By Adv. Nikita Vaigankar
Common Law Admission Test popularly known as CLAT, is the exam which is a popular exam in the legal fraternity. It is a national level entrance exam for admission to UG (undergraduate) and PG (postgraduate) law programs. It is conducted once a year, usually in the month of May. Once cleared, the candidate is eligible to get admission to 22 National Law universities which are part of Consortium.
Before the introduction of CLAT, different National Law universities in the country held different levels of entrance exams at their own end. At present, there are 23 NLUs in India and out of which, 22 admit students based on their CLAT score while NLU Delhi conducts its own separate entrance test known as ‘All India law entrance test’. There are whispers that NLU Delhi shall also join the Consortium very soon as deliberations to do so are going on.
Since earlier, there were different separate tests taken up by the universities but there were lot of clashes with the other major entrance tests, which further created hurdle for the students and therefore, this matter came up to LimeLight when a PIL was filed by Varun Bhagat against Union of India and various law universities in 2006 (Varun Bhagat v/s Union of India) (WP (C) no. 68 of 2006), to hold and formulate a common test. In this case, the petitioner prayed for a direction to the respondent to lay down the mechanism of centralised admission process to the various National Law universities to facilitate the interests of the students. The decision in this case came out to be a major relief to the students’ community aspiring for joining a professional course in law. It was decided that once a year, an exam shall be held and the responsibility of conducting the test was rotated based on seniority in the establishment.
Later on, it was decided that an independent body shall be formed for conducting and monitoring the examination and hence, there was an establishment of the Consortium of National Law universities which was established on 19th August, 2017 with the aim of improving the standard of legal education in the country and justice system through legal education. It was responsible to maintain coordination among various universities in the country.
Controversies surrounding CLATs
Since its inception, CLAT has always remained in controversy for some or the other reasons. First CLAT exam was held in 2008 which was MCQ based exam and was held offline. The same pattern continued till 2014. In 2015, revised memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed to include the remaining universities at that time to come within the ambit of CLAT and then CLAT went online.
Let us analyze the Controversies specifically:
CLAT 2009: This was the second year of inception of CLAT and a major issue arises. Here, exam was rescheduled due to paper leak as authorities found locked Steel boxes with test material tampered with deliberately by breaking latches and locks while they were in transit from Hyderabad to Lucknow through courier.
CLAT 2011: In this year, candidates were very disappointed with the standard of the exam and also it was too lengthy a question paper to be finished within two hours, according to them. Moreover, up to 12 questions in various sections had underlined answers due to the oversight of the organisers.
CLAT 2012: This year’s question paper as well as answer key was full of blunders. It was claimed that questions were out of syllabus with lots of errors in it. No correct option was given and question framing was also wrong. With respect to the answer key, students expressed their disappointment on social media over it. Not only this, various petitions were filed in different high courts as there were errors in the answer key. For example, in an answer key, it was given that Priyanka Chopra is an Indian ambassador for UNESCO but we all know that she is an ambassador for UNICEF and not UNESCO. Moreover, there was chaos with respect to the rank list too. Declared rank list also contained errors due to which a fresh list was put up after taking down the earlier list.
CLAT 2014: This was a poorly conducted exam with results withdrawn and declared again. Various lawsuits were filed for re-examination. Uploaded OMR sheets were physically verified since students demanded the same. There was a mismatch between barcode stickers on the front page and candidates’ stickers on the back page and therefore, reconciliation of all OMR answer sheets was done. Students claimed that they scored similar marks like last time, but with worse ranks this year.
CLAT 2017: This year’s English paper was full of errors and students displayed that they know that there are very bleak chances of organisers making an amendment to the paper.
CLAT 2018: In this year, there was a severe problem during examination and therefore, students moved to the Supreme Court for re-examination which was eventually rejected.
CLAT 2020: There were technical glitches and faults in the answer key this year. However, a major issue arose with regard to the announcement by National Law University of Bangalore that they would withdraw from CLAT and conduct its own entrance test (NLAP) National Law aptitude test. However, the Court struck down this and ordered the university to re-join CLAT. The university took this decision because of the repeated postponement of the CLAT 2020 examination. This decision not only made confusion and chaos but it has jeopardized the position of the university in Consortium.
And now coming to CLAT 2021 which is the current year. This year’s exam was held on 23rd July, 2021 in an offline mode. Students say that this year’s exam was difficult as compared to earlier tests. This exam was held amidst safety protocols due to ongoing pandemic. As usual, there were errors in the answer key and options were jumbled up. Some questions were wrong and there were lots of spelling mistakes in the GK section. Postgraduate students who answered this year’s paper complained about its length.
