legal education in India, is not too happy with this development. It has seen the introduction of this Bill as one that “takes away the functions of the Bar bodies” provided under the Advocates Act, 1961.

But first, let us look at the scope of the Bill and the powers it confers on the HECI.

As per Section 15 of the Draft Bill, the HECI shall be given responsibility to take steps for promoting the quality of academic instruction and maintenance of academic standards. Among the specific duties of the HECI are specifying learning outcomes for higher education, laying down standards of teaching, assessment and research, evaluating yearly academic performance of these institutions, and ordering closure of institutions which fail to adhere to minimum standards.

It is also tasked with specifying norms and standards for grant of authorization to new universities, one of the main functions of the BCI’s Legal Education Committee.

However, the Bill specifies that it will not interfere with the BCI’s power to specify standards of higher education concerning practice in courts. Having said that, it is not quite clear as to how the HECI will work in tandem with the BCI, which is empowered with regulating higher education in the legal sphere, as per the Advocates Act.

In a statement released to Bar & Bench, BCI Chairman Manan Kumar Mishra said that the lawyers’ body will protest the Bill.

“The entire education system of the country can’t be controlled and regulated by a few nominees and a handful of teacher (close to some bureaucrats sitting in the Govt.) (sic).”

He claims that the BCI has a “very strong, efficient and competent committee” comprising former Supreme Court and High Court judges, Senior Advocates, etc to look after legal education. While many academics and lawyers have called for divesting the BCI of its powers of overseeing legal education in the past, Mishra claims that there cannot be a more effective body than the Legal Education Committee.

Moreover, Mishra claims that the HRD Ministry has not consulted with the BCI on this issue. As per a press release dated June 27, the HRD Ministry had invited suggestions from various stakeholders, to be submitted by July 7.

He goes on to say that attempts made in the past to similarly dilute the powers of the BCI have failed. In 2011, the Congress government had passed a similar Bill.

“The Bar Councils and Bar, in general, is not going to tolerate any attack on the Advocates Act. The Advocates will protest n agitate the matter. They may also gherao the parliament. (sic).”

The BCI has shot off letters in protest of the Bill to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as the HRD Ministry. A joint meeting of State Bar Councils and Bar Associations across the country is also likely to take place.

As mentioned earlier, it is unclear as to how exactly the proposed legislation will affect the running of law schools in the country. While the Bill is still in its nascent stages, it will be interesting to see how the Central government addresses the concerns of a body that organises most of the legal fraternity in the country.

Read the Draft Bill:

Higher-Education-Draft-Bill-2018.pdf
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