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SC set aside NLAT and direct to admit the students based on CLAT


The bench comprising of Hon’ble Justice ASHOK BHUSHAN, Hon’ble Justice R. SUBHASH REDDY and Hon’ble Justice M.R. SHAH pronounced the judgment directing National Law School of India University, Bengaluru to admit the students based on the CLAT score, which is to be held on 28th September, 2020 for the academic year (2020-2021).

Counsel for Petitioners: Shri Nidesh Gupta, learned senior counsel and Shri Gopal Sankaranarayan, learned senior counsel.

Counsel for Respondents: Shri Arvind Datar, learned senior counsel for respondent No.1, Shri Sajan Poovayya, learned senior counsel for respondent No.2 and Shri P.S. Narasimha for respondent NO.3. Shri Nikhil Nayyar, learned senior counsel

The Court held that;

Separate admission notice dated 03.09.2020 issued by the NLSIU being unsustainable. We are of the view that Status quo ante as on 05.09.2020 should be restored as early as possible i.e. by restoring the respondent No.2 as Secretary of the Consortium as well as restoring the Secretariat of the Consortium to NLSIU, Bengaluru. The governing body may take the decision keeping in mind that CLAT examination scheduled on 28.09.2020 be smoothly held. The respondent Nos.1 and 2 are also to cooperate with the holding of CLAT scheduled to be held on 28.09.2020.

The writ petition filed in Public Interest under Article 32 of the Constitution of India questions admission notification dated 03.09.2020 issued by National Law School of India University, Bengaluru for conducting separate admission entrance examination, the National Law Aptitude Test(NLAT) scheduled for 12.09.2020. The petitioner seeks a direction to National Law School of India University (hereinafter referred to as “NLSIU”) to admit students only through Common Law Admission Test, 2020(CLAT) examination scheduled to take place on 28.09.2020.

In academic year 2020-21 Consortium notified the schedule for admission in which 10.05.2020 was fixed for CLAT 2020 test. Due to pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus nationwide lockdown was imposed on 23.03.2020 by the Government of India. Due to the lockdown, CLAT was required to be postponed for public health and safety reasons. The examination scheduled for 10.05.2020 was postponed. The Executive Committee of the Consortium on 29.06.2020 resolved to shift away from physical test to centre-based online test.

Date 22.08.2020 was fixed for conduct of the test. However, due to big jump/increase in COVID-19 cases and lockdown till 30.08.2020 the examination which was scheduled to be held on 22.08.2020 was postponed to 07.09.2020. The Executive Committee of the Consortium received a communication from Professor Nirmal Kanti Chakrabarti, Vice Chancellor, NJUS, Kolkota that the West Bengal had decided to impose a complete lockdown on 07.09.2020. The Consortium met on 28.08.2020 and postponed the examination to 28.09.2020.

Learned senior counsel for the petitioner submits that the notification dated 03.09.2020 issued by NLSIU notifying separate admission test ‘NLAT’ is in breach of statutory provisions of Act, 1986. It is submitted that under the National Law School of India Act, 1986 it is the Academic Council of NLSIU which has been empowered under the Act, 1986 with regard to admission of the students. The Executive Council has no power.

Questions framed by the Court are;

1. Whether the petitioners have locus to file the writ petition?

2. Whether the admission notification dated 03.09.2020 by respondent No.1 could have been issued only after recommendations to that effect by the Academic Council, which is the statutory authority under the Act, 1986 for admission of the students to the five year integrated B.A.LL.B. (Hons.) Programme 2020- 2021?

3. Whether the respondent No.1 being founder member of Consortium of National Law Universities, a registered society, is bound by its Bye-Laws and was obliged to admit the 37 students for integrated B.A.LL.B. (Hons.) Programme through CLAT 2020?

4. Whether online home proctored examination as proposed by notification dated 03.09.2020, lacks transparency, was against the very concept of fair examination and violative of the rights of the students under Article 14 of the Constitution?

5. Whether NLAT held on 12.09.2020 with retest on 14.09.2020 was marred by malpractices and deserves to be set aside?

The Court held that the petitioners have locus to file the writ petition and issues raised have to be decided on merits rejecting the objection of NLSIU regarding locus.

Dealing with the second issue court observed that;

power under Section 13 empowering the Executive Council to frame regulations and power under Section 10 to administer, manage and control the school are two separate powers and even though the regulations have not been framed under Section 13 regarding admission of the students, the Executive Council can very well exercise its power under Section 10 to administer, manage and control the affairs of the school. However, the provisions contained in Section 13 throw considerable light on the statutory scheme. The second proviso providing for prior concurrence of the Academic Council on enumerated subjects including “mode of enrolment and admission of students” has been provided for since under the Scheme of the Statute it is the Academic Council which has been empowered to take decisions regarding mode of enrolment or admission of students, which we shall notice hereinafter. The above restriction in regulations making power of the Executive Council has been engrafted with purpose and object.

Section 11 of the Act provides that Academic Council shall be the academic body of the school and shall have power of control and general regulation of, and be responsible for the maintenance of standards of instruction, education and examination of the school. Section 11 used the three expressions namely “power of control”, “general regulation of” and “be responsible”. The expressions used in the Section 11 are “maintenance of standards of instructions, education and examination of the school. It is now settled law that the standards of education include admission to the course. The Constitution Bench of this Court in Dr. Preeti Srivastava and Anr. Vs. State of M.P. and Ors., (1999) 7 SCC 120 held that norms of admissions can have direct impact on the standards of education.

Reading of Section 11 with Section 18 and clause 14 of the Schedule clearly provides for role of Academic Council in the admission of students.

The Court held that NLSIU was required by the Statute to obtain recommendation of Academic Council before proceeding to hold NLAT by issuing admission notification dated 03.09.2020.

Considering the third issue the Court held that;

We are not persuaded to accept the submission that “Doctrine of Necessity” was applicable in the fact situation of the on-going pandemic. As noted above, UGC in its guidelines dated 29.04.2020 has already asked all the Universities to modify their academic calendar for the academic year 2020-21. The UGC being the body to maintain standard of education in the entire country and having contemplated for suitable amending the academic year, “Doctrine of Necessity” does not arise. We thus conclude that being members of the Consortium respondent No.1 ought not to have proceeded with holding a separate test namely “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, 2020.

In the fourth issue , the Court concluded that home based online examination as proposed by the respondent No.1 University for NLAT 2020-21 could not be held to be a test which was able to maintain transparency and integrity of the examination. The short notice and technological requirements insisted by the University deprived a large number of students to participate in the test violating their rights under Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

The Court observed that Admission notification dated 03.09.2020 issued by respondent No.1 was not in accordance with law and deserves to be set aside.

The CLAT examination is already fixed for 28.09.2020 which needs to be conducted on the said date without fail after following all necessary protocols for safety and health of the students and after following the Standard Operating Procedures issued by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and Ministry of Human Resource Development(MHRD).

Thus, SLP is disposed of.