Background of facts:
National Law School of India University (NLSIU), a member of CLAT Consortium
announced its own entrance test NLAT, via press release on 3rd of September,
2020 as CLAT postponed several times due to various reasons including lock down
in some states. NLAT was challenged in Jharkhand High Court on 4th September.
The Court dismissed the petition on 11th September. Meanwhile, separate
proceedings were initiated in Supreme Court. On 11th September, Supreme Court
allowed the conduct of NLAT on 12thSeptember, provided that the results would be
subjected to its subsequent orders. Hearings through video-conferencing took
place on 16th and 17th. Judgment was reserved on 17th and pronounced on 21st of
Decided date: 21st September 2020
Parties: Petitioner - Rakesh Kumar Agarwalla & Anr.
Respondent - National Law School of India University, Bengaluru & Ors.
Court: Supreme Court of India
Citation: Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1030 of 2020
Bench : Ashok Bhusan, M.R. Shah, R. Subhash Reddy JJ.
Facts of the Case:
The petitioners, Prof. Venkata Rao, former Vice-Chancellor of NLSIU and father
of an aspirant, Rakesh Kumar Agarwalla challenged the notification of NLSIU to
conduct a separate entrance examination this year owing to the delayed conduct
of CLAT 2020 in the Supreme Court, calling it a completely unlawful and
arbitrary decision. The petition said that this action by NLSIU has created an
unprecedented uncertainty and has put unessential burden on the students who are
now uncertain about the future program.
The petitioners exhorted the Supreme Court to quash the notification announcing
the conduct of NLAT for NLSIU admissions this year. The petitioners filed a
rejoinder before the court affirming that NLSIU badly failed in conducting the
NLAT and has made most of the candidates suffer. The petitioner contended that
the exam cannot be termed a success as its procedure lacks transparency.
The petitioner thus filed the writ in Supreme Court praying for quashing the
conduct of NLAT by NLSIU. A counter affidavit in the matter has also been filed
by the NLU Consortium through its Secretary and NALSAR Vice-Chancellor, Prof
Faizan Mustafa, supporting the petitioners stand. Moreover, counter-affidavits
have also been filed by NLSIU, through its Registrar, Prof Dr Sarasu Esther
Thomas and its Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy.
The Consortium of NLUs affidavit contends that the supercilious attitude with
which NLSIU has conducted the NLAT examination, without any consideration for
collective decision making thus keeping the lives of thousands of students in
harm, while knowing that the NLAT examination was impossible to conduct,
indicates its mala fide behaviour.
The decision to conduct NLAT has efficiently defeated the effort and orders of
the Supreme Court in amending the admission process to National Law Universities
by integrating it under the leadership of the Consortium. On the other hand, the
affidavits filed on behalf of NLSIU and its Vice-Chancellor makes submissions
justifying the conduct of its exam, questioning the maintainability of the plea
before the Supreme Court, and urging for the writ petition to be dismissed with
Questions of Law:
Issues considered by the Supreme Court:
In the Petitioners' rejoinder:
- Whether the petitioners have locus standi to file the writ petition?
- Whether NLSIU being a founder member of Consortium of National Law
Universities, a registered society is bound by its Bye-laws?
- Whether NLSIU was obliged to admit the students through CLAT 2020 for
integrated B.A.L.L.B (Hons.) programme?
- Whether online home proctored exam as proposed by notification lacks
transparency, was against to the concept of fair examination which is
violative to student rights under Article 14 of the Constitution?
- Whether the notification of admission could have been issued only after
recommendations to the effect by Academic Council, which is statutory
authority under the act, 1986 for admission of the students to the five-year
integrated B.A.L.L.B (Hons.) Program 2020-2021?
- Whether NLAT held on 12th September and with retest on 14th September
miserably failed by malpractices and deserves to be set aside?
In the NLU Consortium's counter-affidavit:
- NLSIU's decision to conduct NLAT was a parallel move, which is lawfully
- It is largely pointed out that thousands of students were unable to even
meet the revised technical requirements needed to write NLAT
- The “accessibility measures” taken by NLSIU is a mere pretence to earn
commendations amid widespread criticism
- Test centres were only available in 35 cities, which are primarily
capital cities, which is completely inequitable and unreasonable.
