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Revealed: AIR was exclusive sponsor of BCI’s fancy 50th jubilee party; 9 months later BCI starts forcing law schools to buy AIR products

AIR sponsors BCI party, later that year AIR suddenly becomes obligatory law school purchase
AIR sponsors BCI party, later that year AIR suddenly becomes obligatory law school purchase

In November 2013 the Bar Council of India (BCI) amended its Legal Education Rules 2008 and, for years following that (as reported by us last week), has been sending repeated letters to law schools, telling them it was obligatory to buy lakhs worth of products of the All India Reporter (AIR).

Around nine months before that November resolution, on 16 and 17 February 2013, the AIR was the exclusive “official sponsor” of the Bar Council of India’s (BCI) golden jubilee celebrations in Delhi, which included heavy AIR branding at the event attended by then prime minister Manmohan Singh and other dignitaries.

Judging by the amount of AIR sponsorship (see pictures below) and what such marketing costs at most for-profit conferences, AIR must have paid the BCI lakhs of Rupees to become the event’s official sponsor.

Long after the event and jubilee had finished, the BCI continued pushing the AIR onto law schools; vice chancellors had reacted with bewilderment to the regulator’s interference in their vendor-and library-book-selection process.

On 1 June 2014, the BCI admitted in a resolution that its prescription of a single vendor’s products were “unfair”, and purported to repeal the requirement for law schools to buy AIR products.

But several months later again amended its rules to make AIR products obligatory, in April 2015 adding additional AIR products to the list of materials required by law school libraries, again circulating letters to all Indian law schools.

While we have no evidence at present that the BCI amending its rules had any relation to the AIR’s sponsorship, the facts in the public domain and the lack of transparency at the BCI leave a lot of unanswered questions.

When contacted by phone today, AIR managing director Sumant Chitaley confirmed that AIR had sponsored the BCI’s jubilee, but when asked about the BCI’s subsequent promotion of AIR products, he said we should refer any queries to the BCI.

“No actually we have got no connection,” Chitaley said. “We did sponsor but the connections, what you are telling me, it’s better no you ask the bar council? I have no comment because all that things are things what the bar council has to do. It has to look into its committees.”

BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra has not replied to an email requesting a comment that was sent by us on Saturday (4 June).

The BCI has not published its meeting minutes on the AIR or most of its affairs on its website. This is in breach of its statutory obligation and the Central information Commission has warned Mishra that it will impose maximum penalty on him if the BCI does not comply with this legal requirement under the Right to Information Act 2005.

Also read: Why does BCI keep pimping multi-lakh AIR packages to colleges by amending bylaws, despite VC resistance? A truly excellent question…

There ain’t no party like a BCI party

The BCI had celebrated its golden jubilee year – the 50th year since its establishment - from 16 February 2013 to 1 March 2014 with a series of events.

The 16 and 17 February 2013 inaugural ceremony was launched by then-prime minister Manmohan Singh at Vigyan Bhavan in Delhi.

According to 70 photos posted by AIR to its Facebook page on 27 February 2013, it was a swanky affair with lots of dignitaries (click here to view Facebook page):

All India Reporter's Facebook page (click for full-size)
All India Reporter's Facebook page (click for full-size)

And it was well-attended too:

Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)
Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)

AIR’s logo could be seen on the massive backdrop on which dignitaries sat on the main stage, which was crowded by huge flower arrangements:

Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)
Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)

The backdrop to the smaller stage had AIR branding all over it:

Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)
Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)

the podium at which Manmohan Singh and other dignitaries spoke had an AIR logo peeking out behind some more flowers:

Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)
Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)

and AIR goodie bags and a book store seem to have been on offer:

Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)
Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)

And that’s not all. There was even a dedicated “air café” apparently set up on the for the duration of the event in Vigyan Bhavan, presumably serving AIR coffee:

Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)
Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)

The publisher had apparently taken over entire walls of the venue with advertising and marketing:

Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)
Photo via AIR Facebook (click for full-size)

No other logos of sponsors are visible, at least on AIR’s photos, but on 15 January 2013 the BCI had released a notification on its website inviting “article, advertisement and message to be published in Souvenir” that would be released on the jubilee’s inaugural ceremony on 16 February.

