RULING THAT the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) “is both in the national interest as well as in the interest of education”, the Supreme Court on Monday quashed the notification of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru, on holding a separate entrance exam and directed it to admit students on the basis of CLAT-2020 results.
The NLSIU held an online National Law Aptitude Test (NLAT) on September 12 for admission to its BA LLB (Hons) Programme.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah also asked the consortium of National Law Universities (NLUs) to conduct CLAT-2020 on September 28, while “taking all precautions and care for health of the students after following the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Human Resource Development”.
“To conduct a Common Law Admission Test for all the law universities is both in the national interest as well as in the interest of education… It was with a lot of discussion, deliberation that the CLAT could come into existence. We have come a long way with the CLAT, which has to be further strengthened and streamlined,” the Bench said, adding that a common test fulfils the twin objectives of “transparency and merit”.
The court asked the consortium to “ensure that the entire process of declaration of results be completed as early as possible to enable” the NLUs “to start their course by mid-October”.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by former NLSIU Vice-Chancellor R Venkata Rao, challenging the university’s decision to conduct a separate test.
Appearing for NLSIU, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar said it decided to hold a separate entrance test to avoid a “zero year” in view of the CLAT getting postponed repeatedly.
Rejecting this, the court said “we are not persuaded to accept the submission that the ‘doctrine of necessity’ was applicable…”
It said the “UGC, in its guidelines dated 29.04.2020, has already asked all the universities to modify their academic calendar for… 2020-21. The UGC being the body to maintain the standard of education in the entire country… the ‘doctrine of necessity’ does not arise. We thus conclude that being members of the consortium, (NLSIU) ought not to have proceeded with holding a separate test… nor the academic year 2020-21 be required to be declared as ‘zero year’ even if the course starts in mid-October”.
The court agreed with the petitioner that “permitting of home-based online test could not have ensured transparency, fairness and integrity of the examination, especially when the test was to be conducted for entrance into a premier law university of the country”.
The court also noted that NLSIU was the first choice for 60 per cent of those who applied for CLAT.
“About 69,000 students have registered for CLAT-2020 — 60 per cent of 69,000 comes to 41,400. The registration into NLAT being only 24,603, out of which only 23,225 could appear, makes it clear that a large number of students who could have wanted to apply for admission (in NLSIU) could not even apply due to shortage of time and technical requirement,” it said.
“The above figures fully support the submissions of the petitioner that a large section of students, especially belonging to marginalised sections of society, were denied the opportunity to appear in the examination,” it said.
“CLAT… has achieved its own importance and prominence in legal education. The steps taken by National Law Universities to form a consortium and to cooperate with each other in conduct of CLAT is towards discharge of their public duty entrusted under the different statutes. The duty to uphold its integrity lies on the shoulder of each and every member,” it said.
“Thousands of students who aspire to have a career in law look forward to the CLAT as a prestigious test and CLAT has proved its usefulness and utility in this country… The bye-laws under which members are required to admit students in their law universities on the basis of CLAT for UG and PG law courses are binding on the members,” it said.
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