*By Anshuman Panigrahi (Batch of 2021), Avnish Kumar Singh (Batch of 2021), and Balraaj Singh Chhatwal (Batch of 2023)
Disclaimer- The authors do not represent the SJA or the University in any official capacity.
In November 2011, Prof. (Dr.) M. P. Singh stepped down as the Vice-Chancellor of West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (hereinafter NUJS), Kolkata. His five-year stint marked a golden era for the college – notable initiatives conceptualized under his tenure include the NUJS Law Review, NUJS-HSF Corporate Law Moot and the IDIA movement. Professor Singh blended his long years of academic experience into his approach to administration, resulting in an imitable management style that had been praised by students and professors alike. Be it for recruiting leading academicians of the country as faculty members or for its consistent student performance (placements and activities), and these five years saw NUJS making news for all the right reasons.
The years of P. Ishwara Bhatt, succeeding Professor Singh’s tenure saw a dip in this trend. Fast-forwarding to July 2020, the University made news for slipping a spot in the 2020 Law School NIRF rankings. In contrast to its 2019 NIRF evaluation, NUJS saw a decline in its score of the ‘Teaching, Learning and Resources’ and the ‘Perception’ components. The latter’s decline has been particularly precipitous – the University’s score fell from 66.89 to 57.09. It was the sudden fall in ‘Perception’ score that baffled many associated with NUJS. As explained by the MHRD, the ‘Perception’ score’s metric takes into account the University’s impression on academics, employers and legal professionals.
There is little doubt that NUJS’s battle with its perception has much to do with the many controversies and upheavals that the University has been plagued with over the past nine years. While this article does not attempt to sugar-coat these years, its primary aim is to highlight the University’s understated achievements over this period. After documenting the lows on administrative fronts and the contrasting highs on the student performance aspect, this article concludes with an expectation of a turnaround in NIRF scores, which is deeply rooted in our hope that Prof. (Dr.) N. K. Chakrabarti will shoulder the responsibility of leading our University on a long and slow path of progress with utmost dedication and honesty. His immediate steps after assuming office have resulted in promising developments and we sincerely hope to see this continue throughout his esteemed tenure.
The Era of Administrative Apathy — November 2011 to June 2019
Appointment of Prof. (Dr.) P. Ishwara Bhat to PIB Out
Prof. (Dr.) P. Ishwara Bhat was appointed as the Vice-Chancellor immediately after Professor Singh’s departure and heralded a long spell of setbacks for NUJS. Among numerous setbacks, one of the prominent was the faculty exodus between 2011 and 2014, during which over ten faculty members resigned their posts or applied for indefinite leave. These included some prominent faces of Indian legal academia, such as the likes of late Shamnad Basheer, Sudhir Krishnaswamy (incumbent Vice-Chancellor, NLSIU) and M.K. Sinha (incumbent Director, Indian Law Institute). These erstwhile NUJS professors had contributed significantly to the reputation of the University’s faculty pool as the best in the country. They served as inspirations to NUJS students who hoped to join academia. Their departure significantly diluted the number and quality of the faculty pool. Until Professor Bhat’s resignation in March 2018, another seven faculty members had resigned or applied for indefinite leave.
In early 2014, news broke of alleged financial mismanagement and the embezzlement of University funds orchestrated by the Registrar, S. Mukhopadhyay. The Student Juridical Association (hereinafter SJA), the elected student body of NUJS, rose to the occasion by compiling extensive evidence and filing numerous representations over three years to indict Mukhopadhyay. The committee set up by the Calcutta High Court to probe these allegations published a report confirming multiple instances of financial mismanagement at the behest of the Registrar and lauded the initiative taken by NUJS students to bring it to light.