- NLSIU has chosen to furtively change its stand by updating its
Frequently Answered Questions on its website instead of releasing properly
formulated notifications. The information has been released through social
media, which has limited reach. There were no newspaper publications.
- The NLAT mock test itself was blemished and problematic, and it was
stated that numerous problems were faced by candidates. Various
possibilities for cheating were also reported by media portals.
- Candidates reported widespread technical issues during the NLAT on 12th
September. It is also noted that legal news portals expected these problems
and reported on these issues live by inviting students to share their
- The question paper was reported to have been leaked even after
conducting a re-test, bringing into question the integrity of the exam
including the protocols of NLSIU.
- There has never been a leak of exam to that extent and ever reported in
any of the earlier law entrance exams conducted by the consortium.
NLSIU Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy, is not only connivant in
the entire NLAT fiasco, "but is, in fact, the architect of this completely
- Justifications of avoiding a zero year cannot beat the licit
expectations of students and their fundamental rights.
The Consortium asserts that the NLAT exam conducted on 12th September raised
various issues which put in question the integrity of the NLAT and violate the
students' right of equality or opportunity including:
- Lack of publicity for the exam:
NLSIU did not largely publicise the exam. They did not give any known
advertisements in newspapers and they did not put any efforts to make each
out to all those who had applied for CLAT. Over 40,000 students were under
privileged of their right to compete for a seat at NLSIU, particularly
students from marginalized classes as only 24603 students applied for NLAT
where as 69000 students applied for CLAT.
- Lack of physical accessibility to test centres:
NLSIU had outsourced and conducted test centres through an agency named Test
Pan. However, they did not organise test centres in West Bengal, North East
India and other parties of the country.
- Technical glitches leading to mismanaging of tests:
Many of the students reported the failure of the software during the NLAT.
It is reported that students were not allowed to appear for examination even
though there is no fault on their part. A re-test was also conducted by
NLSIU without the leave of the Court. The technology of the exam was
- Concerns of mass-cheating:
The proctoring software employed by NLSIU was filled with errors.
- Leakage of the re-exam paper's:
Inter alia, it is submitted that the proctoring protocols could not be
followed since a Safe Assessment Browser (SAB) tool was not asserted upon.
- A different format, place and time of the exam etc. was followed.
Earlier submissions made by the Consortium have also been repeated, i.e.
that the decision to conduct NLAT was in violation of NLSIU's parent Act, in
violation of the MoA and the bye-laws of the NLU Consortium, and that the
apparent purpose for NLAT's conduct that is. to avoid a “Zero year”, is
By NLSIU and Vice-Chancellor Prof. Sudhir Krishnaswamy:
- The petitioners lack the locus standi to maintain the writ petition
- The decision to conduct NLAT is completely justified as it is the only
method to avoid a zero year, where aspirants would lose the opportunity to
join NLSIU in the present academic year.
- The Executive Council of the Chief Executive Body of the NLSIU has
emphatically permitted NLSIU to conduct its own admissions process. • The
NLAT is held pursuant to this emphatical and unanimous decision of the
A member of Consortium of NLUs is not prohibited by MoA and bye-laws from
conducting its own admission test, mainly when CLAT is not conducted by the
Another counter filed on behalf of NLSIU's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sudhir
- Even presuming, without acknowledging, that the bye-laws do not permit
it, then the same would be a dispute among the Consortium members and it
cannot be urged in this writ petition.
- It would be in the interests of justice and equity that NLSIU be
authorized to release the NLAT exam results and complete its admissions in
order to commence the academic programme in a timely manner according to the
revised academic calendar.
- The writ petition may be dismissed with exemplary costs.
- The NLSIU Vice-Chancellor is neither a proper nor obligatory party in
the issue. The petitions are seeking Prof Krishnaswamy's impleadment on
obscure and unproven allegations.