It is most pertinent to note that Consortium released a notification saying that Rs. 1000/- would be charged per objection raised. It is believed that students who want to object cannot do so, particularly those belonging to economically weaker sections because of the hefty fees charged for objections.
This year’s exam was finally scheduled on 23rd July, 2021 after postponing a little bit which was due to covid-19 but unhappy faces who did not want this exam to happen in July, moved to Supreme Court asking for postponement of exam. However, the Supreme Court passed judgement and refused a plea seeking postponement. Court directed that all the safety protocols related to covid-19 shall be followed in each exam centre and further, court also removed the criteria that every candidate giving the examination should be vaccinated which was a condition laid down in the notification released by National law universities. The plea for postponement was filed by an NGO based in Delhi called ‘justice for all’. Court held that it will not be proper to postpone examination at this stage when everyone is set to begin with the exam.
This time to avoid further controversy, students were allowed to take carbonized copies of OMR sheets along with the question paper, as last year, some students claimed that they marked one option and a different option was shown in their OMR sheet which was uploaded.
This year’s exam was held offline but the students are demanding to make it happen online as everyone would be able to answer together and there would be no difference in time. There are talks with regard to the hefty fees of the form. For each form, Rs. 4000/- is charged by the organisers and some say that their centres even don’t provide them with proper ventilation while answering the paper. Consortium is also blamed for these high fees as there is no other exam in India who are charging this much amount.
Students even complained after the exam, that they were told that at 1.50 pm, OMR sheets shall be given but in many centres, OMR sheets were given at 2 p.m. or even after 2 p.m. and there was no extra time given to fill those.
2021 Controversies answered
“Don’t make Consortium a punching bag” – Faizan Mustafa, Consortium President.
On one hand, there were problems with respect to the controversies, while on the other hand, Faizan Mustafa, a President of Consortium in this year, released a video on 25th July, to answer some of the questions or queries and complaints raised by students. He made it clear about his role in the organisation.
Further, he justified the fees of Rs. 4000/- charged by them and also specified that the chancellors of CLAT are always against commercialisation of education. He cited some coaching institutes, who already started hiring for the year 2023. With respect to 1000 rupees, he said that it was due to a pattern followed by other exams like UGC, NEET, JEE, etc. All this amount, according to him, is utilised for scholarships or infrastructure of National Law universities by Consortium.
With regard to the issue of timing, he said that, though the question paper was supplied at 1.50p.m., students would be able to fill in the details only at 2:00 p.m. He further mentioned that students need to learn to fill in the details as fast as they can as they should make themselves compatible enough to answer National level exams like CLAT.
Regarding the complaint of change of pattern in the question paper this year, Mr. Mustafa replied that it was changed because of criticisms of experts on the old pattern. However, practice tests were given several times and therefore, changing the paper pattern is not a big issue.
Before the decision of the supreme court came up, Not to postpone the exam, a video was released by Faizan Mustafa on his YouTube channel saying that, postponement is not a good idea as covid cases coming to nil is now a far away dream and therefore, exam can be taken at the scheduled time with every precaution and protection and also by following each guideline laid down by the government.
Finally and successfully as scheduled, the exam was held by following all the precautionary measures of Covid 19.
It is a belief of most of the law aspirants that for taking admissions in law colleges for making law as their career clearing CLAT should be the top priority as it is it gateway to the NLUs and CLAT score is accepted even in private colleges. However, one doesn’t have to be discouraged if they can’t get through, as a number of private universities offer equal opportunities and quality education as compared to National Law universities.
By looking at the timeline of the controversies regarding CLAT exam, the organisers need to really put on the gears and work hard to regain full trust and confidence of students and to remove the perception that CLAT is an exam of blunders.
Even Mr. Mustafa said that since the success rate of CLAT is just 2%, those students who don’t make it to NLUs, should not be upset. He said that there is no doubt that NLUs are islands of legal knowledge but at the same time, other universities are also offering a good quality of legal education and will make you a good lawyer.
Similar are my views on CLAT exam as there is no doubt that it is a gateway to the top National Law universities which gives a pride to a student to say that he or she studied in a National Law University of a particular state, but studying in a reputed private Law College will not lower your morale in future because after all National Law universities doesn’t give you a certificate that you will be the best lawyer in town.