The Supreme Court on September 21st 2020, quashed the conduct of National Law School of India University Bangalore’s (NLSIU) separate entrance exam, the National Law Aptitude Exam (NLAT 2020). The Court ordered that NLSIU would have to conduct admissions to its courses this year through the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT).
The Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah had reserved judgment in the matter on September 17th after giving the case an extensive hearing. Earlier, the Court had allowed NLSIU to conduct the contentious NLAT, however, the Apex Court had held that the results would be declared subject to the decision of the Court.
The order passed today reads, “In view of the foregoing discussion, we are of the considered opinion that Admission notification dated 03.09.2020 issued by respondent No.1 was not in accordance with law and deserves to be set aside.“
The Court has directed that CLAT 2020 be held on its scheduled date of September 28th, in accordance with all the safety guidelines prescribed by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The results of CLAT 2020 are to be declared as early as possible to ensure that universities can start admissions as soon as possible, the Court further directed.
Further, the Court has directed that NLSIU be reinstated to the Secretariat of the NLU Consortium, and that its Vice-Chancellor Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy be given back his post of Secretary-Treasurer of the Consortium.
The order reads, “We are of the view that Status quo ante as on 05.09.2020 should be restored as early as possible i.e. by restoring the respondent No.2 as Secretary of the Consortium as well as restoring the Secretariat of the Consortium to NLSIU, Bengaluru. The governing body may take the decision keeping in mind that CLAT examination scheduled on 28.09.2020 be smoothly held. The respondent Nos.1 and 2 are also to cooperate with the holding of CLAT scheduled to be held on 28.09.2020.”
NLSIU’s move to conduct a separate entrance exam this year owing to the delayed conduct of CLAT 2020 was challenged by former NLSIU Vice-Chancellor Prof Venkata Rao, along with an aspirant’s parent. The Court was urged to quash the September 3rd notification announcing the conduct of NLAT for NLSIU admissions this year. Another prayer made is for quashing of NLSIU’s notification regarding the technical requirements to write NLAT and for a direction to the University to accept students this year on the basis of CLAT scores.
The petitioners represented by Senior Advocates Nidhesh Gupta and Gopal Sankarnarayanan had also filed a rejoinder before the Court, asserting that NLSIU miserably failed in conducting the NLAT and has made a large number of candidates suffer. The exam and its procedure lack transparency and cannot be termed “a success” by the widest stretch of imagination, the petitioners averred in their rejoinder. This stance found support from the Consortium of National Law Universities, which had also filed a counter affidavit in the matter through NALSAR Vice-Chancellor, Prof Faizan Mustafa.
On the other hand, NLSIU and its Vice-Chancellor Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy filed affidavits represented by Senior Advocates Arvind Datar and Sajan Poovayya respectively, justified the conduct of its exam, questioning the maintainability of the plea before the Supreme Court, and urging for the writ petition to be dismissed with exemplary costs.
One of the central points of contention in the matter was NLSIU’s “unilateral” decision to hold a separate exam whilst being part of the Consortium, a society which had come to be formed primarily for the purpose of holding a common law entrance test for admissions to NLUs.
The technical requirements for writing NLAT were rendering the exam to be “exclusionary” and holding potential to deny access to many aspirants, the petitioners has contended. The exam pattern was also starkly different from that of CLAT, for which the students had been preparing for over a year, it was pointed out.
NLSIU had argued that it was under extreme circumstances that the decision to hold NLAT was taken. It was claimed that University would have to face a zero year scenario if it were to take admissions through CLAT. It was said that the University is the only one in the Consortium to have a trimester system, a difficulty that was expressed to the Consortium. Despite this, NLSIU claimed, the Consortium decided to postpone the conduct of CLAT, which is scheduled for September 28th. Senior Advocate PS Narasimha argued for the Consortium.
The University also defended the format of NLAT and said that the pressure threshold in the exam was lower than that of CLAT. It was also argued that AI-based technology was also engaged with in order to identify any instances of malpractice and cheating and such students would be disqualified, it was said.