IDIA Research and Policy Wing
IRAP is a wing of IDIA that focuses on high level research and policy advocacy, in order to create a more diverse and inclusive ecosystem overall. To this end, it continually engages with stakeholders such as universities, law firms, and government agencies.
Introduction to IRAP
The IDIA project is geared towards the cause of under-represented communities at Indian law schools. It seeks to empower these communities and aims to provide for a diverse crowd at such institutions. A diverse student body would ensure multiple views and perspectives, thereby enriching the process of education. The Research and Policy Wing (IRAP) of IDIA has carved out a niche for itself by acting as the brains behind several IDIA policies. It seeks to evolve a more optimal framework for legal education in the country. The initiatives undertaken by IDIA are backed by research conducted by the team at IRAP, which relies on primary and secondary research materials, and other methods of information collection such as petitions and complaints.
The IRAP team consists of a group of law students acting under the guidance of Prof. (Dr.) Shamnad Basheer (Founder and Managing Trustee, IDIA). While IDIA focuses on providing solutions by working within the contours of the current framework, IRAP intends to bring about much required change in the system by acting on initiatives and other policy issues that will benefit the cause in the long term. To this end, IRAP undertakes a research based approach to develop a more inclusive policy for future legal education.
Being in its nascent stage, IRAP has undertaken limited projects but the impact of such projects has been far reaching. For instance, an initiative undertaken by IRAP in the form of a note lead to an overhaul of the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), 2011 which gave higher weightage to legal reasoning and current awareness, as opposed to static knowledge of laws and history.Two reasons can be attributed for such a change: first, such knowledge is less relevant to a paper which tests legal aptitude, and second, the format discriminates against students from the lower strata who do not have the means to access such information. In addition, IRAP also conducts diversity surveys in order to record and review the socio-economic composition and diversity of law schools. The survey highlights the under-representation of students from the economically and socially backward classes, the disabled communities, minority communities, ethnic groups, etc.
1. Note on Reforming CLAT
The Common Law Admission Test or CLAT, which was aimed at creating a uniform basis for selection into Indian National Law Universities (NLUs), has failed to achieve this basic goal. The IRAP team, along with the IDIA Training and Reading Materials Team, is currently in the process of going through all the CLAT papers and listing out questions that are unfair or erroneous. Questions are being categorized as culturally non-neutral questions, irrelevant questions, and questions requiring prior legal knowledge, questions having multiple correct answers or questions having no precise correct answer. This project is being undertaken with the ultimate aim of providing a fairer test for all.
Pursuant to the note by IDIA (authored by Prof. (Dr.) Shamnad Basheer, Debanshu Khettry and Shambo Nandy), West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (WBNUJS), the CLAT conducting institution in 2011, announced a changed in the detailed syllabus and did away with ‘legal knowledge’ and static general knowledge (GK) questions. We hope that in the coming years, the proportion of marks given to GK (which is now the joint highest: 50 out of 200 marks) will also reduce, as we strongly believe that GK is not the most important component to test for one’s aptitude for the study of law. Prof. Basheer highlighted the key problems with the exam and advocated for reform in an Indian Express editorial here.
The IRAP team also conducted a study on the statistics relating to recruitment by the ‘Big Five’ law firms from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 batches of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research University (NALSAR) and WBNUJS, and the presence of diversity markers within the students recruited. The study showed that there is a marginal presence of students from low-income backgrounds and students from reserved categories among those recruited by the Big Five law firms. The study can be found here.
IRAP has also advocated for a disabled – friendly entrance examination and made representations before the CLAT Committee highlighting the disadvantages faced by students with disability. Click here for the copy of an email sent by Prof. Basheer in 2012 to the then CLAT Core Committee Convenor and then National Law University, Jodhpur Vice-Chancellor Justice N.N. Mathur, urging him to allow differently-abled candidates to be allowed the use of scribes while attempting CLAT. This representation was accompanied by a case note outlining the existing legal framework and judicial pronouncements within which the right of the visually impaired to scribes can be placed, and a draft policy in this regard for CLAT. The CLAT Core Committee agreed to our suggestions, and allowed differently-abled candidates to avail of scribes.
2. CLAT PIL
Prof. (Dr.) Shamnad Basheer, Founder and Managing Trustee of IDIA, filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court seeking, among others, the establishment of a permanent body for conducting CLAT each year, as well as greater transparency in the process. The Promoting Public Interest Lawyering (P-PIL) team has been pursuing the matter before the Court which is ongoing. Read more.