Prof. Bhat’s five-year term was scheduled to end in September 2016; however, he had expressed his wish to seek an extension. The SJA, armed with a voluminous report highlighting the excesses of the administration and the marked deterioration in academic standards during his tenure, petitioned the Executive Committee – the highest governing body of the University against granting another term to Prof. Bhat. Despite stiff student resistance, Prof. Bhat’s term was extended by the EC for another five years. Notwithstanding this setback, the SJA managed to push its request for a statutorily mandated University Review Commission (‘URC’) through the University’s notorious red tape. The URC, constituted by the Chancellor of NUJS, was tasked with submitting a comprehensive report that outlined a holistic view of the University. The URC Report was sent to the NUJS Chancellor in October 2017 and was a scathing indictment of Prof. Bhat’s stewardship of the University. Some of the significant issues identified in the URC report were poor faculty strength, lack of infrastructure, lack of transparency in administration, stalled academic reforms, poor research output, etc. Student resentment, simmering for several years, finally broke out in the form of protests culminating into a day of active and peaceful protest, eventually culminating in the ouster of Prof. Bhat on March 28th, 2018.
Tryst with Interim Administration
Justice Amit Talukdar (Retd.) was then appointed as the interim Vice-Chancellor of NUJS as a stop-gap measure while a search for a permanent one commenced. This interim period crawled on for a little over a year from April 2018 to May 2019, during which the functioning of the University was effectively brought to a grinding halt. Several committees were constituted to investigate the malpractices that occurred during Prof. Bhat’s tenure – committees that, as of yet, have not reached any conclusion. The stop-gap nature of the administration meant that no decisive action was ever initiated within the University’s walls – this year saw the SJA and other student bodies deprived of their annual funds for a prolonged period. The University was definitely in the doldrums and continued to be so until the search committee proposed for the appointment of a permanent Vice-Chancellor.
The University’s low perception score has no doubt been influenced by the events chronicled above. It seems that people who are not associated with NUJS are mostly aware of only this side of the story. However, through this article, we aim to provide you with a more comprehensive overview of the University’s functioning and achievements over the last five years. And a sneak peek into the other side of the administration, i.e. the student involvement which has been the bedrock of NUJS’s performance.
Student Performance of NUJS (June 2016 to July 2020)
The events outlined in the previous section have continued to overshadow the stellar achievements of its students, which have been earned despite the cavalier and indifferent attitude of the University administration. The reasons for selecting the period from June 2016 onwards is threefold:
(a) With the graduation of Batch of 2016, all batches which had joined NUJS during the tenure of Professor Singh had graduated. Thus, all the student performance that we will be discussing subsequently belongs to batches which joined NUJS after the departure of Professor Singh.
(b) Secondly, this article has been primarily shaped by the experience of two co-authors from the Batch of 2021. And one of the co-authors, who joined the campus in June 2018 as part of Batch of 2023.
(c) Thirdly, the authors believe that the beginning of the end of Professor Bhat’s tenure at NUJS began soon after June 2016, with the dismissal of ex-Registrar Surajit Mukhopadhyay in July 2016.
Academically, NUJS has been distinguishing itself through its nationally acclaimed student-run journals – the NUJS Law Review and the Journal for Indian Law and Society. Both NUJS Law Review and JILS have consistently featured on lists of most accessed Indian law journals published by the SCCOnline, with NUJS Law Review holding the first position for most months in the last one year. The former also has the rare distinction of being one of the most cited law journals by the Supreme Court – a notable instance is the historic Navtej Johar judgment, in which the court has cited five NUJS Law Review articles. Recently, a JILS article has been designated as compulsory reading for a course offered by Dr Martha Minow (ex-Dean) at Harvard Law School. Furthermore, the JILS blog, after a year (2019-2020) of consistently hosting quality legal scholarship, has featured in the top 10 legal blogs in India (metrics employed for ranking include relevancy, blog frequency, Alexa web traffic rank among others).
