The student bar associations of NLSIU Bangalore, Nalsar Hyderabad and NUJS Kolkata have released an unprecedented joint statement in solidarity with the recently-successful student protestors at NUSRL Ranchi, and issued a call for all national law school students to work together towards jointly fixing what they feel is a root cause of many NLUs’ problems: a distinct lack of funding.
Explaining the coordination between the student bar associations at three of the four oldest national law schools - which are also the “only organised student unions among all NLUs” - NLSIU Student Bar Association (SBA) president Aman Saxena said that a consensus was reached by them over the NUSRL issue, while also expressing their “intent to work together towards” the end of securing for NLUs Institute of National Importance (INI) status and accompanying central government funding, as enjoyed by elite institutions such as IITs or IIMs.
The students’ three-page manifesto, of sorts, explains what INI status for NLUs would mean and why they hope it would solve many of the problems faced by NLUs.
“Together, we will be charting our course of action over the coming days by attempting to get all students of all the NLUs, VCs, BCI and HRD Ministry on board,” said Saxena. “It is a daunting and prolonged task to build consensus but we are committed to it as we see a lot of tangible benefit accruing to the law school fraternity at the end of it.”
NUJS Student Juridical Association (SJA) vice president Samarth Sharma added: “We understand that every NLU has its own culture and specific set of grievances. However, regardless of the multiplicity of our perspectives, we firmly believe that granting the status of Institutes of National Importance to these islands of excellence is not only warranted but also will go a long way in solving the common problems faced by all of these institutions.
"We hope this demand will transcend our valuable cultural differences and garner support from all stakeholders in the fraternity. Our stories might be singular, but our destinies are definitely shared,” added Sharma.
Nalsar Student Bar Council (SBC) president Yugal Jain added: “The situation at Ranchi is really unfortunate and I am very proud that the students have been able to put up a brave and succesful fight against the mighty administration.
“I am glad that students from various law schools are coming together on this issue. I am very optimistic that this collaboration will serve as a medium to voice common concerns and design progressive solutions.”
On NUSRL: Kudos
The joint statement commends “the courage and determination of our counterparts at NUSRL” - whose 4-day protest ended on a mostly successful note yesterday - and applauds the “heartening... constructive dialogue among the students and representatives from the judiciary and the state”.
It adds that the "compromises thus reached, that is annual publication of audit reports, appointment of a financial officer, setting up of a school review commission and most importantly, permission of formation of a student union would go a long way in ensuring effective checks and balances between the administration and the administered”.
“Lack of accountability of those appointed at the helm of these universities and minimal transparency in the use of allocated funds lead to dismal state of affairs of the public institutions,” noted the statement, adding: “Kudos to these students for having attained that and we hope the resolutions passed in the meeting are abided by.”
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The big picture and an ambitious solution
But the joint statement also points out a compelling and much wider problem facing nearly all NLUs, and a possible way of solving it.
"The National Law Universities (NLUs) have been struggling due to lack of funds,” notes the statement, relying entirely on meagre University Grants Commission (UGC) budgets, while “the dissolution of the erstwhile Planning Commission” has left “no clarity on if, when and how NLUs will be provided further grants by the UGC”.
Moreover, funding through NLUs’ “home states’” budgets, have been “often very erratic and largely depends on realization of importance of NLUs by individual states”,
While some of the states like Delhi and Gujarat are generous in funding their NLUs, most other states are not so kind. NLSIU, for instance receives only Rs 2 Crores as an annual grant from Karnataka Government. It hardly meets 3 months’ worth of salaries of its staff. It needs to be mentioned that seventh pay commission recommendations will be applicable to these universities in the coming months, thereby increasing the cost of salaries by another 30%. On the other hand, barring a few instances here and there, NUJS does not have any steady support from the West Bengal State Government.
A possible solution proposed in the joint statement would be to recognise national law schools as “Institutes of National Importance (INI)”, on par with other universities, that have been less neglected, and that receive considerable funding via the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s budget, which provides annual Rs 7800 crore funding to IITs, Rs 3500 crore funding to NITs, Rs 1000 crore funding to IIMs, Rs 650 crores to IISERs:
An Institute of National Importance is defined as an institute ‘which serves as a pivotal player in developing highly skilled personnel within the specified region of the country/state’. While there exists no guideline for the same, we believe that on such evaluation, as may be prescribed, the NLUs will squarely fall within the criteria of contributing highly skilled personnel to the legal profession, judiciary, bureaucracy, policy think tanks, academia and various other avenues.
An unprecedented joint statement & initiative
As far as we are aware, this is the first time that three national law schools student bar associations have got together to release a joint statement in support of another law school and vowed such close future cooperation.
Explaining how the project got started, NLSIU’s Saxena said: “Over the past few days, especially after the NUSRL debacle, I have been working on the idea of seeking Institutes of National Importance (INI) status for the National Law Universities. The idea is to ensure that national law universities, recognized as the prominent institutions in the country to impart legal education and which contribute highly qualified personnel to the legal profession, should not solely depend on their respective state support which is more often than not non-existent.”
“Heartfelt gratitude needs to be expressed to Arjun [Agarwal, president] & Samarth [Sharma] (SJA, NUJS) and Yugal [Jain] & Renuka [Bhukya, general secretary] (SBC, NALSAR) for the cooperation extended and their inspiring commitment to work together towards this cause,” Saxena added.
In its conclusion the students’ statement - which is worth reading in full below - states:
The root of the problem needs to be fixed. We are in the process of contacting student bodies of all the NLUs to endorse our claim. We also request all the Vice Chancellors of the National Law Universities and the Bar Council of India to recognize and appreciate this problem so that we can work together to garner appropriate funding from the Government.