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Crafty WB gov’t attacks NUJS constitution: 30% state quota bill tabled today, could make CLAT optional

NUJS bill threatens NUJS very nature, fear students, faculty
NUJS bill threatens NUJS very nature, fear students, faculty

The West Bengal state government is in the process of quietly pushing through a bill that would triple NUJS Kolkata’s domicile reservation, taking advantage of the power vacuum at the top of the institution presided over by its appointee and acting vice chancellor (VC) Amit Talukdar, following the student-led ouster of previous VC Prof Ishwara Bhat eight months ago.

The West Bengal (WB) government, through the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences Bill 2018 tabled today (see copy below), is proposing to reserve 30% seats at NUJS for West Bengal-domiciled students, bring determination of student fees under its control, and relax the entrance criteria for the law school.

The bill is scheduled for a 45-minute discussion in the state legislative assembly session today but it had not been opened for public opinion, according to student and faculty sources within NUJS who said they were first made aware of the scheduled discussion through a paragraph buried in another PTI article.

In an email sent to current students by the Student Juridicial Association (SJA) yesterday sharing the bill, the SJA called the development a “crisis”, noting:

Such abrupt and out of the blue introduction of the amendment without any discussion or information with or to the stakeholders - including the faculty, administration and governing bodies, creates severe apprehensions about an attack on the national character and autonomy of the University. Furthermore, the bill also raises conjectures about a possible legislative over-riding of the University’s Executive Council’s decision last year rejecting the government’s proposal for creating two new campuses in Asansol and Siliguri.

While, at a such short notice, the possibility of forestalling the bill appears bleak - especially given the overwhelming majority the state government enjoys in the assembly (211/295), we will need to exercise all resources at our disposal in the upcoming days to mobilize support to maintain the national character, autonomy and integrity of the institution.

This is not WB’s first bite at the cherry to significantly widen NUJS’ intake from the state, which many alumni and teachers fear would significantly dilute the quality of the institution.

Now, in the long and unproductive interregnum created by Talukdar since Bhat’s resignation in March 2018, the state seems to finally be having its cake, and without an effective VC in charge to oppose to plan, it may end up eating it too.

We have reached out to Talukdar for comment by phone and message yesterday.

West Bengal law minister Moloy Ghatak and judicial secretary Bibek Choudhuri, who are also members of the NUJS executive council (EC), had first introduced the amendment bill while Bhat was VC.

In 2016, when Bhat was facing an uncertain extension of his tenure as VC by the state government, under the shadow of NUJS student protests and petitions against him, Bhat had at the last minute supported and tabled the state’s plan to double NUJS’ batch size from 125 to 250 seats and open two new campuses in Asansol and Siliguri. However, the NUJS executive council (EC) had eventually rejected this proposal.

Currently NUJS reserves 10 out of 125 seats for domicile quota students, which had only been introduced in 2015, apparently in exchange for the government sanctioning 3,000 square meter of land for its campus expansion.

NUJS takes admissions through the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), but according tot the bill, admission would in future be possible either through CLAT or through marks obtained in the “qualifying exam”, which currently for national law schools is the 10+2 senior secondary board exam.

The EC is scheduled to meet on 1 December to shortlist VC candidates from the applications the VC search committee has received.

However, whatever NUJS’ next VC will inherit at NUJS, could end up looking less and less like the NUJS of yesterday, if the state government has its way.

The bill that could change NUJS’ natures

The relevant extract of the bill (see full copy below):

[Statement of Objects and Reasons:

It is considered necessary and expedient to amend the WBNUJS Act for the purpose of making provision, inter alia, of reservation of seats for the students domiciled in the state of West Bengal in order to make it consonance with the provisions of other National University Acts in force in other states.]

4A.

1. The tuition fees in the University shall be such as as may be determined by the state government from time to time.

2. The University shall allow free-ship in tuition fees to at least five per centum of their total strength to the students belonging to poor and economically backward classes.

3. The University shall compulsorily make provision for reservation of seats for the students domiciled in the state of West Bengal to the extent of at least thirty percent of the total intake in the University.

4B.

1. Admission of the student in the University shall be made on the basis of merit.

2. Merit for admission in the University may be determined either on the basis of marks or grade obtained in the qualifying examination or on the basis of marks of grade obtained in a relevant entrance examination conducted by the University or by Common Entrance Test conducted at the state or national level.]

NUJS Bill (PDF)

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