Each year NUJS students from different batches opt to pursue their higher education from leading universities across the globe. The pursuit of higher education is primarily driven by their keen interests in either specializing in a particular field or joining academia after completing higher education. In the past four years, several NUJS students have been awarded with scholarships, regular admission offers and fellowships by universities from all different parts of the world. The list of such scholarships, regular admission offers and fellowships for the years 2016-2020 can be found below:
List of Scholarships/Fellowships (2016-2020)
Rhodes Scholarships (Oxford University)
Ratanshaw Bomanji Zaiwalla Law Scholarship (Oxford University)
JAMS International Fellowship
Cambridge International Scholarship
Pratibha Singh Cambridge Trust Scholarship
Public Service Venture Fund Kauffman Fellowship (Harvard University)
Felix Scholarship (SOAS, London)
Human Right Fellowship (Columbia University)
Gates Cambridge Scholarship
Erin J. C. Arsenault Fellowship (McGill University)
LLM offers (college wise)
Harvard Law School
University of California, Berkeley
Graduate Institute Geneva
London Business School
The stories of NUJS’s extraordinary mooting exploits go back to 2003 when the University became India’s first law school to win the Vis Vienna Moot. The fact that the NUJS students were able to pull off the biggest arbitration moot without having a permanent library makes it all the more inspiring. Since then, NUJS has always nursed a soft corner for mooting. The University is fortunate to have a dynamic mooting culture, with an extraordinarily comprehensive and meritocratic system of moot allocation which provides every student (yes even first years) the opportunity to represent NUJS and compete in even the most prestigious of Moot Court Competitions. This exposure, coupled with seniors and alumni who are always ready to lend a helping hand, has led to mooting being ingrained as an integral part of NUJS culture. These four years have not belied the University’s long pedigree in excelling at mooting, which can be seen from the recent performances (2016-2020) of the University at International moots:
List of Mooting Achievements (2016-2020)
Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot (‘Vis Vienna’)
Winner + Eric E. Bergsten Award for Best team Orals (2020)
John H. Jackson Moot Court Competition (formerly ELSA)
Frankfurt Investment Arbitration Moot Court (‘FIAC’)
Quarterfinalists (2017 and 2019)
International Criminal Court Moot Court Competition (‘ICC’)
Runners Up (World Rounds- 2018) and Best Speaker Award + Quarterfinalists (2019)
Ian Fletcher International Insolvency Law Moot Competition
NILS Business and Human Rights Law Moot Court Competition
Runners Up + Best Speaker (2018)
International Maritime Law Arbitration Moot
Best Memorial (2016) and Semifinalists (2018)
FDI International Arbitration Moot
Baker McKenzie Highest Ranked Team Award (cumulative preliminary oral scores + memo scores) + Best Respondent Memorial + Second Best Claimant Memorial (2018)
HSF Competition Law Moot
Runners Up (2018)
Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition
Octa-finalists (World Rounds- 2018)
Oxford International Intellectual Property Law Moot Court Competition 2017
2nd Best Written Submission (2017)
Leiden Sarin International Air Law Moot Court Competition
Runners Up + Best Applicant Memorial + Best Respondent Memorial (2017)
Willem C. Vis East International Commercial Arbitration Moot (‘Vis East’)
LawAsia International Moot Court Competition
Runners Up (2016) and Quarterfinalists (2017)
As a University with a vibrant debating culture, NUJS is also home to an intensely competitive pool of debaters. The NUJS Literary and Debating Society also organized a debating workshop with some of the Ace debaters of the South-Asian region, as part of their relief exercise for cyclone battered West Bengal and financially contributed to the relief works led by Goonj. The University participates extensively in both National as well as the International level competitions and has achieved tremendous success at both levels:
