The authors in this post have explored the most sensitive issue in a law student's life, i.e., the National Law Schools. The authors have discussed the features of the National Law Universities of India Bill, 2016 which will have an impact on the lives of the law students in India.
The National Law Universities of India often referred to as the ‘IITs of Law’ and ‘Islands of Excellence’ known for providing legal education to students across the country and providing opportunities for extensive research in the field of law with global recognition, have been dominating the scene of Indian Legal Education for the past couple of decades. With the newest addition of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Sonipat, Haryana last year, there are 23 National Law Universities in India.
Before the establishment of these National Law Universities, legal education in India was imparted by non-specialized colleges which granted LLB degrees. Though these universities followed a curriculum prescribed by the Bar Council of India, but is under the jurisdiction and superintendence of the University Grants Commission, introducing any legal reforms wasn’t possible by the Bar Council. With the clambering up the pressure to implement reforms in the way legal education was imparted, mainly due to the falling standards of the Bar, a “Legal Education Committee” was set up by the Bar Council in 1984, for suggesting proposals to remodel the legal education system in India. To reinvigorate and resuscitate the legal profession by making it competitive, to attract young talent, the establishment of specialized legal universities was proposed. Being the brainchild of late Shri. Madhav Menon, the first National Law University was established in Bangalore in 1986. Since then various law universities have been established in the different states of the country.
Structure And Characteristics of National Law Schools
- The National Law Universities have been granted the autonomous status which means institutions carrying either a ‘deemed to be university’ or ‘university’ status can grant degrees that have equal value and are recognized by other organizations and universities that function under the University Grants Commission regulations.
- The course curriculum was modified for the National Law Schools. Previously the LLB degree could only be pursued after the aspirant had completed their graduation, but the new model introduced a 5-year law program where admission to these law schools was opened for candidates who had completed their higher secondary education. Also, an integrated degree was introduced where along with the LLB degree, a second degree is also offered which has to be chosen from the options of B.A. (Bachelor of Arts), B.sc. (Bachelor of Science), B.B.A. (Bachelor of Business Administration) and B.Com. (Bachelor of Commerce). These help the young budding lawyers to have an in-depth understanding of other subjects other than law.
- These National Law Schools are hubs of intensive legal education as the main focus of these institutions is on the law with other social science subjects complimenting. The universities are given the freedom to devise their curriculum in ways to suit the students and instilling in them the reasoning ability that is required to perform in highly professional jobs.
- The Law Schools are recognized by the University Grants Commission as ‘state university’ which has been affiliated by the Bar Council of India. These law schools are specifically established by state legislation passed by the State Legislature. The National status of these universities makes them a prestigious and lucrative choice for meritorious students to come in the legal profession.
- The Chief Justice of the state acts as the Chancellor of the University in their respective states. This ensures superintendence and involvement of elite legal illuminates with the law schools which immensely benefits the students. These law schools often have visiting professors who are imminent advocates and judges practicing into the highest courts of the country.
- Admission in these law schools in both the LLB and LLM courses is merit based on the ranks in the highly competitive Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) examination. Thousands of aspirants appear for CLAT every year in the hope of getting a seat in these prestigious law schools.
The Current Scenario
There are various complaints regarding these Law Universities regarding inefficient administration which endanger the academic prospects and create redundant squabble with students. Inefficient Administration along with the failure to provide basic and rudimentary provisions like competent faculty, proper classrooms and hostels, satisfactory library and healthy and hygienic environment, etc. have led to various protests by the student bodies of these institutions. Lack of improvement despite complaints and grievances by the students and misleading and inefficient administrative decisions have taken shape into students disrupting classes and demanding their needs to be fulfilled time and again in various universities. Unfortunately, these protests for very legitimate causes are belittled and trivializes by the administration and often responding with arrogance and even labeling students as ‘problematic’ or ‘indisciplined’. The lack of transparency in the administrative setup regarding matters of finance and lack of regard for the collective well-being of the students is a major problem affecting the growth of these institutions.
The extreme concentration of power in the hands of the Vice-Chancellor and Registrar due to the lack of proper supervision and time given by the Executive Council (EC), which comprises ministers, judges, academicians, etc., is another reason for the dismal situation of these institutions. The Executive Council meets only twice a year, and they cannot understand and regulate the root problems plaguing these colleges. Hence, the Nationalisation of the NLUs can be a positive step in this approach.
