The CLATaclysm of a Legal Exam
The legal educational examinations in the territory of India have always been marred by controversy and the quintessential deficiency of all elements you would associate with a modern welfare state. From the absence of legal knowledge/background in the test for the first courts (Mayor’s Courts) to the blatant denial of opportunity of locus standi to people from select religions, ethnicity and gender to the anomalies in the administration of tests, the legal examination system and its conduct is far from even the lowest standards our sagacious forefathers would have envisaged.
Facetiously, you would think that the only profession mentioned in the constitution of our country would be elevated to a pedestal and a sacrosanct position with infallibility, lucidity, and predictability becoming integral pillars of this test system. The de facto situation, however, is far from this desired position. The protector of liberty and enforcer of justice is often ironically subjected to arbitrary injustice at the hands of the institution that runs the examination system.
The majority of this indignation is directed towards the CLAT examination. CLAT, a mnemonic for Common Law Admission Test, is the primary test for admission into bachelor’s programs of National Law schools. CLAT is, now, administered by 19 NLUs on a rotational basis in order of establishment seniority. Founded in 2008 post the PIL filed by Varun Bhagat as a response to the heterogeneity and complexity in the test system, it aimed to alleviate stress and reduce the quantum of tests a student had to take. Its uniformity coupled with the popularity of NLUs (due to their early establishment) and the expensiveness of private law schools, have established CLAT as the most popular law test for undergrads. Though the introduction of CLAT has eradicated certain antiquated problems, its fallacious administration has created a plethora of novel problems. Since its introduction in 2008, the test has incessantly seen one controversy after another, to the detriment of candidates.
To speak succinctly about only the biggest attention gathering fiascos, I would have to look no further than 2009. Here, the national level examination was postponed due to the detection of a malicious paper leak and this was confirmed by the CLAT convenor. The implications of a postponement are massive as they not only tamper with the portended calendars of the students but also with their strategies and morale. How would a pragmatist still have faith in the sanctity of the next test?
CLAT 2011 by WBNUJS witnessed the absurdity of underlined answers for certain papers, with students complaining of as many as 12 questions falling within this bracket. No compensatory solution was offered for this accusation and only a brief and name-sake investigation was undertaken. The 2012 test had complaints of “out of syllabus” questions with the official CLAT website’s declaration lucidly omitting any static concepts, though a plethora of these questions was found in the paper, a brazenly flouting of instructions. Later, the released rank list and answer key were found to be erroneous. After a formal admission of the mistake by the then NLU-J vice-chancellor and a heated court battle, the new list was released after much delay.
CLAT 2014 was revolutionary as its inept dispensation by GNLU led to the digitization of the test. After the conduct of the examination on the then OMR sheets, it was later discovered that there was the mismatch between the barcode sticker on the front page and candidate sticker in the back page in few cases, GNLU immediately decided to conduct reconciliation of all OMR answer sheets. The weeks between the withdrawal of initial results and declaration of final ones was met with massive resistance and cynicism from students who approached the courts, only to be turned down. While the 2017 paper was impaired with the presence of as many as 9 errors admitted by the CLAT Committee and more yet rejected, the 2015 test (1st online one) had several technical quandaries like frozen screens and unaccounted time loss.
Much like 2015, this year’s examination has gone down as one of the worst. The 2018 test was fraught with a deluge of technical and administrative issues during and after the test. While technical glitches like the screen freezing, the delay in the movement from one question to another and the subsequent time loss caused as a result of it were still quantifiable the administrative ones like malfunctioning electronic equipment, inept support staff, widespread cheating inter alia during the test were not. Though the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a compensatory formula, this is only a nostrum and far from ideal.
Like mentioned earlier, CLAT is conducted on a rotational basis on establishment seniority and the respective organizing NLU has primacy over matters. The other NLUs have one representative in the Implementation Committee (Registrar) and one in the Core Committee (vice-chancellor) with the organizing NLU having two each. The authority in terms of decision making, however, lies solely with the organizing NLU. Thus the repercussions of the common agency have to be borne by all participating NLUs. The test system is fraught with the quandaries of unpredictability, levity, depravity, ineptness, and ambiguity to mention a few. From an academic standpoint, CLAT has seen accusations and complaints of cheating, depravity, unfairness, incompetency, lethargy which are against the tenets and objectives of any education system.
The solution rests on the formation of a permanent CLAT Committee that is permanently responsible for the preparation of the test and all the formalities that follow and precede it. This committee would see an egalitarian operative representation of all NLUs with equal primacy and ensure a permanent accountability and transparency in the process. PIL activists like Prof Shamnad Basheer have advocated this model of administration and this issue has been sub-judice since 2015.
Permanence will allow this committee incontrovertible authority over the test (avoiding overlapping of efforts and clash of power), mechanism for dispute redressal (to reduce burden on courts), ability to enter into long-term contracts (eliminate the need to issue fresh tenders every year so that they can identify designated service providers) and above-all this committee would have pre-defined roles and positions for all its members, pursuant to integral management principles like order. This committee can have the exclusive mandate to define syllabi, devote time for test preparation to avoid the multitude of errors, its official code of secrecy and a designated logistical team for test pilots.
The only things that remain constant with CLAT are the chaos and confusion that surrounds it. Whether you are an aspiring candidate or even on the legal fringe, it’s an untenable axiom that lawyers are the backbone of any country and their elementary education lies in shambles and decrepit, marred with controversy and teeming with errors.
About the Author:
Ankit Kapoor is going to start his freshman year at National Law School of India University, Bangalore come July. He’s an aspiring lawyer and prefers nothing to heated and sagacious debates. Ascribing the awareness and participation of society as the foundational stone of Utopia, he aims to harness the power of dissemination of the 4th estate of the democracy. When he’s not penning articles or fending off “keyboard warriors”, you can find him actively consuming content in the form of TV shows, movies and rarely books. He’s a voracious sports enthusiast and is currently recovering from the heartbreak of backing underperforming teams. But remaining loyal as ever, he hopes to continue writing for evenhanded and illuminating forums like Arguendo.