List of Debating Achievements (2016-2020)
Monash Australasian Intervarsity Debating Championship 2020- Partial Double Octa-finals
Yogyakarta Asian British Parliamentary tournament 2019- Pre-Quarter Finalists
IUB Ascension 2019- Quarterfinalists
9th GNLU Debate 2019- Winner
7th Annual Mukarji Memorial ProAm Debate 2019- Winner
1st Daulat Ram Parliamentary debate 2019- Winner (cross team)
Derozio Memorial Debate 2019- Finalists (Open category) and Winners (Novice category)
CNLU National Parliamentary Debate 2018- Winner, Runners Up, Best Speaker, Best Adjudicator, and Best Novice Speaker
Dr. MS Ramaiah Memorial Parliamentary Debate 2018- Finalists
IUB Ascension 2018- Semifinalists and Best Speaker (Novice category)
NALSAR IV- Quarterfinalists and Best Adjudicator
The GNLU Debate 2018- Finalists
Derozio Memorial Debate 2018- Winner
NLS Debate 2018- Finalists and Best Speaker
IIT Bombay Inter Varsity Debate 2018- Winner
Dr. MS Ramaiah Memorial Parliamentary Debate 2017- Finalists
The GNLU Debate 2017- Semifinalists
8th United Asian Debating Championship, Cambodia 2017- Cambodia
Heritage Parliamentary Debate 2017- Winners
NLUO Debate 2017- Finalists
69th Mukarji Memorial Debate 2017 by St. Stephens College- Winner and Best Speaker
Prologue Debate 2017 by Presidency College- Winner and Best Adjudicator
5th RMLNLU Parliamentary Debate 2017- Winner
IIT Guwahati Parliamentary Debate 2017- Winner and Runners Up
NIT Rourkela debate 2016- Winner and Best Speaker
Colloquium-Heritage Parliamentary Debate 2016- Winner
NLU Jodhpur Debate 2016- Finalists and Second best adjudicator
NUSRL Parliamentary Debate 2016- Winner (cross team), Semifinalists and Best Speaker
NLU Delhi Parliamentary Debate 2016- Semifinalists and Second best adjudicator
CNLU Parliamentary Debate 2016- Winner, Runners Up, Best Speaker and Best Adjudicator
CBS Debate 2016- Finalists
2nd D M Debate 2016- Finalists (Open Category) and Winners (Novice Category
It was in 2016 when the NUJS ADR Society was constituted to improve the performance of the University in ADR competitions and to help NUJS students in exploring the career possibilities in the field of ADR. Since then the NUJS ADR Society has been conducting several training programmes in collaboration with industry experts and has formalized an intra college competition to allocate ADR competitions. NUJS has taken active efforts towards making access to justice a reality by establishing India’s first student-run Mediation Clinic in 2019 and a dedicated journal for dispute resolution in 2020. The impact of the changes brought in the University since 2016 can be seen from the University’s recent performances in ADR competitions:
List of ADR Achievements (2016-2020)
ICC International Commercial Mediation Competition 2020- Distinction in the Interaction with the Mediator
2nd TNNLU- National Med-Arb Competition 2020- Runners Up (Client Councelling)
Mediation Bombay 2019- Semifinalists (Mediation) and Quarterfinalists (Negotiation)
ICC Asia Pacific Commercial Mediation Competition 2019- Semifinalists
NLS NMC 2019- Winners (Negotiation), Quarter-Finalists (Client-Attorney Interaction), and Quarter-finalists (Mediation)
INADR Mediation Tournament 2019- Semifinalists
V RMLNLU National Mediation Competition 2019- Finalist
Intercessionis 2019 by PACT and ILSCA- Semifinalists
Christ University Client Counselling 2018- 2nd Runners (Client Counselling), Quarterfinalists (Negotiation), and Second Best Mediator
NLIU INADR International Law School Mediation Tournament 2018- Best Mediator and Third best Mediator team
ICC, Hong Kong Mediation Competition 2018- Special Award for Best Mediation Plan
NLUD-HSF International Negotiation Competition 2018- Winner and Best Negotiator
Link Legal NLIU Client Counselling Competition 2018- Runners Up
ICC Asia Pacific Mediation Competition 2018- Preliminary Finals and Special Encouragement Award
4th RMLNLU National Mediation Competition, 2018- Winner
3rd NLS Mediation Negotiation and Client Counselling Competition 2018- Semifinalists (Negotiation)
10th Symbhav Client Counselling Competition 2018- Runners Up
