Is a permanent CLAT body the need of the hour?
Apratim Chatterjee, 19 Sep 2015, #CLAT
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A Civil Writ case is pending in the Supreme Court of India, after Dr. Shamnad Basheer, an IPR expert filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), demanding constitution of a permanent body of Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) that could check the irregularities arising in one of the most sought after law entrance exams. While the Law Schools are awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision, domain experts have requested the Court to pass an appropriate Writ with an objective to appoint an expert committee comprising key stakeholders with legal expertise and constitute an independent permanent body for conducting CLAT. Dr. R. Venkata Rao, National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bangalore says, “I can’t say much on this matter as the case is sub judice in the Supreme Court. However, to my opinion, there must be only one admission test and no law school should be allowed to conduct its own and separate test.”

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Dr. Shamnad Basheer, the Founder Trustee of IDIA  and former MHRD Chaired Professor of IP Law at WBNUJS in conversation with Careers360 brings out the finer nuances about the issue. Read this exclusive interview to know why Dr. Basheer is advocating for a permanent CLAT body.

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Interview Excerpts –

Careers360: Why do you think that permanent CLAT body is need of the hour?
Dr. Shamnad Basheer: CLAT is organized each year by a different NLU. This rotational arrangement has wreaked havoc on the system as it means that a new NLU has to pretty much learn the ropes afresh each year and reinvent the wheel. Having been part of the CLAT process in the past, I can vouch for the fact that the level of co-operation between the NLU’s is sub-optimal, as a result of which most of the learning acquired by a CLAT conducting NLU is not passed on. And more importantly, even if the learning is passed on, it's a new set of people at the new NLU that have to come to grips with conducting a rather challenging exam on a nationwide scale.

Needless to stay, this arrangement means that there is no real institutional competence to conduct CLAT in a robust manner. We’ve seen serious lapses in almost all the years, including thoroughly arbitrary questions that challenge one’s sense of logic, wrong answer keys, wrongful allotments of seats, and long pitiful delays. All of which have conspired to put at risk the futures of several thousand students who flock to these exams each year hoping to enter the hallowed halls of legal learning. The 2015 version of CLAT was particularly devastating, as it plagiarized more than half the paper from publicly available sources, and that too inefficiently, with errors creeping into even the copied questions. Further it is estimated that more than 40% of the paper was faulty including wrong questions, answer keys etc. What was most damaging was that an expert committee tasked with reviewing the paper came back and gave it a clean chit, stating that there were no errors! And asking that students base their answers on public perception and not on authentic data. This does not bode well for the future of legal education at all.


CLAT is not even a legal entity or body. And each time a student has to seek redressal of a CLAT related grievance through court, they have to go after the specific NLU or arraign all the NLU’s as defendants. This loose arrangement means that the NLU’s effectively escape scrutiny and accountability.


A permanent CLAT body will go a long way in remedying these lapses. This is precisely what our public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed before the Supreme Court asks for.


Careers360: How much is it justified to have a single exam for entrance to all the NLUs?
Dr. Shamnad Basheer: CLAT is governed by an MoU signed in 2014 between 16 NLUs. However, the CLAT authorities have been extremely secretive about this MOU and haven’t provided us a copy, despite repeated RTI’s. Worse still, they’ve cited an exemption under the RTI Act (Section 8(e) which speaks about a fiduciary relationship between the parties. There is no fiduciary relationship between the various NLU’s and no law school needs to protect the other! As one of my colleagues noted: what was more worrying than the opacity and refusal to disclose was the fact that they got the RTI law wrong!

As to which law schools can join the coveted CLAT cabal is a very interesting question. Given that the 2014 MOU is a top secret now, one has no idea about the necessary qualifications to make the CLAT cut. Should the law school be “national” in name only or are there other criteria to judge how truly national it is. Should it be a good law school? A bad one. An ugly one? Should it boast a vice chancellor with 10 strands of gray hair? 20? 30? Your guess is as good as mine.


