The NLAT fiasco

Print edition : October 23, 2020

The controversy emerged when NLSIU (National Law School of India University) Bengaluru made a surprise announcement on September 3 of its decision to independently hold the National Law Admission Test (NLAT) on September 12. The university thus broke away from its commitment to conduct admissions on the basis of the annual Common Law Admission Test (CLAT). CLAT was started in 2008 to offer a single point of entry to the 24 National Law Universities in the country. This was done to address the high costs and inconvenience that students were facing in registering separately for the independent admission tests conducted by these universities. The permanent secretariat for CLAT was established in NLSIU, with its Vice Chancellor being made the ex-officio Secretary-Treasurer.

This year, the exam, which is usually conducted in May, was repeatedly postponed on account of COVID. It is now scheduled for September 28. While NLSIU had been on board with the initial postponements, the university now asserted that owing to its trimester system, it could not delay starting classes any longer and announced its decision to conduct a separate remote proctored test.

The decision was met with severe criticism from aspirants, law students and other members of the CLAT consortium. It was primarily centred on the lack of notice to aspirants, the reduction in the number of questions (from 150 in CLAT to 40), stringent technical requirements (1mbps Internet speed, integrated web-cam and microphone in order to enable remote proctoring). The university administration’s authority to take this decision without the proper approval of its governing bodies was also questioned. The university did attempt to address technical concerns by halving the Internet speed requirement and allowing the test to be given via android phones. Yet, when the exam was conducted on September 12, a number of technical errors hindered the attempts of the participating students. The university later offered another opportunity for such students to sit for the test on September 14. Both instances were fraught with allegations of technical problems and malpractice.

Among the petitioners in the Supreme Court was Professor R.V. Rao, former Vice Chancellor of NLSIU, who alleged that the move would make NLSIU an “island of exclusion” from an “island of excellence”. When the matter was finally decided by the Supreme Court on September 21, the court held that the admission notification having been issued without recommendation of the Academic Council was not in accordance with the provisions of the NLSIU Act. Furthermore, the by-laws of the CLAT consortium, under which member universities are required to admit students in their law universities on the basis of CLAT, were held to be binding.

The court noted that while 69,000 students had registered for CLAT-2020, only 24,603 did so for NLAT, out of which only 23,225 could appear. This was attributed to the short notice and technological requirements by the university, which were held to be violative of the students’ Right to Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution.

The court rejected NLSIU’s “necessity” argument by observing that considering the UGC guidelines, the university could have amended the academic calendar. The university was thus directed to conduct admissions on basis of CLAT scores only and status quo ante was restored, to the relief of the aggrieved students.

Prannv Dhawan and Devansh Kaushik

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