The declaration by the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru to conduct a separate exam conducted called the National Legal Aptitude Test (NLAT) was quashed by the Supreme Court by a three-judge bench comprising of Justice Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah. As an alternative, the Court ordered NLSIU to use the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) to conduct admissions to this year. The Court also directed the results of CLAT 2020 to be declared as early as possible, so as to ensure that universities can start admissions as soon as possible.
On September 17, the Apex Court had reserved the judgement that NLSIU would be allowed to conduct NLAT, however, the results and admission process would be declared subject to the decision of the Court. The main reason given by the bench to cancel NLAT-2020 was that due to the short notice given by the University and specific technological requirements demanded by NLSIU, quite a lot of aspirants could not participate in the test, thereby violating their rights under Article 14 of the Constitution of India. It was also mentioned that the pattern of the exam was strikingly different from that of CLAT, which was another problem for students who had been preparing for over a year.
Many issues were brought forth regarding this matter. The locus of the petitioners to file this writ petition was questioned by the NLSUI. This objection was rejected on the grounds that the petitioner Prof Venkata Rao was the Vice-chancellor and member of the Consortium, consequently making him fully competent to espouse the cause of education by means of the writ petition. The petitioners had filed a rejoinder before the Court, which stated that NLSIU miserably failed in conducting the NLAT and has made a large number of candidates suffer. This was based on the fact that the exam and its procedure lacked transparency and cannot be termed “a success” by the widest stretch of imagination, which the top court agreed with.
“Petitioners’ case is that due to a short period of notice to apply and due to technological requirement, a large number of students especially belonging to marginalised sections of the society were unable to apply within the time allowed by NLAT. The requirement of fulfilling technological support as envisaged by NLAT as noticed above could not have easily been procured by a large number of students.”
While being part of the Consortium, a society which was formed just for the purpose of holding a common law entrance test for admissions to NLUs, NLSIU decided, unilaterally, to hold a separate exam. This was one of the major points of contention. The University claimed that it would have to face a zero year scenario had it depended on CLAT to take admissions since it was the only University in the Consortium to have a trimester system. To this, the Court said that the intention of the University to declare the academic year 2020-21 as “zero-year” even if the course starts in the mid of October, 2020 was not required. The Court observed,
“Even though obligations on members of Consortium under the Bye-Laws are not statutory obligations but those obligations are binding on the members. All members occupying significant and important status have to conduct in fair and reasonable manner to fulfill the aspirations of thousands of students who look on these National Law Universities as institutions of higher learning, personality and career builders. Further the statutes under which National Law Universities have been established cast public duties on these NLUs to function in a fair, reasonable and transparent manner. These institutions of higher learning are looked by society and students with respect and great Trust. All NLUs have to conduct themselves in a manner which fulfills the cause of education and maintain the trust reposed on them.”
Senior Advocates Nidhesh Gupta and Gopal Sankarnarayanan represented the petitioners while Senior Advocates Arvind Datar and Sajan Poovayya represented NLSIU and its Vice-Chancellor Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy. It was also directed by the Court that NLSIU be reinstated to the Secretariat of the NLU Consortium, and that its Vice-Chancellor be given back his post of Secretary-Treasurer of the Consortium. Senior Advocate PS Narasimha argued for the Consortium.