Domicile Reservation proposal for NUJS reignites demand to "nationalise" NLUs

Meera Emmanuel November 28 2018

The recent move of the West Bengal government to amend the National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) Act to introduce domicile quotas and allow greater state interference in matters of fee fixation and student admissions has drawn the ire of the NUJS student body. The move has also reignited a popular demand for conferring upon National Law Universities (NLUs) the status of Institute of National Importance (INI).

A statement issued by the Student Juridical Association (SJA) at NUJS has condemned the proposed amendments as reeking of state governmental interference and threatening the independence and the national character of the University.

In this backdrop, the NLU Student Consortium has also released a statement, expressing solidarity and reiterating that it is high time that the Central government grant the INI tag for NLUs. Further, on the occasion of Constitution Day, the student representatives also held a Show of Solidarity demonstration to draw attention to their cause.

The NLU Consortium convened on the occasion of Constitution Day to reiterate a long-standing demand to Nationalise NLUs by conferring on them the Institute of National Importance status

In its statement, the Consortium has highlighted that an abysmal state of affairs - characterised by lack of basic facilities, decent faculty, proper residential areas, functional libraries and other necessities - is a recurring theme across NLUs. This in turn has also provoked student protests in at least ten NLUs in the recent years.

These problems, the Consortium  points out, is fuelled by a sheer lack of funds available to NLUs, which in turn increases their reliance on the respective states. The statement goes on to raise the concern that home states are increasingly introducing domicile quotas in NLUs, which can be tied to the lack of autonomy endowed on the NLUs.

"This lack of funds is further coupled with increasing state government interference in the administration of NLUs. In the recent years, almost all NLUs have witnessed a trend wherein state governments are increasing the domicile quota through state amendment bills. Today, ten NLUs have 50% state reservation and seven others have 20% or more."

In this regard, the recently proposed amendment to the NUJS Act for a 30% domicile quote has been specifically highlighted.

"The Bill also undermines the institution’s autonomy by conferring the power on the state government to determine the fee-structure and allow admissions on the basis of a qualifying exam, bypassing the nationally instituted Common Law Admission Test (CLAT). Given NUJS is a founding member of the CLAT consortium, such a provision could possibly set-off a similar trend among other NLUs to opt out of the CLAT framework. Such developments are not only alarming but also antithetical to the idea of National Law Universities."

This proposed amendment, inter alia, seeks to grant the state government powers to decide and fix the student fees without consulting with the University or its governing bodies. Further, the government has also proposed the grant of 'free-ship' in tuition fees for at least five percent of economically backward students.

The Consortium has also made reference to a similar move to introduce domicile reservation at NLSIU Bangalore last year. The Karnataka Legislative Assembly had  passed the National Law School of India (Amendment) Bill 2017, which proposes to reserve 50% seats in the University for students who are residents of the state.

A Clandestine Attempt to Restrict Autonomy

In its statement, the SJA has termed these proposed amendments as nothing short of a clandestine attempt by the state government to restrict the University's financial autonomy and consequently, increase state administrative control. The SJA has queried the need for interfering in the financial affairs of the NUJS in this manner, given that it practically serves little purpose.

"The provision of ‘free-ship’ in tuition fees for a paltry five percent of students is rendered redundant as NUJS already provides a ‘merit-cum-means scholarship’ for a far greater number of students each year. This tokenistic measure purporting to legitimise the flawed amendment also brings no added benefit to the students."

The proposed domicile quota of 30% for students from West Bengal, under Section 4A (3) of the Amendment Bill, is another feature that has been strongly criticised for its likely effect on the diverse and national character of the NUJS student body.

"The founding values of NUJS including its national character and its role in the process of nation building and development is set to be strained by the state government’s pursuit of narrow regional goals. Secondly, an attempt to introduce one-third or more state-level reservation strikes a blow to the thousands of meritorious candidates across the country who aspire to be a part of a national-level institution like NUJS every year. Finally and most importantly, it strikes at the heart of the rich diversity in student body which is an essential element of learning and personal growth at all national-level institutions."

The University had introduced limited domicile reservation back in 2015, on a quid pro quo basis in exchange for 3000 square meters of land from the state government. The decision made under erstwhile Vice Chancellor Prof Ishwara Bhat ushered in a reservation of 10 seats, across categories, for individuals possessing a West Bengal domicile. This included 4 seats in the general category, 2 in the Scheduled Caste, and 1 each in the Scheduled Tribe, OBC-A, OBC-B, and NRI-Sponsored categories.

However, the SJA argues, it now appears that the State is compelling the University to dilute its character for nothing in return.

"While we remain opposed to domicile in quota in any manner or measure, unfortunately, it appears that this time NUJS is being stripped of its autonomy and character in exchange for nothing."

Another provision which proposes the conduct of state-level entrance tests to determine merit for admission into NUJS has also come under fire for potentially creating "avenues for undue favours in the admission process as is the prevalent practice in many local colleges." 

Further, it carries with it the possibility of NUJS leaving the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) set up altogether, which in turn is likely to dilute the quality of students entering the University, the statement notes.

"A founding member of the CLAT organizing committee, NUJS’ withdrawal from the common exam may prompt other NLUs to follow suit, which would undo the system in entirety. Further, it could mean the crème-de-la-crème of law students may not end up taking the separate examinations, opting instead for the broader CLAT framework. It is beyond any doubt that CLAT will find more takers than separate entrance tests, which in itself should serve as a disincentive for any institution looking to attract the best talent. Thus, any dilution of CLAT as means for student intake in NUJS will detriment the institution in every conceivable fashion."

Further fuelling the above apprehensions is the manner in which the Bill was introduced in the first place. Despite being part of the Executive Council of the NUJS, the state functionaries which spearheaded the Bill gave no indication of the same during any of the Executive Council meetings.

"...the Vice Chancellor (Acting) Justice (Retd.) Talukdar and Registrar (Acting) Ms. Sikha Sen categorically denied any knowledge of the amendment bill when enquired by the students.

It appears that the state government including the Law Minister and Judicial Secretary chose to keep the highest functionaries of the University in dark while deliberating upon an amendment which could potentially change the course of the institution.

Therefore, the introduction of the amendment without any needful consultation or information with or to the stakeholders - including the faculty, administration and governing bodies, creates severe apprehensions about motivated attack on independent nature of the University. Furthermore, the bill also raises conjectures about a possible legislative over-riding of the University's Executive Council's decision last year rejecting the government's proposal for creating two new campuses in Asansol and Siliguri."

In view of these concerns, the SJA has also called for the conferment of the National Eminence Institute tag on NLUs in its statement.

"What the NLUs, like the IITs and IIMs, need is greater functional autonomy, not deeper state control."

The SJA has further intimated its intention to explore all possible avenues, including petitioning the Chancellor of the University, against the implementation of the proposed amendments.

Read the NLU Student Consortium statement below:

Statement of Solidarity - Nationalization of NLUs-Nov 2018

Read the SJA statement below: