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A DSNLU Vizag student has drafted a bill to provide for Institute of National Importance (INI) status to national law universities (NLUs), to bring the NLUs under central funding and supervision.
Member of Parliament (MP) from Jadhavpur Dr Sugata Bose, who is also the director for graduate studies at Harvard University, introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha on 10 March. It is currently pending discussion and debate in the legislature.
The drafter, DSNLU final year student Debodutta Bose, commented: “Primarily this bill aims to maintain a federal structure. A balance between central and state powers. It provides for certain funds to be given to the NLUs by the Centre, a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audit and without compromising the existing powers that the states have in NLUs.”
Bose began work on the bill in 2015 and later pitched it to Dr Bose.
“In that way I have been particularly lucky to have been studying at DSNLU [where drafting the bill is concerned] because we have been facing lots of challenges since the beginning. Andhra Pradesh wasn’t divided earlier so we were a second NLU,” he said.
“The entire concept of a NLU, as it is, is very vaguely defined . No one can say what exactly are the criteria of becoming a national law university. The [National Institute of Technology] Act designates NITs. Similarly IIT and IIM have their own central acts. But NLUs have state acts. Uniformity is not there. If you think of an NIT you know it will have a [governing] structure [defined in the central act] but every NLU has a different structure.”
This is how the bill purports to bring uniformity and parity into the working of India’s 18 NLUS:
1. The NLUs will be declared “Institutes of National Importance”.
2. The Parliament will make a central law to govern them, so that all of them have the same objects, powers and functions.
3. There is no reservation of seats by default, but will be provided by order of the state in which the NLU is, up to an upper limit of 50%
4. Review powers will lie with the Chief Justice of India as the “Visitor” of the NLUs, and inspection powers will lie with the chief justices of the respective high courts as “chancellor” of the NLU.
5. A “National Council” will have the power and function of oversight over all the NLUs, on matters of the CLAT, inter-NLU disputes, annual budget sessions and fund allotment.
6. The Union Minister of Law will be the Chairperson ex-officio of the national council, without impinging on the Bar Council of India’s power to regulate legal education.
7. All the existing authorities will remain the same, i.e. the state will retain control of the Universities. Such authorities and officers of the Universities are now standardized for NLUs. An ad-hoc sexual dispute redressal committee has been standardised.
8. The bill provides for the much needed central government grants, maintenance of separate bank accounts, and audit of the accounts of the NLUs by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to be laid before the Parliament aimed at transparency in the working of the NLUs.
9. The bill, when an act, will repeal all the existing Acts. Subsequent NLUs can be set up or removed by amending the schedule.
It took Bose around one year and 10 different versions of the bill, to finally arrive at a final one which he pitched to Dr Bose who then tabled it before the Lok Sabha in late 2016, and was finally able to introduce it to the house on 10 March 2017.
“I read all the state acts of the NLUs first, and how the structures of the central universities like IIM,IIT, NIT are. I basically took all the good things from all the Acts and then sort of combined it and so that nothing is in conflict with each other,” explained Bose.
“All state interests and sentiments have been duly considered and even the names of the NLUs have not excluded any names of persons put in by the states into their respective NLUs,” he added.
He said that the idea behind having a provision for inclusion of state reservations in the bill was to get all stakeholders on board. “A bill cannot be entirely ideal, and to get the states convinced their interest has been protected,” he remarked. By tailoring the provision not to include reservation by default but have the states pass their own reservations by special order, he has attempted to balance interests.
Currently, Nalsar Hyderabad is looking at a 50% state-based reservation for seats in the 3 year LLB program for which the law school will receive land from the state. In contrast, NLSIU Bangalore faces a looming 50% state-based reservation in its 5 year LLB program, while 10-seat NUJS Kolkata has already begun reserving 10 seats for West Bengal domiciled candidates in its 5 year LLB program from this year.
In April 2017, little over a month after the bill was introduced, the student bar associations of NLSIU Bangalore, Nalsar Hyderabad and NUJS Kolkata also expressed their intent to work together towards achieving the INI status for NLUs.