I know that DSNLU tried for the longest time to make it to this privileged CLAT list. A student colleague of mine just sent me some RTI responses he got from the CLAT authorities in this regard, showing that DSNLU was strung along by CLAT authorities for a long time. And then came the TN law school which simply decided to go to court, and was readily accepted into the CLAT fold pursuant to a court order.  So I guess it’s only a matter of time before NLU Mumbai gets accepted into the fold.


As for NLU Delhi, why should they join a thoroughly incompetent exam like CLAT? They’ve been conducting AILET, a far superior exam and unless CLAT cleans up its act, they should be under no compulsion to join.


Careers360: What effect would the ‘Writ of Mandamus’ have on NLUs which are autonomous bodies?
Dr. Shamnad Basheer: Although the NLU’s are autonomous, they still qualify as “state” for the purpose of constitutional law, as they are all set up under a statute/legislation. They can therefore be taken to task if they breach important constitutional norms. The mode and conduct of CLAT over the years has been thoroughly arbitrary and egregious and violates the constitutional rights of several students.


However, we’ve not asked in our PIL that their autonomy be taken away completely in this regard. Simply that a better and more robust form of institutional expertise be found. Perhaps the law schools may decide to go the way of the US law schools, where they came together to create LSAT, a permanent institution staffed with test making experts. Or to outsource this to a reputed and competent third party vendor.


Of course, one must also ask the question as to why these “national” law schools are necessarily on a different pedestal than the rest of the law schools. If the term “national” is to signal a premium brand, then let’s set out some benchmarks for who qualifies and who doesn't. At the moment, not all of the NLU’s are leading law schools. In fact, a number of them are simply misleading ones! And as Prof Venkat Rao (the present Vice Chancellor of NLSIU) often says, not all of them are truly “national” law schools. Some of them are “notional” and are very heavily state centric, destroying their national ethos. Hopefully this PIL will also help us raise this important issue.


Careers360: Why wasn’t such an action taken previously?
Dr. Shamnad Basheer: Most legal actions against the conduct of CLAT have been by aggrieved students who approach courts for immediate relief. And yet this precisely is why CLAT has been off the hook for so long. Since the window between the declaration of CLAT results and the admissions process is so short, courts are not inclined to interfere, once admissions have taken place. We label this as the “fait accompli” factor in our PIL before the Court. And it is this fait accompli that the CLAT authorities have leveraged time and again in order to escape judicial scrutiny and overall accountability.

In fact, given the relative opacity of the admissions process at the various NLUs (once 3 rounds of the CLAT lists have been finalized), there is a strong likelihood of foul play in admissions at least in so far as the NLU’s at the bottom rung of the CLAT preference ladder are concerned (where vacancies open up even after CLAT lists have closed).


But coming back to the question you posed, we’ve not agitated any specific relief relating to this years’ CLAT or its admission process. Rather, our PIL seeks a larger systemic institutional remedy. A long term view if you will….we’re hoping the court will at least begin the process of seriously reforming CLAT for the better in the years to come. Either through a permanent institutionalized body that hires permanent body of staff and experts to conduct the exam year after year or outsources to a competent professional agency with the wherewithal to conduct a consistently high grade exam year after year. Hopefully, the court will take our petition seriously and grant the required reliefs.


Careers360: Share a few words with 2016 law exam aspirants.
Dr. Shamnad Basheer: Dear Students: The law is meant to be about logic, reason and fairness. And yet CLAT has all but negated these sacrosanct values over the years. But don't be disheartened! One day this mess will clear. And if it doesn't despite all our repeated efforts, rest easy in the knowledge that CLAT is preparing you for the real world. One that is arbitrary, illogical unjust and cruel. And yet equally beautiful and magical at the same time where the law provides ample scope to bring solace to suffering. I hope you will go onto give the law a good name. Hope is all we have left now. So long!

Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) is the most coveted law entrance exam conducted by National Law Universities (NLUs) by rotation in the order of their establishment for admissions to a total of 2190 seats distributed among the 16 participating NLUs for five-year integrated law programmes including BA LLB, B.Sc LLB and B.Com LLB.


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