The Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) is conducted every year on a rotational basis with one national law school conducting it. Vide this prestigious examination, all 19 national law universities (NLUs) except NLU-Delhi take their entrants in the UG courses as well as the PG courses. The score obtained in CLAT-PG is also used by public sector undertakings, including Maharatna and Navaratna companies, for the appointment of their legal advisors. Various other law schools also use the score obtained in CLAT for admission to their respective institutes. CLAT, therefore, is not only an entrance examination but also a selection examination.
Most, unfortunately, since 2008, right from the inception, CLAT has suffered through multiple litigations because of flaws in its conduction. Before we dwell into the ruins of CLAT 2018, there are a few issues which attract attention. CLAT is conducted under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Whether a countrywide examination of this nature and importance can and should be conducted under a MoU is the first issue. This MoU is not in public domain and not available on the website of CLAT. So the aspirants do not possess the knowledge of the criteria on which a particular NLU is awarded the privilege to conduct CLAT for a particular year. The NLUs are dedicated universities imparting education in the field of law alone. It is questionable if one of them is singularly equipped enough to conduct a countrywide examination of this nature. Next, it is not arcane knowledge that the conduct of CLAT has been an utter failure over the last decade. The Ministry of Law and Justice, University Grants Commission and the Bar Council of India ought to have taken cognizance of the issue and should have made at least some efforts to cure the defects.
CLAT 2018 was undeniably the worst of the lot. Around 60,000 aspirants wrote CLAT across around 254 centres in the entire country on May 13. Out of these, at around 243 centres, reports immediately surfaced of mass scale mismanagement ranging from computer and technical glitches to cheating. There is no two-way grievance redressal mechanism available with the CLAT committees. Six high courts were moved within a period of 10 days by various aspirants and at least four of them issued notices to the CLAT committees and The National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS, which conducted CLAT 2018) demanding justice for the exam being violative of their legal and fundamental rights. Pleas for re-examination and inquiry into the affairs of CLAT were also made. Student’s body Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) also prayed the Delhi High Court for the establishment for a dedicated body to conduct CLAT.
The right course of action
The correct remedy was to approach the respective high courts under Article 226 of the Constitution. A bunch of students however directly approached the Supreme Court claiming violation of Fundamental Rights under Article 32. It is here when the first collective blow to the aspirants was hammered. The move to approach the Supreme Court directly without exhausting the correct remedy under Article 226 went against the interests of the students. If NUALS/CLAT committees were aggrieved by running before various high courts, they could have very well approached the Supreme Court seeking transfer of the petitions to the Supreme Court and get them clubbed. The high courts were seized of the matter and at least one of them had made the results subject to the outcome of the petition. The Supreme Court never issued notice in the matter. It directed that a copy of the petition may be supplied to respondents therein. On the next dates of hearing, a nodal agency was sought to be created to look into representations on a case-to-case basis. The court however also passed a blanket stay order prohibiting all the high courts from proceeding further in the matter. The second blow was hammered here. The high courts are constitutional courts and the Supreme Court has no superintendence over them. Without hearing the parties before the high courts, a blanket order usurping parallel jurisdiction of high courts was not legally correct. The intention however could not have been doubted which was to prevent trouble to respondents from running across courts. The Supreme Court is not a fact-finding court and could not have examined each and every representation on its own. It could have however directed that an independent body will look into the representations/complaints made and submit the report to the court along with its recommendation. This committee could have comprised a retired judge of the Supreme Court, assisted by a technical expert and secretarial assistants. The NUALS/CLAT committees, however, suggested that the committee be comprised by them itself which was accepted by the Supreme Court. The third blow was hammered here. I wonder how can a committee constituted by the respondents themselves will give an adverse report against mismanagement committed by them! The committee is currently undergoing the hefty process of filtering genuine and fake representations and will submit its comprehensive report on June 6. The fourth blow to interests of the already disadvantaged aspirants was when the Supreme Court refused to stay the declaration of results holding a view that the other students cannot be let to suffer because of the issue. It also refused to cancel the examination. The issue of re-examination therefore died as well. In my view, the Supreme Court ought to have balanced interests amongst those who suffered and were at a disadvantage, those who did not face any glitch/problem and the larger institutional interest as the session should not to be delayed for the academic year. Tilting the balance in favour of aspirants who were already in an advantageous position does not seem to be fair. It ought to have been tilted in favour of those who faced problems affecting their efficiency and consequently their marks and ranks. A via media approach needs to be adopted. It is a classic case where merit has been visibly compromised as the conducting agency failed to do its duty in the manner it ought to have done. It is settled law that if something is to be done in a particular manner, it should be done in that particular manner alone or should not be done at all. There have been no strictures passed against NUALS/CLAT committees for failing in its duty to conduct the exam efficiently. The high courts have now started wrapping up the petitions as the Supreme Court is seized of the matter with the Delhi High Court being the first among equals.
The whole issue pertaining to CLAT deserves a relook and a fresh judicial consideration. There is little hope left now that the aspirants who genuinely suffered will get any benefit. The issue, however, does not die with CLAT 2018. Its catastrophic ruins remain as it is. A judicial notice of successive failure of CLAT needs to be taken notice of. If the ruins are let as it is, future aspirants will suffer the next year and the next to next year again. The calamity of CLAT 2018 must stop this year and must not be carried forward. A very famous saying states that justice must not only be done but also seem to have been done. Hopefully, justice will prevail. Till then, fingers crossed!
The author is an advocate. He represented the ABVP before the Delhi High Court. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
[The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of LiveLaw and LiveLaw does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same]