Note on Scholarships at NLUs
‘Get learning with a great sum of money, and get much gold by her.’- this line in Ecclesiasticus appropriately captures the significance of legal education in National Law Universities (NLUs) as well as its expensive character. While the NLUs impart quality education, this comes at a price beyond the paying capacity of a majority of India. IDIA realizes that one of the major reasons for the lack of representation from under-privileged and marginalized communities in law schools is the lack of financial support to fund legal education. Given that NLUs at present charge fees of over Rs 1.5 lakhs per annum (resulting in total fees of over Rs. 7.5 lakhs for 5 years), it is critical that we find funding for under-privileged students, who have a good shot at decent legal education and of improving the lot of communities that they represent.
Realizing the strong need for persuasion of law schools and the government to provide more funds for scholarships, IRAP is working further on this Note and will be sending it to high level officials in the government as well as the judiciary. The idea is to bring to attention the inadequacy of financial support in law schools among the legal fraternity and to persuade the governments to offer financial assistance with a need-based approach.
The Disability Note
Law schools today have undoubtedly achieved academic success, but they have been found wanting when it comes to providing support facilities for the differently-abled. Not only is there a dearth of basic infrastructural facilities at present, but also of institutional support in the provision of the most basic equipment for the disabled. At present, IRAP is working on a note highlighting this lack of support through empirical research. The note will further provide guidelines to law schools on creating a disabled-friendly environment.
Legal education in India is at the cusp of an ambitious new phase. Indeed, the Law Minister unveiled what he labeled the ‘second generation’ legal education reforms in Delhi a couple of months ago. At this function, the Indian Prime Minister spoke of National Law Universities (NLUs) as ‘a small number of dynamic and outstanding law schools’ in the country which “remain islands of excellence amidst a sea of institutionalized mediocrity”.
Unfortunately, these islands of excellence have become increasingly elitist over the years. A variety of factors have contributed to this, including the extremely high fees charged at these institutions, an entrance examination (Common Law Admission Test or CLAT) that now requires extensive and expensive coaching as a pre-requisite, and most importantly, a lamentable lack of awareness about law as a career amongst low income students in small towns, rural areas and other non-affluent backgrounds.
The net result is that the current student composition in many of these law schools lacks any serious diversity and comprises mainly of English-medium educated students from middle class or upper middle class families. The numbers from rural areas, small towns or non-English medium schools are deplorably low. Apart from this, the composition also suffers from under-representation from the economically and socially backward classes, the disabled communities, minority communities, ethnic groups, etc. Prof. Basheer and others have argued in their paper that unless we fix the diversity deficit at the law schools soon, we’ll be faced with a serious diversity crisis within the top echelons of the legal profession as well (to the extent that some of these layers at the top will be fed in large parts by NLU candidates).
The above is more than borne out by the various IDIA ‘diversity’ surveys at the various national law schools, the results of which are set out below.
1. Diversity Survey Report: 2013-14
We would like to thank Swethaa Ballakrishnen, Tarunabh Khaitan and Bobby Kunhu for their valuable inputs on the diversity questionnaire that was administered to the law schools.
Please see below a brief overview of the other initiatives/ work undertaken by the IRAP Wing:
1. Legal Position in India on Leeway granted to Dyslexic Students during Competitive Examinations
The IRAP team had the opportunity to answer a query regarding leeway granted to students with disabilities (with specific emphasis on dyslexic students) during examinations such as the IIM-Indore IPM Aptitude Test, CLAT, NMIMS-NPAT (BBA), and Symbiosis-SET. We looked into the legal position on the issue, investigating specifically whether a dyslexic student is entitled to demand (i) additional time, and (ii) access to calculators. Read more.
2. NLSIU, Bangalore, announces Scholarship Policy for the Underprivileged
The National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore, set an example by pioneering one of the most progressive scholarship policies for underprivileged students. Read more.
3. IDIA makes Recommendations to TRAI on its Consultation Paper on ‘Making ICT Accessible for Persons with Disabilities’
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released a consultation paper (view) on making information and communication technology (ICT) more accessible for persons with disabilities, and sought recommendations on the same from stakeholders. IDIA submitted its recommendations to TRAI which can be accessed here. This was a joint effort by the IDAP and IRAP teams at IDIA.