Published: 21st September 2020
SC quashes NLSIU Bengaluru's notification for holding separate entrance exam NLAT-2020
The apex court asked the consortium of National Law Universities (NLUs) to conduct CLAT-2020 on September 28 while taking all COVID-19 precautions
The Supreme Court Monday quashed the NLSIU Bengaluru's notification for conducting separate entrance exam, the National Law Aptitude Test (NLAT) held on September 12, for admission to its five-year law course and directed it to admit students on the basis of CLAT 2020 results.
The Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) is a centralised national level entrance test for admissions to 23 NLUs in India. Bengaluru's National Law School of India University (NLSIU) is one of them. The apex court asked the consortium of National Law Universities (NLUs) to conduct CLAT-2020 on September 28 while taking all precautions and care for the health of the students after following the standard operating procedures of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Human Resource Development.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan said the consortium shall ensure that entire process of declaration of result be completed as early as possible to enable NLSIU Bengaluru and other NLUs to start their course by mid of October.
The top court delivered its verdict on a plea filed by former NLSIU vice-chancellor Professor R Venkata Rao and the parent of an aspirant challenging the NLAT-2020 for admission to five years integrated BA LLB (Hons) Programme 2020-2021.
The bench, also comprising Justices R S Reddy and M R Shah, said that NLSIU Bengaluru shall also complete the admission of BA LLB (Hons) programme 2020-21 on the basis of the result of CLAT-2020.
In its 107-page judgement, the bench said NLSIU Bengaluru was required to obtain the recommendation of the academic council before proceeding to hold NLAT by issuing the notification dated September 3.
Admission notification dated September 3, 2020, having been issued without the recommendation of Academic Council is not in accordance with the provisions of Act, 1986 (National Law School of India Act) and is unsustainable, the bench said.
It said that recommendation of the academic council was necessary to be obtained for holding NLAT especially when NLSIU Bengaluru was proposing to hold the test instead of admitting students by CLAT.
CLAT is an all India examination for different National Law Universities 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 the 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.
It noted that thousands of students, who aspire to have a career in law, look forward to CLAT as a prestigious test and CLAT has proved its usefulness and utility in this country. Students look forward to the consortium for providing a correct and fair assessment of the merits of the students. The bye-laws under which members are required to admit the students in their law universities on the basis of the CLAT for UG (undergraduate) and PG (post-graduate) law courses are binding on the members, it said.
Bye-Laws although are non-statutory but they have been framed with the aim and object to be followed by its members, it noted, adding that NLSIU Bangaluru from the beginning shouldered the leading role in the conduct of CLAT. The bench also noted that to conduct a common law admission test for all law universities is both in the national interest as well as in the interest of the education". It said CLAT 2020 was earlier postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic for public health and safety reasons.
The bench said in its verdict that in pursuance to the September 3 notice, 24,603 candidates had applied and 23,225 have appeared in the test while for CLAT 2020, over 69,000 students have registered for the undergraduate law course.
It noted the submissions of petitioners that exam held on September 12 as well as re-test held on September 14 was marred by several malpractices.
"We are of the view that for the present case, it is not necessary for this court to enter into various materials referred to by the petitioners and the reports and to decide as to whether malpractices were actually adopted in the examination or not, it said.
It said that NLSIU Bengaluru being a premier university, we have no doubt that it must have taken all necessary precautions to avoid any malpractices and cheating in the examination. Regarding other submissions advanced by the petitioners, the bench said that home-based online examination as proposed by the university for NLAT could not be held to be a test which was able to maintain transparency and integrity of the examination.
It observed that universities are not powerless to modify their academic calendar looking to the pandemic situation. The academic year 2020-21 is not a normal academic year in which universities are expected to carry on their teaching and other activities in normal mode and manner, it said. It said that being a member of the consortium, NLSIU Bengaluru ought not to have proceeded with holding NLAT nor the academic year 2020-21 be required to be declared as zero-year even if the course starts in the mid of October this year.
The bench rejected the objection raised on the locus of petitioners saying the issues brought before it has to be decided on merits. The apex court had on September 11 given its go-ahead to NLSIU Bengaluru to hold its separate exam, which was to be held on September 12 but restrained it from announcing the results and admitting any student till the pendency of the plea.