A public interest petition (PIL) to reform the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), filed more than 3 years ago, appears to have been resuscitated recently, when a Supreme Court bench comprising Justice S.A.Bobde and Justice Nageswara Rao asked the Additional Solicitor General to address the Court on the question whether National Law Universities (NLUs) can be considered and declared as institutes of national importance.
The PIL filed by Prof. Shamnad Basheer asks that a permanent body be established for conducting CLAT, rather than leaving this to individual NLUs (National Law Universities) year after year. The PIL takes issue with the opaque and inefficient implementation of CLAT and highlights innumerous lapses and errors.
Subsequent affidavits filed in court point to the fact that various NLUs have violated norms relating to reservation of seats for PWDs (Persons with disabilities), as well as norms relating to Non-Resident Indian (NRI) seats.
In this regard, LiveLaw examined two such affidavits filed by Prof. Basheer. Here is a summary of the submissions from the affidavits:
The first affidavit filed in August, 2016, concerns the ninth edition of CLAT which was conducted by Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (RGNUL), Punjab, on 8 May, 2016.
The Affidavit points out that the seat allotment for CLAT-2016 was in blatant contravention of Section 39 of Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995, which mandates a minimum of 3% reservation for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs). It alleges that:
The Affidavit went on to point out that no consolidated rank list was released, keeping the candidates in the dark about their chances of getting upgraded to a higher NLU in the subsequent allotment lists. Further, in the absence of such list, there was no way of verifying the errors in the allotment of seats under various horizontal (PWD, women) and vertical (general, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, etc.) categories.
The affidavit also alleged violation of NRI seat norms as laid down by the apex court in P.A. Inamdar & Ors v. State Of Maharashtra & Ors., which clearly held that such seats must be capped at 15% of total number of seats, and two conditions are to be complied with: "First, such seats should be utilized bona fide by the NRIs only and for their children or wards. Secondly, within this quota, the merit should not be given a complete go-by."
Various NLUs flouted the above norm by stipulating that candidates seeking admission through the NRI quota need only be "NRI sponsored". This, the affidavit alleged allowed any rich privileged student in India with some far-flung nexus to an NRI to gain special unequal treatment, without scoring well enough in CLAT. Moreover, the Affidavit also pointed to the fact that various NLU’s did not ensure that the amounts received from NRI fees were used to subsidize the education of the underprivileged, as required under Inamdar.
Another Additional Affidavit filed in November, 2017, concerned the tenth edition of CLAT, which was conducted by Chanakya National Law University (CNLU), Patna, on 14 May, 2017.
The Affidavit pointed out that the publication of allotment list was fraught with errors, including by way of listing candidates who held ranks under reserved categories as unreserved category candidates, causing them to be denied an allotment. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that there was no consolidated rank list, making it difficult to verify the errors in the allotment of seats under various horizontal (PWD, women) and vertical (general, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, etc.) categories.
The Affidavit also highlighted the mishandling of supernumerary seats reserved for Jammu and Kashmir students. As per the Affidavit, even though several participating NLU’s had 2 supernumerary seats reserved for candidates from Jammu and Kashmir, the CLAT office did not release any official rank list for this category, forcing students to individually follow multiple deadlines and different procedures to submit their applications for seats under this category. Moreover, the J&K merit list was delayed to the point where a few NLU’s had already closed their application windows. This, it said, "severely prejudiced" candidates from the state, giving them no certainty or predictability in the admission process, and posed the risk of them losing their duly earned seats altogether.
In the light of such allegations, the Affidavit reiterated the need for a centralized process, submitting, "Absence of a centralized, streamlined process only causes further confusion and anxiety in the minds of students; while at the same time paving way for authorities to take advantage of this opacity to potentially admit students who may not be entitled to the seat in accordance with the merit list."
The Affidavit went on to highlight the irregularities in publication of the NRI/ NRI Sponsored merit list as well, submitting that the absence of a consolidated category-wise merit list rendered the entire process of seat allotment devoid of any transparency whatsoever. Illustratively, it points out how the CLAT Committee, on its official CLAT 2017 Counselling website, had provided a link titled ‘WBNUJS NRI List’, which upon opening reflected the names of the candidates admitted to WBNUJS under the NRI/NRI Sponsored category for the previous year.
This, it said, reflects the "sheer callousness and apathy in administering a professional exam in a competent manner and releasing accurate merit and category lists", adding, "More egregiously, such inaccurate lists only serve to mislead candidates, who, upon not seeing their names reflected on the list, would assume that they were not allotted a seat in WBNUJS, when in fact the list has nothing to do with the 2017 exam, but predates to the 2016 exam!"
Furthermore, discrepancies in the seats reserved for PWD category had surfaced during CLAT-2017 as well. As per the Affidavit: