Law School Darshan: VM Salgaocar College of Law
“You are here for work?” my fellow passenger asks me, as the Mandovi Express shuffles its way towards Madgaon railway station. All around me are hordes of people on vacation, uncles with their shorts and slippers and little kids with over-sized caps covering their annoying faces. It is a question that I will be asked more than once in the next three days and the answer shall always be a slow nod of the head. Evidently, people do not visit Goa on work.
Professor MRK Prasad, who is likely to become the next Principal of the VM Salgaocar College of Law, is taking me around the college. The building itself is clean and well-maintained, the classrooms quite big considering the fact that each batch has roughly seventy-odd students. In terms of infrastructure, the college has a decent sized computer lab, a separate building for the library, and large mooting hall. It may be a small campus but to be frank, the physical infrastructure here could easily put one or two CLAT law schools to shame.
Professor Prasad, who has been at Salgoacar for close to two decades, has done a lot of work in clinical legal education and is quite an interesting guy to talk to. Recipient of the Vanderbilt-Fullbright Fellowship, it is evident that the prof has seen quite a bit of the world and is eager to introduce new ideas and initiatives. He has recently returned from a year-long stint at the Indian Law Institute, and one does get the feeling that he wants to focus on genuine research and academia at Salgoacar. Success though, may be not easy to achieve.
I am standing in the college canteen and speaking to some of the students. The sea breeze is running through the canteen and the food doesn’t look too bad. I am asking the usual questions and they are answering them one by one. One of the students is looking particularly hungry; whenever he is about to bite into lunch I direct a question at him. He answers each question politely but I can see the impatience building as each answer becomes shorter and shorter. I ask another one, directed just as he is about to put the forkful of food in his mouth, he looks at me and answers with a simple nod of his head. The poor bugger. I leave.
I am walking through the law library and it is certainly an impressive collection, I don’t think students have too much to complain in this regard except for the timings. A library that shuts shop by six in the evening means that students would barely have enough time after class to do their reading. Prof. Prasad tells me that most students leave once classes are done anyway, so perhaps the timings are not such a problem. With barely any students from outside Goa, Salgaocar has not invested in building a hostel with non-Goan students finding accommodation in nearby paying guest set ups. Although Prof. Prasad did indicate that a hostel is being considered, it is unlikely to be built in the immediate future.
I am having dinner at the Ritz Classic at the center of Panjim city and my attention is torn between two equally important subjects. One is the discussion between Prof. Prasad and Prof. Patil, my gracious hosts for the meal, and the meal itself, a scrumptious spread of all the sea has to offer. In between bites of the freshest red snapper and the spiciest calamari, we discuss a host of things including the legal aid program at Salgaocar. And what they have achieved at Salgaocar definitely merits a deeper look.
The college has managed to set up thirty-six legal aid cells across the State, aided in no small measure by the fact that the students themselves hail from these different villages and towns. These legal aid cells have done a number of things, from compiling data on land ownership to filing RTIs to even assisting the under-trials stuck in the State’s jails. It is an interesting confluence of grass-root level activism and legal education and perhaps, just perhaps, worthy of emulation across different law schools. It must be said though that the composition of the student body, and the small size of Goa (both factors that one would presume would work against Salgaocar) have, in fact, contributed to the success of the legal aid program.
I am sitting in the office of Salgaocar’s Principal, Dr. K Srinivas Rao and we are discussing the pros and cons of teaching at Salgaocar. The general lack of interference by the private management, the relatively “politics-free” faculty, a State government that rarely interferes – these are all some of the highlights. On the flipside, there is the lack of a national composition in terms of student intake, the low levels of competition and difficulties in attracting faculty. Be that as it may, it doesn’t look like Dr. Rao is ready to move out of Salgaocar anytime soon, even though schools such as DSNLU, Vishakapatnam are closer to his native town.
To sum it up then, Salgoacar offers a recognised five-year undergraduate law course, fairly decent physical infrastructure, faculty drawn from within and outside the state and a private management that evidently does not interfere in day-to-day affairs. Students who do decide to join Salgoacar will have five years to spend in Goa but may not have access to the same network and resources as their peers, in say, Government Law College Mumbai. Of course, one could argue that the career opportunities in a state like Goa are not too bright as compared to say, Hyderabad, Maharashtra or Delhi but then schools such as NLIU Bhopal and NLU Jodhpur have shown that geographical limitations can be overcome.
However, it may just be that the most attractive feature of Salgaocar is the economics involved.
With an annual fee of roughly thirteen thousand rupees, the entire five-year course can be completed in less than a lakh. Add a generous lakh a year for living expenses and a student will still end up spending around six lakh by the end of the five-year course. Compare this to the minimum of ten lakh that you would end up spending at any national law school, and the economic argument just gets stronger.
The other factor that is traditionally considered before joining a law school is the alumni network and here too, I think Salgaocar deserves a re-look. Admitted, the law school has been around for three decades with almost all graduates opting to stay within Goa. Yet, there are signs of change. The ones that come to my mind are Shivraj Gaonkar, who was awarded the SCWLT welfare awards in 2012 and Ajay Thomas, who is currently at the LCIA India . You could argue that these are stray examples but the larger point is that the potential of pursing a successful career outside Goa through Salgaocar should not be blindly ruled out.
All in all, my personal opinion is that those interested in law should at least consider Salgaocar. It may not be the “best” law school in the country and it may not offer the most competitive or challenging learning environment. But it may just be the best five years of your life.