- In his retention as the NLU Consortium's Treasurer Secretary, Prof
Krishnaswamy has acted in the best interests of the Consortium, and has
performed various duties with regard to the conduct of CLAT 2020
- There is no legal basis for the claim that there was a dispute of
interest, as Prof Krishnaswamy discharged both his role as NLSIU's
Vice-Chancellor and as Treasurer-Secretary of the Consortium for the benefit
of both entities. There was no personal benefit acquired. Prof Krishnaswamy
further contends that he has attempted to meet the highest standards of
professional conduct, while separating his roles.
- The decision to postponement of CLAT to 28th September was not taken
with the consent and approval of Prof Krishnaswamy. A claim made in this
regard has been refused. This decision by the Consortium was boisterously
protested against by him. • Acceptance to conduct NLAT was also acquired
from Justice UU Lalit of the Supreme Court, who is the head of NLSIUs
- In spite of convincing the NLU Consortium of his commitment to conduct
CLAT 2020, the Consortium behaved in an adversarial manner.
- The Supreme Court held that the Locus standi exists as Petitioner 1 was
a parent of an NLAT candidate, but the Court held that it is not clear from
the record that whether he was also a CLAT candidate.
- Petitioner 2 was a former Vice Chancellor of NLSIU, and a former
ex-officio member of the CLAT Consortium. The Court held that “he is fully
competent to espouse the cause of education by means of writ petition.
- An intervention application was also filed by the students whose
petition had been dismissed by the Jharkhand High Court, on the basis of
which the court relied to hold that Locus standi is not a problem.
- The court observed that even though obligations on members of Consortium
under the bye-laws are not statutory obligations those are binding on the
members including NLSIU.
- The bye-laws provide that common entrance test would be held by all its
- NLSIU argued that it has a unique academic system-trimester system; not
taking admission through NLAT would cause “zero year” - the necessity
- Supreme Court held that Universities have power to amend their academic
calendars; COVID has posed challenges to all the Universities; even UGC has
permitted to make changes to academic calendar.
- NLSIU was obliged to admit the students through CLAT 2020 for integrated
B.A.L.L.B(Hons.) programme as stated in the Issue 2. Thus, NLSIU being
member of the Consortium ought not to have proceeded with holding a separate
- The Court held that online home proctored exam as proposed by NLSIU for
NLAT lacks transparency and could not be held to be a test which was able to
maintain fairness and Integrity of the examination.
- The Court observed that as large number of students were deprived to
apply for the exam because of the short notice and technological
requirements of the University which is indeed against to the concept of
fair examination and violative to student rights under Article 14 of the
- NLAT had been only approved by the Executive Council of NLSIU.
- The Court after analysing various provisions of law observed that NLSIU
require to obtain recommendation of Academic Council by the statute before
proceeding to conduct NLAT by issuing admission notification.
- The Supreme Court held that in view of the scheme of NLSIU Act and the
roles and powers of the Executive and Academic Councils of NLSIU, it is
clear that a nod from Academic Council was required.
- The Court even pointed out at an earlier instance where the approval of
Academic Council was taken with respect to entrance examinations.
- In light of the above, the Court declared that the notification was not
in accordance with the provisions of act, 1986 and is not sustainable.
Decision of the Court:
- The Court firstly mentioned that, “we need not express any opinion in
the proceeding with respect to malpractice under Article 32 with regard to
aspect of malpractices conducted in the tests conducted on 12th and 14th of
September which is essentially a matter of scrutiny of facts and evidence”
- Given that the Court has already decided in favour of the petitioners in
issues 1-5, there was no need to decide whether malpractices actually took
- Thus, the Court held that the notification of admission was not in
accordance with law and deserves to be set aside.
The Court quashed the conduct of NLAT and ordered NLSIU to conduct admissions to
its courses this year through the CLAT. The Court also ordered that CLAT should
be held without fail in accordance with all COVID-related guidelines and the
admission process to be completed as soon as possible along with course to be
started in mid-October 2020.
The Supreme Court quashed NLAT in regard with rights of aspirants and fairness,
transparency and Integrity of examination.