SC allows NLSIU to hold NLAT but stays admission process
NLSIU should not, however, declare results of NLAT or conduct admissions to the university on that basis, for the time being, the top court which was hearing a petition challenging the university’s decision to hold separate entrance test clarified.Updated: Sep 11, 2020 18:38 IST
The Supreme Court on Friday allowed the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru (NLSIU) to hold a separate entrance test, the National Law Aptitude Test (NLAT) on Saturday instead of the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) for admissions in 2020 to the 5 years integrated LLB programme and the postgraduate LLM programme offered by the university.
NLSIU should not, however, declare results of NLAT or conduct admissions to the university on that basis, for the time being, the top court which was hearing a petition challenging the university’s decision to hold separate entrance test clarified.
The results of the examination and the admission based on it will be subject to the outcome of the case before the apex court, the 3-judge bench headed by justice Ashok Bhushan said. It directed NLSIU to file its response and posted the case for further hearing on September 16.
Admission to LLB courses offered by 22 National Law Universities (NLUs) in different states is based on the CLAT score which is held every year by a consortium of NLUs. CLAT is scheduled to be conducted on September 28.
However, NLSIU decided that it would hold a separate entrance test this year, the NLAT, in view of the delay in conducting CLAT due to Covid-19. A notification was also issued on September 3 announcing its decision to hold NLAT.
“Candidates will be selected on the basis of the aggregate marks secured in an online home-based Entrance Examination known as NLAT. The NLAT 2020 will test applicants for admission to the undergraduate B.A., LL.B. (Hons), and postgraduate LL.M programmes commencing in 2020,” the notification said.
It also made it clear that NLSIU will not accept CLAT 2020 scores for admission for the academic Year 2020-21. According to the notification, NLSIU preferred to opt-out of CLAT this year because it has to complete admissions before the end of September 2020 failing which it will inevitably result in a ‘Zero Year’ with no admission. This is because the NLSIU follows a trimester system with 3 terms of 90 days duration.
“Each term must accommodate 60 hours of classroom instruction in each course and adequately provide for examination and evaluation processes. Further, the academic offering for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th year of the B.A., LL.B programme as well as the LL.M programme is fully integrated and requires a common academic calendar,” the notification explained.
Later another notification was issued stipulating technical requirements for writing the exam. As per the notification, candidates should have a computer system with a minimum internet bandwidth of 1 Mbps and exams can be given using laptops or desktops alone with integrated webcam and microphone. Further, only the Windows operating system would be allowed.
Dr. Venkat Rao, who was a former Vice-Chancellor at NLSIU, approached the Supreme Court challenging NLAT stating that the decision taken by the Executive Council of NLSIU to conduct NLAT was illegal and without any legal authority.
Further, the notification mandating technical requirements to give the exam are onerous and cast an unreasonable burden on students, the plea said. A parent of one of the law school aspirants was also a petitioner along with Rao.
Senior counsel Nidesh Gupta appearing for the petitioners on Friday submitted that NLSIU’s decision to hold a separate exam was violative of the MoU signed by the NLUs as well as the by-laws of the consortium.
Senior counsel Arvind Datar, who represented NLSIU, told the court about the difficulties that may arise if NLSIU is not able to complete admissions by the end of September.
“NLSIU follows a trimester system. It has been repeatedly telling (the consortium) not to delay the admission process beyond September because the whole trimester calendar will collapse. It will result in a loss of Rs. 16 crore and will also lead to ‘zero-year’. So, to prevent that, we are holding a separate test. It is only for this year. We will go back to CLAT next year,” he said.
Senior counsel PS Narasimha who was representing the consortium of NLUs submitted that NLSIU’s act can lead to the collapse of the consortium.
“If Your Lordships permit this, the Consortium will collapse,” he said.
The bench which also comprised justices R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah said that the petition raises important issues and needs to be examined in detail.
Meanwhile, the Jharkhand High Court on Friday dismissed a similar petition challenging NLAT. The High Court said that the matter has pan-India ramifications and it will, therefore, not interfere.
Before CLAT was devised, every NLU used to hold its own entrance exam for admitting students. A petition was before the Supreme Court in 2006 citing the difficulties faced by students in writing separate entrance exams for different NLUs. The court passed a series of directions in that case in 2007 pursuant to which 7 NLUS signed a memorandum of understanding in 2008 to hold a single test for admission to all the NLUs.
The first CLAT was conducted in 2008 and later more NLUs joined the fray. By 2015, a total of 16 NLUs was part of CLAT.
The task of holding CLAT fell on one NLU each year in rotation.
Later two petitions came to be filed before the Supreme Court in 2015 and 2018 for streamlining CLAT and establishing a permanent secretariat to manage and conduct CLAT. The directions issued by the apex court in this regard led to the establishment of a permanent CLAT secretariat in Bengaluru in October 2018.