Still in the midst of its jubilee year, BCI starts aggressively pushing AIR to law schools

The Bar Council of India (BCI), under the Legal Education Rules 2008, prescribes the minimum library expenditure which a law school must make in order to be approved to admit students.

In November 2013 – the BCI’s golden jubilee year – it passed a resolution amending the Legal Education Rules to add the AIR manual as a minimum library requirement for law schools. As per schedule III, clause 15:

To start with, a Law Library shall have a set of AIR manual, Central Acts and Local Acts, Criminal law journal, SCC, Company cases, Indian Bar Review, selected Judgements on Professional Ethics and Journals with the back volumes for at least ten years and also such number of text books in each subjects taught during the period according to the minimum standard ratio of ten books for each registered students [….]

The AIR manual, which is one of the products of AIR, was the only branded case report mentioned in addition to SCC, which the BCI included in this clause.

The SCC owned by EBC Publishing Pvt Ltd, is by most accounts, the conclusive authority on Supreme Court case reports and also produces other court case reports.

Other publishers in the space offering similar digital or other products, but not included in the BCI’s list, are Lexis Nexis, Manupatra and Thomson Reuters.

Discounted letter package

After the November 2013 resolution, the BCI sent a January 2014 letter that cited a 2013 resolution of the BCI to buy “AIR products with 58% discount… on the occasion of Golden Jubilee year”. In this letter, the BCI helpfully also provided contact details of AIR.

After a number of law schools stiffly opposed the BCI’s interference in vendor-selection, the BCI passed a 17 June 2014 resolution noting that

it is not fair to make compulsory to purchase the law journals published by the All India Reporter (AIR) […]

it is not necessary to purchase the books/journals from a particular seller/company.

BCI’s hiatus marketing AIR short-lived

But by April 2015 the BCI was back to floating AIR product proposals to law schools.

In a 26 April 2015 resolution, it recommended to amend the Legal Education Rules to include an electronic combo version of the AIR, in the minimum library requirement. In this recommendation, the AIR electronic combo was offered at a discounted price of Rs 2.6 lakh reduced from Rs 3 lakh. The electronic combo version included the AIR manual among other products.

The amendment was approved in the BCI’s 2 May 2015 meeting, and a letter to law schools to comply with the amendment was sent on 17 February 2016.

Mishra’s earlier response re AIR

Mishra did not respond to an emailed request for comment since Friday.

However, he had earlier responded to our request for comment on our story last week about the BCI imposing AIR products on law schools against their wishes.

Excerpts below:

BCI is a statutory autonomous body , it does not require your or that foreigners permission to include any book or material in the syllabus of Law Institutions. […]

The decision with regard to AIR has also been taken after consideration by a High Level body of BCI. Moreover it is the prerogative of the Council to take such decisions.

The Legal Education Committee examines minimum Library requirements for an Institution . It has decided that materials of AIR electronic & other ,Central Acts , Local Acts , SCC , Corporate Law Advisor , Company Cases Indian Bar Review & other journals are the minimum requirements . AIR is the oldest Law Journal covering all the High Corts. E- library is one of the requirement for every law institution . We are sorry to say that we can't prescribe the study material of legally India for the institutions. Yours is simply a guess paper ; no scope . If you or some of your other friends have a good book or journal for the students of Law , you or he may also apply & present the book / journal before BCI or LEC and if found fit it can be included. It does not require any tender or advertisement .

Read Mishra’s full emailed response here.

For the avoidance of doubt, other than the Barhacker online All India Bar Exam (AIBE) preparation courses, Legally India does not have any interests in any study materials or journals or books, nor have we ever approached anyone at the BCI about any such product.

Full disclosure: BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra has sent a defamation legal notice to Legally India regarding stories published pointing out the problems with the AIBE Legally India in its response had denied defaming the BCI or its chairman since all reports were based on facts.

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