4 March 2015

A law school is not a checklist

I joined the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi (hereinafter called 'Faculty') in July 2014 for my Bachelors in Law. Shortly after, the Bar Council of India (BCI) announced that the Faculty was no longer recognised by them. As a result, graduates from the University can no longer enrol with the Bar and hence cannot practice as lawyers (though there is some 'provisional' or 'temporary' enrolment that is still possible).

The reason for the withdrawal of recognition was the non-compliance of the BCI norms. The BCI regulates the legal profession and legal education in the country. This is the report that was filed by the Council based on its inspection of the Faculty of Law premises. I have not read the report, but this article states that there are various concerns with respect to infrastructure, classroom facilities, the nature of employment of teachers etc.

Previously, I had written to a Committee regarding the Functioning of the Delhi University and had been fairly critical of the Faculty. But I do not think that I ever suggested the removal of recognition or the 'shutting down' of colleges/schools.

I do not want to get into the tussle between the Dean of the Faculty and the BCI and who did what. Apparently, the Faculty did not apply for renewal of the recognition for a set of consecutive years and the Dean should be blamed for that. However, the BCI's attitude is equally puzzling, especially its remarks on 'shutting down'. Here is why :

  1. This country is going through a crisis of education. We don't have enough universities. The demand for seats is ever increasing, especially since the implementation of reservations. Now, in that backdrop you want to shut down or remove affiliation to an institution that gives education to four thousand students? Such a remark, even obiter in a report by the BCI is extremely ill-suited
  2. I do not believe that we have enough law schools or lawyers in this country. If we do, then the BCI should not have approved 400+ colleges in the last two years. And even if there is a surplus, there is an even greater surplus of students demanding this area of study. Should we deny them education because we have too many existing professionals? Communist much?
  3. The Faculty's infrastructure is abysmal. The teaching is also just about okay. These are factors that affect education. Yet, we find that lawyers from this Faculty do fairly well in the Courts of Law. Even if that is not the case, there is no trend to suggest that graduates from this Faculty are bad lawyers. If the purpose of infrastructure and 'good teaching' is 'good' lawyers and we are able to achieve that without those pre-conditions; then certainly there is no need to be coercive with regard to these pre-conditions. I am not saying that there is no need to change status quo. I am saying there is no need for the 'you better listen to me or I will discredit you' tone
  4. The BCI needs to acknowledge that there can be different ways of teaching law and that the way they prescribe isn't going to be 'the only way'. Just like creating toilets doesn't make people use them, similarly installing projectors will not be of use if the bulk of the class doesn't have money for laptops. How many students from Hindi medium backgrounds enter the National Law Schools? My hunch is that it is very little. There are many in this Faculty. If you shut this place, where will they go? Leave aside the fact that there are few places that offer a 3 year law degree. When the RTE came into force, small private schools faced closure because they weren't affiliated. The quality of education provided by them was of no concern. They lacked affiliation and hence were shut. Many NGOs that ran schools were forced to close and reasonably decent education was snatched away from the children. The BCI's behaviour is reminiscent in this regard
  5. The 'reasonable man' is an argument that is oft quoted in judgements. Yet, we find that the committee's 17 recommendations fail that test. The committee suggested that unless these 17 conditions were met, affiliation will not be extended (for 2015-16 onwards). These recommendations included hiring regular teachers, implementing wifi, increasing computers, limiting the access of the college only to law students, access to latest legal software, change in college timings (which meant discontinuation of the evening batch), construction of a moot court hall, internship for students, well equipped common rooms, improved toilet and classroom facilities, improved seminar rooms and auditoriums, 'impressive' meeting rooms and electronic gadgets in classrooms etc. I am no expert at implementation but I do believe that the above recommendations will take more than a year to implement. It must be kept in mind that you are looking at a Faculty that might need approval from the University for large expenses. It is not a completely autonomous unit like the National Law Schools. How could it even be possible for the Faculty to implement these by July 2015, when the college classrooms are empty only in June and July? Regarding infrastructure, I have heard that there is a new building in construction. If that is to be held, then all the recommendations with respect to the physical infrastructure are useless because they will be inoperative when the new building commences operations
  6. I believe that the BCI has made an incorrect comparison. The Faculty is not a National Law School. Yet, it has been examined by those standards. The Faculty never had the advantage of setting up a plush new enormous campus (50-70km away from the heart of the city). It was limited to the campus it had. The starting point and the means of these two institutions are very different. The fee structure is enormously different. Leave aside, the large gap in the number of students that receive education in them (~500 vs ~ 4000). It is like comparing Singapore and India
  7. I also think the BCI erred in its behaviour. If the Faculty had not applied for re-affiliation, then it owed a duty to take care towards the prospective students of the Faculty. It knew that the Faculty had no affiliation, that it had no good basis to admit candidates - yet it allowed that to happen to the detriment of the students. It did not caution students regarding the lack of affiliation. The UGC had done the same when it came to the affiliation of IIPM. I think, that the offer of the BCI to extend affiliation to students of the Faculty till the 2014-15 batch stems from their own negligence and not from their infinite compassion towards the plight of the students 
No doubt, that the Faculty is also at fault for not applying for affiliation. I mean what sort of Dean would let this happen. And his handling of the situation isn't great either. However, all this is not about the BCI or the Dean. This is about the students - existing and prospective. What will they do? And where will they go? If not Faculty of Delhi, then where? Will 1500 students not get law admissions in 2015? ~750 are reserved seats - where will those students go? Strangely, neither the BCI nor the Dean nor the MHRD has anything to say about them. We are left to the fate and egos of these institutions. No wonder then, that education in this country is in the state that it is today.

I understand that sometimes change needs to pushed down people's throats. And withdrawing recognition can be one such tactic. However, change needs to be holistic. The policy makers at the top cannot lay down rules without any idea of the realities at the bottom. In this case, the BCI has set norms that are obviously unachievable by the Faculty; not to forget completely detrimental to the students. The BCI and the Faculty ought to reach an understanding on this (sooner rather than later). Unless they want writ petitions, candle light vigils and strikes by alumni lawyers. This is not a threat. It is reasonably foreseeable that all of this will happen.

After all, a law school is not a checklist of 17 items.

Image : http://navbharattimes.indiatimes.com/thumb/msid-18543007,width-400,resizemode-4/kanoon-and-rajni.jpg

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