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CJI greenlights 16-years-overdue NUJS Kolkata judicial review commission, after students raised voices

Judicial review commissions at national law schools can be a powerful tool for reform but as often, they have also been effectively neutered by VCs

NUJS students and alumni finally succeed in getting NUJS & VC Ishwara Bhat reviewed by judges
NUJS students and alumni finally succeed in getting NUJS & VC Ishwara Bhat reviewed by judges

NUJS Kolkata’s chancellor, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) TS Thakur, has signed off on a resolution to institute a judicial review commission at the university, according to campus sources with knowledge of the development.

Thakur attended the NUJS’ convocation on Sunday (13 November) and chaired the general council meeting as ex-officio chancellor on Saturday (12 November), at which oral and written representations were made by the Student Juridical Association (SJA) on falling academic standards and other issues that the student body has long raised.

While the resolution has cleared the way for a review commission headed by a judicial member, no members have yet been formally appointed by the CJI.

On 23 September 2016, one day before the controversial renewal of NUJS vice chancellor Ishwara Bhat’s term for five years, the SJA had passed a resolution signed by an large majority of students, expressing its “deep dissatisfaction” with Bhat’s tenure, the declining standards in faculty quality, lack of transparency, and other issues (read the full resolution here).

However, Bhat’s term was renewed by the executive committee, as a state government’s proposal to open two new rural branches of NUJS and to double batch sizes was also discussed after having been slipped into the meeting’s agenda at the last minute.

The institution of a much overdue review commission had been a long-standing demand from students and alumni, with a petition from January 2014, signed by 453, seeking the “urgent intervention” of the CJI in NUJS to:

appoint a Review Commission under section 14 of the WBNUJS Act, 1999.

The Review Commission contemplated under the WBNUJS Act states that such a commission should be set up after every five years by the Chancellor. ,,To the best of our knowledge, no such Review Commission was set up in the more than fourteen years of NUJS’ existence.

We have reached out to Bhat and the SJA for comment.

The power of reports (and the lack thereof)

Historically, review commissions can be powerful tools in bringing transparency and accountability to national law schools to usher in reform and debate. The 2011 report on Nalsar Hyderabad was so explosive that it had been covered up and hidden by the administration for nearly four months, with its publication eventually followed by the resignation of its vice chancellor Veer Singh.

However, they can also be a damp squib. For instance, in 2009 the report on NLSIU Bangalore by Justice KT Thomas catalogued a “drastic decline in discipline and academic standards”, but mostly focused superficially on students’ conduct and several other issues.

And the 2014 GNLU Gandhinagar full report had never been publicly released and saw significant delays, after one member of the commission did not complete his findings, despite a highly critical first draft of the report by Madhava Menon and director Bimal Patel’s re-appointment depending on the conclusions of the report.

What is wrong at NUJS?

While NUJS had made national headlines just before Bhat's extension about a widely panned draft of internal service rules, which were written by an ex-judge for Rs 75,000 but found to be plagiarised, and slammed by faculty as draconian and blatantly illegal, the complaints go back longer and run deeper than that.

The SJA had produced a 20-page report running to 200 pages with annexures, noting a series of complaints and problems about Bhat’s administration and running of the university, including:

  • Unexplainable delay in the constitution of a university review commission, which is overdue under the university’s charter
  • Not implementing basic transparency norms in university body meetings
  • NUJS annual reports suggest limited academic and research output between 2011 and 2015 – Bhat’s term
  • Neither has the quality of faculty at NUJS been revived, nor has the mass exodus of faculty been remedied, despite the recruitment drive of 2014, resolved students
  • Undue delay in implementing executive council resolutions for creation of a moot court fund and soliciting sponsorship funds for NUJS students, creation of a Right to Information cell and records section, complying with the Bar Council of India’s report that contained suggestions to remedy serious administrative lapses at NUJS
  • Undue and unjustified delay of three years in formulating and notifying a sexual harassment policy and grievance redressal mechanism for students
  • Not implementing several crucial academic reforms that were even approved by NUJS faculty several months ago
  • Consistent inaction on repairing NUJS’ ageing internet infrastructure
  • Continuing with the allegedly illegal interior decoration contract an expensive inquiry into which led to the dismissal of NUJS registrar Surajit Mukhhopadhyay for allegedly causing financial loss to NUJS through the contract
  • The lack of action against university officers allegedly involved in financial embezzlement of NUJS funds
  • NUJS having not yet claimed the UGC’s financial grant of Rs 7.37 crore to it despite consistently facing a financial crunch that has resulted in frequent substantial hike in student fee in the last three years
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