By Aakanksha Bhola:
Admissions to law colleges in Maharashtra for the 2016-17 session have been, what can only be described an arduous journey for the students. The admissions were delayed. The session that usually starts in July or August, and has started for students in all other law colleges in other parts of the country, completed its admission process in November. What caused this delay, according to students and teachers, was careless and chaotic policy planning which forced several students to seek admissions in colleges located in other states.
The State government decided to centralise admissions to three-year and five-year LL.B. courses in Maharashtra from this year by introducing the Centralised Admission Process (CAP), where the students were required to give the Common Entrance Test (CET), according to which their ranks were calculated, as opposed to the earlier process where colleges chose their own criteria usually based on the marks obtained in the class 12 board exams for the five-year course and graduation marks for the three-year course. The government sought to streamline the admission process by using this common eligibility criterion. But the process is far from ideal.
Not only is the CAP a complicated procedure involving four rounds, its validity was also challenged by a law aspirant Kedar Warad, on the grounds that the State did not have the power to pass such an order and that there was a delay in releasing the syllabus, before the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. “All such tests should be announced well in advance. This wasn’t announced well in advance. Most of the students did not know what to look at,” says a faculty member of one of the reputed law colleges in Mumbai. However, both the courts upheld the validity of CET, holding that the government was constitutionally empowered to pass such a law. But this was not the only legal hurdle – there was also a lack of clarity on the maximum age requirements; while there was no mention of the age criteria in the initial brochure released on March 11 by the State government, the age limit of 20 years (for the five year course) and 30 years (for the three year course) was later added in August to the admission rules on the Bar Council of India’s (BCI) insistence as per its Legal Education Rules 2008, which prescribes the aforesaid age limits. However, the first round of the CAP was conducted without any clarity on the issue. A member of BCI’s Education Committee clarified that it had given the government the power to decide its own limit, but would not give the students above the prescribed age limit a licence to practice once they graduate.
The pattern of the CET paper was also poorly planned. “It was not about knowing the answers, but about luck and guesswork,” according to Yash Shailesh Bajaj, a law student at KC Law College, Mumbai, who was recently able to procure admission in college through what he described as a haphazard process. According to him, the timing of the paper, which was divided into four sections – Legal Reasoning, Logic, English and General Knowledge – was not planned according to the sort of questions it contained. He also questioned the holding of the paper in three different shifts, where the students who were lucky enough to get either the second or the third shift had an upper hand since they knew what could be expected; something that the students in the first shift did not have. There was no clarity, no uniformity, or even correct conveyance of information on the part of the CET Cell (the Department in charge of conducting the CET). According to a member of the administration in charge of admissions in one of the top colleges in Mumbai, the CET website showed that all seats were filled in that college, while actually several were remaining – something that the Principal of the college personally pointed out to the officials. “The process was not planned, they did not do their homework. It was messed up, total chaos. Unless they start their homework from now for next year, I think history will repeat itself.” She also says that the CET Cell was not approachable – the numbers they gave were not working, the college had to ask students to go to their office where they were made to wait for hours. “Students would come to us for guidance and we couldn’t do anything. It was frustrating for us also,” she added.
Amidst the admission fiasco, the BCI also revoked the power of several reputed law colleges to admit students from the next session on account of certain violations, the foremost being the lack of teaching faculty. While clearance was later granted to these colleges, after they were given a year’s time to recruit the requisite number of teachers, it did add to the mounting confusion.
Several students who were hoping to get into one of these colleges were forced to get admission either in other courses or in other states due to the delay. This has left a vacancy of seats in several colleges, and consequently a considerable lowering of the cut-offs. Even the students, who were able to get admissions before the procedure was officially complete, were at the receiving end. The semester, which usually gets over in December, when the final exams are conducted, has been stretched to January. “The whole system has become staggered. This is one of the biggest drawbacks of the system,” laments a faculty member. To ease the admission procedure, which was to be completed on November 10 (later extended to November 12 after demonetisation) and fill seats, the government also eased various norms for the requirement of documents. But here, too, there was a lack of clarity and uniformity – while some colleges followed the revised norms, others had received no information about them.
The CAP was an ambitious project, but it will be an understatement to say that it failed to take off. The months and months of uncertainty left the fate of nearly 30,000 students in jeopardy. The ensuing chaos forced several students to adjust their hopes and dreams to availability rather than choice. “I lost interest in the profession I was passionate about due to the procedure”, says Yash. “I know several students who had to change streams due to this process,” he adds.
A similar situation arose in the case of the common medical entrance test, the NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test), where the Supreme Court cancelled it after deciding various petitions before it challenged its constitutionality. It was, however, later restored this year. This is a dangerous and repetitive trend. Is it not the time to question the execution of these policies that play with the careers of so many students? Taking feedback from all the stakeholders, especially the students and the colleges is necessary before the introduction of such policies. It is only by general will and consensus that the execution of any policy change can be smooth, without confusion and chaos.