The shortage of funds due to lack of financial support both from the Central and the State Government, renders the fees of these NLUs to be higher than 2.5 lakhs per annum, with a significant hike in fees every year. The administration’s plea of financial shortage to hike fees every year and then not being able to provide even the basic facilities to the students is a major concern among the students in these law schools. Further investigation, also reveals financial irregularities and scams which go on within the administration and hence nationalization of the NLUs is a welcome step in this regard.
The Central Government must look to take charge of these dismal situations of these institutions to solve these systematic problems by having deliberations with both the administrative and the student bodies. Being at par with other such prestigious institutions like the IITs, IIMs, and NITs in all respects, these National Law Universities must be granted the status of ‘Institutes of National Importance’ (INI). This will not only help to solve the problems of inefficient administration, lack of funds, etc. but give these law schools a few dimensions to work and achieve its goals. The dream of Prof. Madhav Menon to nurture a generation of “social engineers”, will die if not the abysmal state of these National Law Universities can be rectified.
The National Law Universities of India Bill, 2016 had been proposed by Lok Sabha MP Prof. (Dr.) Sugata Bose. Though it is a very well-drafted bill ready to be implemented the deliberations in the Parliament regarding this hasn’t been taken seriously enough and the Law Ministry on an occasion mentioned that they currently had no intention of Nationalising these institutions or granting them the status of ‘Institutes of National Importance’. Nationalization of NLUs is a common demand of students across all the NLUs and there is complete solidarity of students in this regard but the lack of intent shown by the Law Ministry and the Parliament in this regard has been disappointing.
Salient Features of Proposed Bill
- Declaration of the NLUs as ‘Institutes of National Importance’ which further makes the Parliament competent to legislate on the subject.
- Identification and Demarcation of objects, powers, and functions of these Universities.
- Reservation of seats for state domicile students to be decided by state order to be a maximum of 50% of the seats.
- Chief Justice of India is the Visitor of the Universities, having the power of review work & progress of the Universities. The Chief Justice of the respective state is the Chancellor of the respective Universities, having powers of inspection.
- Formation of a new National Council to supervise the working of the NLUs, give suggestions and advice on matters of admission test, resolving inter-university disputes, examining the annual budget sessions and recommending the Central Government for the allotment of funds. The Union Minister of Law is the Chairperson ex-officio.
- All the existing authorities remain the same, i.e. the state retains control of the Universities. Such authorities and officers of the Universities are now standardized for NLUs. An ad-hoc sexual dispute redressal committee has been standardized.
- The Act now allows for grants by the Central Government which the NLUs were in dire need of, maintenance of separate bank account, and provides an audit of the accounts of the Universities by the Comptroller and Auditor General to be laid before the Parliament which ensures utmost transparency in the working of the NLUs.
- The Act repeals all the existing Acts. Subsequent NLUs can be set up or removed by amending the schedule.
The National Law Schools were established to provide holistic legal education and for promoting intensive academic research in the field of law. Though some of them have contributed to making a positive impact in the legal academic field yet the real potential of these institutions is yet to be realized. The various kinds of problems and issues plaguing these legal institutions become a difficult obstacle to overcome and achieve the goals which these institutions had dreamt to fulfill. This new piece of legislation would be groundbreaking in terms of recognizing and granting them the ‘Nationalised’ status, thereby reinvigorating and resuscitating the legal profession across the nation.
 “What are NLUs (National Law Universities)? How are these different from other Law Schools?”, (14th September 2019), Shiksha.  Refer National Law School of India Act, 1986.  “Islands of Excellence or despair?”, (9th November, 2017), The Statesman, Arjun Agarwal.  See Clause 2, The National Law Universities of India Bill, 2016.  See Clauses 6 & 7, The National Law Universities of India Bill, 2016.  See Clause 8 (4), The National Law Universities of India Bill, 2016.  See Clauses 10 & 11, The National Law Universities of India Bill, 2016.  See Clauses 13, 14, 15 & 16, The National Law Universities of India Bill, 2016.  See Clauses 17 & 18, The National Law Universities of India Bill, 2016.  See Clauses 32, 34,& 35, The National Law Universities of India Bill, 2016.  See Clause 43, The National Law Universities of India Bill, 2016.
Rishiraj Mukherjee & Kabir Jaiswal
National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi. (Images used for representative purpose only)