The 16th December 2016 turned out to be a memorable day in the annals of IDIA history. For on this day, we sowed the seeds for our newest IDIA chapter: “IDIA Goa”. And this takes us to a whopping 18 chapters across the length and breadth of India.
What a journey it’s been! From a tiny hamlet in the North-East of India (Pelling in West Sikkim where we kick-started our pilot project) to more than 23 states now! Kudos to our inspiring team of directors and student volunteers/team leaders who made this possible!
So how did IDIA Goa come to pass? Therein lies a story of sheer persistence; and perhaps even a love for the sun, sea and sand.
Arnab Roy, our IDIA director with the most number of creative acts up his sleeve, had long been pushing for an IDIA chapter in this state that boasts an unbeatable combination of beach, booze and bonhomie.
We hemmed and hawed and said we’d do it at some stage. Finances not enough, time not enough etc etc…. you know the standard excuses! Yet Arnab did not give up. He persisted. Relentlessly. Till one fine day, he decided to take matters into his own hands and reached out to Prof MRK Prasad, the Principal of Goa’s leading law school, the VM Salgaocar College of Law. Soon he had an appointment. For both of us! Fait accompli at its best. I was forced to tag along, since I was in Mumbai then.
So off we went: the two of us into the hallowed halls of one of liveliest law schools around. The energy was simply electrifying! A sheer pity that this law school has not received the kind of attention that some of the others (blessed with the “national” moniker) have. But first a bit of background.
Salgaocar College of Law
V.M. Salgaocar College of Law was established in the year 1973 by the Late Shri V.M. Salgaocar, a reputed philanthropic industrialist from Goa. Significantly, this was the first Law College to be set up for the whole of the Northern Konkan region. For the last one and half years or so, Prof MK Prasad has been its Principal.
Prof MRK Prasad (Principal, Salgaocar)
To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised at meeting Prof Prasad, as I’d expected a somewhat bland status quo-ist academic. But Prof Prasad turned out to be dynamic in more ways than one! One of the rare few who invested seriously in clinical legal education.
I’ve often lamented that our law schools merely pay lip service to clinics. Foisting a largely formalistic course on the students to comply with BCI requirements; and appointing faculty members with next to no experience in the practice of law. Forgetting that you simply cannot run a clinic (at least a good one) with a routine faculty member whose not had much of a background in the profession (litigating or being part of a firm etc). The US and other countries that have had a longer history with clinics boast full time clinical directors/professors who come blessed with long years of experience in the profession.
Prof MP Singh, a former visionary Vice Chancellor of NUJS, and one of those rare endangered species in Indian legal academia, tried to introduce a US style clinical model (with suitable adaptations) at WB NUJS. I had the privilege of participating in this process, where we rafted up a serious concept note, and even got a full time practitioner from Delhi to agree to leave his law firm and come in as a full time clinical director. Unfortunately, when this proposal was taken to our Executive Council, a couple of well-meaning judges shot it down claiming that there was no need for this, since we anyway had legal aid cells! Little appreciating that while a legal aid cell is largely a co-curricular activity for students (much the same way as debates and moots), a clinic is very much an intrinsic part of the academic pedagogy. Where students are evaluated on their participation and performance, much like other academic subjects.
Reflective perhaps of how much of an undue influence the judiciary exerts on Indian legal education, through their memberships at various decision making bodies of leading law universities. Worse still, they often have the ultimate say in picking Vice chancellors at the various NLU’s (at least)! And exercise this privilege with gay abandon, often picking their blue eyed boys well in advance and then pretending to select through a laborious formal process.
A sad state of affairs and one I refer to as the “judicialisation” of legal education in a forthcoming paper. Where I reflect on judges that strut their stuff in the hallowed halls of legal academia, despite never having taught a single course in their entire lives barring the occasional law lecture.
But perhaps one might argue that in a country starved for human resources, the judicial involvement may not be as bad as I’m making it out to be. After all, consider the other players that control legal education: the BCI and the government (political representatives for the large part). The less said about the BCI, the better! Just a few days ago, an exasperated Dean of a small law school telephoned me frantically asking if I could help him put an end to the endless extortion of the BCI through “inspections” (for which they collect a heavy duty fee, both under and above the table).
And for those that are partial to politicians and their involvement in legal education policy, look no further than this fine example of a die hard Didi trying to foist an astrologer on the academic council of NUJS…. in the honest belief that the fate of law schools are best dictated by those that study the stars!
Anyway, let not my rant on the state of legal education distract from the wonderful delight that was Salgaocar College and its competent captain, Prof MRK Prasad. Thanks to Professor Prasad’s passion for clinical training (indeed he was the first Fulbright scholar from India to be trained in clinics in the US), Salgaocar College boasts a good 33 odd clinics across the length and bread of Goa. But Prasad is not alone—he is supported by a stellar cast including Dr BS Patil, a professor passionately involved with legal aid and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and one of the key figures behind Lex Infinitum, an internationally reputed competition in ADR conceptualised and hosted by the Salgaocar law school year after year.
Students from Salgaocar College are to mandatorily participate in legal clinics right from their third year (for 5 years LLB) and second year (for 3 years LLB) up to their final year, and are continuously evaluated and graded for their performance —unlike legal aid in other schools which are not strictly part of the curriculum, but are seen as extra-curricular for the large part. And this is the important distinction that our judges failed to appreciate.
Clinics are a great way to infuse a certain amount of practical legal training in law schools and importantly, expose students to a set of professional values (in a real world context) before they began their journey as lawyers. Which precisely is why IDIA focusses on such training through its CHAMPS and more specifically its CLAPS programme.
And therein lies the attractiveness of Salgaocar College for IDIA and its mission to create legal luminaries from underprivileged communities. But it’s not clinical training alone that makes Salgaocar so salubrious. It charges one of the lowest fees for any good law school in India (under Rs 10,000 a year) when compared with the astronomical 2.5 lakhs at some of the NLU’s). Making decent quality legal education accessible to all. And this is not all. It lends out books for the entire year to students that cannot afford to purchase the same.
As some of you may know, this issue of “access’ formed a central focus in the DU photocopy case—and we (a group of academics and students interested in further access to education) demonstrated to the judge that books were excessively expensive in India and not affordable to a large section of the student population. Fortunately, we won the first two rounds and the matter now awaits a final appeal to the Supreme Court.
All in all, our only regret is that we should have reached Goa earlier. But we’ll certainly make up for lost time…savouring more of Salgaocar, the sea and sand in the coming days, as we take this wonderful partnership forward. Wish us luck!
Ps: We’d really like to thank Raj, an outstanding student of Salgaocar College who helped us extensively during our initial visit to the college and showed us around. We’re hoping to have him as one of the key members of our IDIA Goa team. And to Kumar Panda, our exceptional IDIA scholar and team leader from Mumbai for introducing us to Raj. But most important of all, thanks to a wonderful friend of IDIA and anonymous donor who let us use her flat in Goa for all the initial IDIA work in Goa.