The Consortium of National Law Universities has told Delhi High Court that preparations for CLAT – 2024 are at an advanced stage and any judicial order compelling the introduction of additional language options this year, without discussions, will result in serious administrative and operational issues.
The Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) is conducted in English at present. The exam for the 2024 academic year is scheduled for December.
The consortium said it has constituted an expert committee of vice-chancellors of five member National Law Universities (NLUs) to study the issue of offering the exam in additional languages and to prepare a comprehensive roadmap after reviewing stakeholder viewpoints and potential constraints.
The submission was made in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking the conduct of CLAT – 2024 in regional languages as well.
A bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad directed the expert committee, constituted to consider the conduct of CLAT in multiple languages, to take a decision in their next meeting, scheduled for August.
The high court listed the matter for further hearing on September 1.
The PIL, filed by Delhi University law student Sudhanshu Pathak, contended that the CLAT (UG) examination “discriminates” and fails to provide a “level playing field” to students whose educational backgrounds are rooted in regional languages.
The petitioner was represented through senior advocate Jayant Mehta and lawyers Akash Vajpai and Sakshi Raghav.
The consortium, in its reply, said the report of the expert committee will enable it to make suitable advance preparation for conducting the exam in additional languages in the coming years after ironing out all anticipated difficulties.
The committee held its first meeting on June 25 and framed certain issues relating to the subject matter, it said.
“Respondent No 1 (consortium) is thus already actively engaging with the question of holding CLAT in scheduled language options, but the process is one that requires considerable planning and preparation, to avoid any grievances amongst the student community as to disparity in preparatory materials, failure to ensure parity in testing, and other issues which can compromise the integrity of the CLAT examination,” it said.
The reply said the consortium does not dispute the need to examine the issue more closely. However, it will be highly premature for judicial intervention at this stage in the absence of any data to show that there is already a significant pool of students wanting to take the examination in the scheduled languages despite the medium of instruction at all NLUs being English.
” given the advanced stage of preparedness already for the upcoming CLAT – 2024 examination, any judicial order compelling the introduction of additional language options this year itself, without the benefit of the studies and deliberations being undertaken internally and without allowing for any time for consequential preparation to be made by the respondent No 1 (consortium) on all the identified parameters, will cause grave prejudice to the respondent No 1,” it said.
It added that any sweeping direction, as prayed for in the writ petition, will result in serious administrative and operational issues that will not only adversely affect the conduct of this year’s examination but also the ongoing preparation of aspirants.
“Such changes to the examination pattern may end up being made in a knee-jerk manner which, in turn, will cause the student community — which is already preparing for the examination — grave hardship,” it said.
The high court had earlier asked the consortium if entrance examinations for medical and engineering courses can be held in regional languages, why not CLAT.
The petitioner said in the plea, “In a hyper-competitive paper, they (students from non-English language background) are linguistically disempowered as they have to surpass the additional hurdle of learning and mastering a new language.”
“Naturally, aspirants belonging to English-medium schools have an advantage over their peers belonging to schools operating in Hindi or other vernacular languages. The underprivileged and disempowered aspirants can never view an exam solely based in English as ‘obvious’ unlike their privileged, English-speaking competitors,” the plea said.
The high court had earlier issued notices and sought responses of the Consortium of National Law Universities, Bar Council of India and the Centre through the Union Ministry of Education on the petition.
The plea said the New Education Policy, 2020, and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, require mother tongue to be the medium of instruction in schools and higher education institutions.
It is unfortunate that English, as the only medium of CLAT (UG), is depriving a huge portion of the students, who have studied in their regional or native languages, of the opportunity to opt for a five-year LLB course, it said.
“Through this petition, the petitioner is seeking issuance of an appropriate writ or direction to respondent No 1 to conduct CLAT – 2024 not only in English language but all other regional languages of the Eighth schedule of the Constitution of India as practice of taking CLAT (UG) only in English has an element of arbitrariness and discrimination and hence violative of Article 14 and 29 (2) of the Constitution,” it said.