INADR International Law School Mediation Tournament, 2018- Semifinalists (Mediation)
13th ICC International Mediation Competition, 2018- Best Novice Team
NLIU INADR International Law School Mediation Tournament Bhopal, 2018- Runners-up (Negotiation)
2nd Adv. Ram Jethmalani Symbiosis ADR Tournament, 2017- Runners Up (Negotiation)
3rd RMLNLU National Mediation Competition, 2017- Runners Up
HSF-NLUD International Negotiation Competition, 2017- Quarterfinalists
VIS East Young International Mediation Competition, 2017- Winner and Best Council Award
Since its inception, NUJS has created a name for itself by maintaining a consistent record of placements which is only getting better with time. An illustrative example would be the exceptional placement figures that NUJS has been consistently posting since 2017. For the last three years (2017, 2018, 2019), NUJS has marked the highest placements among all the National Law Universities. Further, if the informal reports about the placements of Batch of 2020 are anything to go by, it was surely a repeat of NUJS’s remarkable performance for the fourth consecutive year (Statistics will be released at the right time!).
However, having been led by the vision of founding Vice-Chancellor Prof. Madhav Menon of creating next-generation leaders from NUJS, the students have always strived to go beyond the conventional limits of the profession and venture out as capable individuals. Since 2010, NUJS has witnessed the realization of several ideas into successful startups as well as social initiatives. This has been possible at NUJS because the students are given enough resources and freedom to pursue their ideas. In the years before 2016, the successful startups and social initiatives which were born on NUJS campus include Lawctopus (by Tanuj Kalia, Batch of 2012), CLATapult (by Syed Anzar Abbas, Batch of 2012), Glaws (by Jay Sayta, Batch of 2015) Eazy Coach and Timespade (by Om Agarwal, Batch of 2016). This legacy is being further carried forward by SAMA & Indian Mediation Week (by Pranjal Sinha and Akshetha Ashok, Batch of 2019), SAHYOG (by Adya Jha and Dakshita Chopra, Batch of 2020), Himmat (by Megha Rana and Sreeja Sengupta, Batch of 2022), Indian Financial Literacy Initiative (by Parth Gala, Batch of 2022), and Ex-Curia International (by Ananya Agarwal, Batch of 2023). It is thus our legacy of creating budding entrepreneurs which ultimately distinguishes us from any other National Law University.
Indian Mediation Week (hereinafter IMW) in the past 3 years has conducted over 5000+ awareness drives, collected over 3000 cases, facilitated around 250 resolutions with the help of its 4000+ volunteers across 65 cities and reached over 100 law schools of India. While IMW is focussed on ADR awareness and access to justice, SAMA has gradually evolved into a full-fledged alternative dispute resolution platform and India’s leading e-ADR firm. At a time when courts are generally not functioning, SAMA showed its potential as a nextgen dispute resolution startup by organizing an online Lok Adalat in collaboration with the Delhi State Legal Services Authority wherein 5838 cases worth Rs. 46.28 crores were settled.
SAHYOG is a first of its kind idea in an Indian law school, which aims to further the constitutional goal of access to justice by providing a platform that connects student research assistants to lawyers and organizations to aid them in providing pro bono services. In the past ten months, SAHYOG has collaborated with 8 organisations and lawyers, carrying out the research for around 20 cases.
Himmat is an initiative which aims to equip college-going survivors of sexual harassment with the knowledge and information needed to tackle institutional proceedings on college campuses. The idea was conceptualized after noticing the inaccessibility of such information and the urgent need to make college spaces in India safer and more inclusive. Himmat also provides a pro bono legal consultancy service, through a network of experts in the field including lawyers and trained IC members, to address the specific queries of the survivors.
