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BCI not convinced by HRD’s concession on legal education

LI and Mint, together every fortnight
LI and Mint, together every fortnight

In today’s edition of Mint: The turf war on legal education between the human resources development (HRD) ministry and the Bar Council of India (BCI) remains unresolved.

While it appeared last month that a consensus might have been reached, it has emerged that the demands of BCI concerning the accreditation and governance of law colleges have not been fully met by the ministry.

“The BCI... is firm on its original demand of keeping the legal education completely out of the research and higher education Bill, which is currently being examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on HRD,” said Ashok Parija, chairman of BCI.

BCI reiterated that legal education needs to be kept out of the national council of higher education and research (NCHER) Bill 2011.

The HRD ministry had said it had reached a consensus with BCI and state bar councils, Mint reported on 27 March. But Parija said the last meeting BCI had with the HRD minister was in January, where the council had made its stand clear.

“Any other meeting with the minister or ministry—if it has taken place after that at all—has been without the consent of the BCI,” he said.

The tiff started almost 18 months ago when the government tried to replace BCI with a full-time panel of experts and academicians under the NCHER Bill 2011—its proposed law to oversee all streams of higher education including legal education.

Parija said that if the ministry claims the issue has been settled it should move an amendment to the existing Bill. “Issues can only be settled if suitable amendments are made to the existing Bill, which have not been done till date. Only if such amendments are made to the existing Bill, status quo as on today regarding the function of BCI vis-à-vis legal education can be maintained,” he said.

Parija said BCI has categorically stated that the Advocates Act, 1961 must be kept out of the purview of the NCHER Bill, 2011. This demand means legal education will remain with BCI without any overlapping.

This is the second time the HRD ministry is facing a problem over the NCHER Bill. The first was when it tried unsuccessfully to oversee medical education last year.

“The BCI stand is that since the HRD ministry has already introduced the Bill in Parliament despite its objection, now the only option before the BCI is to argue its case in front of the standing committee and convince the various political parties to oppose the inclusion of legal education in this Bill when it comes for consideration and passing in the Lok Sabha and also when it is introduced in the Rajya Sabha,” Parija explained.

“Since we are not undermining BCI, there should not be any issue,” an HRD ministry official said, requesting anonymity. “What we said in March was based on the ministry’s meeting with few state bar councils.... If BCI has some issues then that will be sorted out.”

The ministry said last month in a statement that BCI “shall have the powers to lay down minimum standards for grant of degree leading to professional practice”. It also said BCI will be the “designate accredited agency with respect to evaluation of minimum standards” and have the “power to determine fees to be charged from institutions” for accreditation.

But the ministry also added that BCI will have to follow the norms and process of accreditation set by the government or a statutory authority.

 

This article first appeared in Mint. Legally India has an exclusive content partnership with Mint, which will feature the latest legal news and analysis every fortnight on Fridays in its print and web editions.

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