The law and HRD ministries have locked horns over the control of legal education in the country, though Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily has sought to downplay the issue.
The root of the trouble lies in the proposed National Commission for Higher Education and Research Bill of the HRD ministry, which proposes a single regulator for higher education, including legal education.
The bill seeks to take away the control of legal education from the Bar Council of India (BCI), the current regulator. At present there are 913 colleges and 14 National Law Universities recognised by the BCI.
According to Section 56 of the proposed bill: “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Architects Act 1971 and Advocates Act 1961, the provisions of the Act shall apply to any matter concerning the determination, coordination and maintenance of standards in promotion of higher education and research.”
In a memorandum submitted to Moily, the BCI has asked him to oppose the bill if it comes up before the cabinet for approval. “The bill directly affects the provision of Advocates Act, 1961, which entrusted the Bar Council of India to lay down the standards of legal education... We urge you to oppose tooth and nail this proposed legislation.”
Under pressure, Moily sought to play safe, but did not deny there were differences between the ministries. “It is a matter of inter-ministerial consultations, which is going on. We are not for any conflict and the matter will be resolved,” he said.
“We have invited HRD Minister Kapil Sibal to attend the national consultation for reforms in legal education.”
Moily hinted he would be able to bring the HRD ministry and BCI together. “The Bar Council of India is very much with the government in reforming legal education and differing views will help bring out the best.”