In the times of Covid-19 pandemic and before, the Indian Financial Literacy Initiative (IFLI) has been working in different parts of the country and with various stakeholders to raise awareness about financial matters. In a different sphere, Ex-curia International aims to become the platform for the exchange of ideas and practices in International Dispute Resolution through its blog, journal and podcast.
Post June 2019 Resurgence
The foremost step taken by Prof. Chakrabarti after assuming office of the Vice Chancellor was to engage with the entire student body in an open forum and discuss at length the issues and concerns faced by students at large. This portrayed both, the receptiveness towards the students as well as an acknowledgement of the culture of student engagement in college administrative processes within NUJS. Since then the Student Juridical Association 2019-20 has implemented several infrastructure and policy changes with the support of the Vice Chancellor’s office.
Additionally, Prof. Chakrabarti has also not shied away from admitting that the University has far to go before it becomes the pre-eminent centre of legal education it once was. In a recent interview, he’s outlined his plan to make the University an attractive destination for faculty members, and expressed his intention to reach out and collaborate with the student body. He has also expressed the need to “improve the University from all angles”, his goes in consonance with his plan of identifying critical areas in which NUJS needs to improve drastically in the broader context of the University’s prospective bid for NAAC accreditation as well as improving the NIRF rankings which have taken a dip over the past years.
Very recently, the University has initiated one of its largest recruitment drives, with over sixteen new positions opened up for permanent faculty members. This recruitment drive would significantly swell the existing faculty pool of 44 members. And would be quite a fillip to the University’s dismal student-faculty ratio, which is the lowest among similarly placed NLUs. The students too realising the importance of this recruitment drive not just in the short run but for the years to come have consolidated the specific issues faced by the faculty in NUJS as a workplace along with their suggestions in a petition and filed it before him for consideration. We are hopeful that this petition will be met with a similar openness and receptiveness as has been portrayed numerous times before. It is our understanding that this recruitment drive could very well herald a slow trudge back to glory for the University. In many ways, Prof. Chakrabarti’s legacy, and perhaps the University’s as well, rests heavily on this recruitment drive.
We would also like to highlight that the primary motivation behind this article is not to persuade one into believing that NUJS stands as the “Nth” Law School in India or to fend off the claims made against the college, its reputation or its ability to impart legal education. In substance or form, one should find that this article has not presented any such line of argumentation. The sole purpose of this has been to consolidate and put a part of the NUJS story which has been neglected by every evaluation metric, whether individual or institutional — as reflected by the NIRF Perception scores for 2020.
It is our understanding that any University has three key stakeholders and contributors in its functioning and growth i.e. the Administration, the Faculty and the Student Body. The misfortune that we faced on the first front nine years ago and its consequent impact on the second, six years ago have been regurgitated endlessly in the public discourse. However, the knowledge about the student endeavours and success have not found a similar platform outside of NUJS. It is indeed commendable that a student body, which has gone through the most tumultuous and uncertain period since the inception of the University, has been able to continuously strive forward and make its mark within the legal fraternity. This has only been possible because of the unending efforts of each and every student of NUJS; every committee member and office bearer who took it upon themselves to work upon and contribute to some aspect of NUJS - and continuously undertake a holistic development of the University and its students; every Student Juridical Association which endured and always kept the best interest of NUJS thereby earning us the reputation of being a student-led University; and to every faculty member who has been a part of this college and contributed in ways, we cannot begin to fathom.
We are at a complete loss of words to capture the true extent and gravitas of what NUJS has developed as and would like to simply end by quoting perhaps one of the most important documents in NUJS’ recent history, the URC Report — ‘... one of the great achievements of NUJS has been the building up of a student culture of active engagement with community issues - a rarity today even in globally ranked institutions.”