On July 30, 2014, the Government of Tamil Nadu introduced a Bill in the Legislative Assembly seeking to prohibit establishment of law colleges by the private sector in the state.
The Bill was introduced by the then Law Minister SP Velumani (who now continues to be a cabinet minister in a different capacity), who stated on the floor of the Assembly that âthe past experience had revealed that private trusts/societies were not able to provide legal education at affordable cost to the economically and socially weaker sections and were not able to continue to run the law colleges successfully.â
Velumani also added that the government had taken a policy decision to establish adequate number of law colleges in the state in a phased manner.
Thus, Tamil Nadu Establishment of Private Law Colleges (Prohibition) Act, 2014 (Act 13 of 2014) came into existence, banning any private body or institution to start a law college in Tamil Nadu.
It should be interesting to note that the same AIADMK government had issued a Government Order numbered 194 dated March 5, 2012, inviting applications for grant of âNo Objection Certificateâ to start self-financing private law colleges in the state. The government also released the Guidelines for grant of No Objection Certificate to start Self-Financing Private Law Colleges, Norms & Conditions, and Form of Application and Fees along with the above said government order.
It still remains unclear why the government which desired to permit private law colleges in the state in the year 2012 decided to pass an Act in 2014 to undo its own decision and ban private law colleges.
The Madras High Court has now struck down the 2014 Act as unconstitutional, illegal and ultra vires the Constitution.
Referring to the Supreme Court Judgment in the TMA Pai case, the high court said, âSuffice to say that there is a difference between restriction or regulation and absolute ban.â
The court added, âRight to establish and administer and run a private unaided educational institution is the very openness of personal freedom and opportunity which is constitutionally protected, which right cannot be robbed of or coerced against his will at the threat of non-recognition or non-affiliation.â Regarding the particular ban, the court said at the threshold itself, the ban, as imposed by the impugned legislation, was absolute in character and not restricted to any time period.
Simply put, the court said that there cannot be an absolute ban on opening of private educational institutions in view of the law.
TN does not take legal education seriously
Now let us recollect what the Minister of Law stated during the passage of the impugned Bill. âThe Government had taken a policy decision to establish adequate number of law colleges in the state in a phased manner.â This promise has not only remained unfulfilledm but has not even given a thought in the last two years while the ban was in place.
Every parent dreams of putting their child in quality educational institution right from school. The upper middle class and the rich families always aspire for a seat in IITs and IIMs for their children. Tamil Nadu is no different. Right from a childâs initial steps into academia, they are forced to dream only of becoming an engineer or a doctor.
While we set IITs and IIMs as standards for engineering and management courses, one fails to put the equally deserving National Law Schools for law programs in the same league as that of IITs and IIMs.
As on date, there are total of 17 National Law Schools in India with close to a half a dozen being newbies including that of the âTamil Nadu National Law Schoolâ which is situated in Srirangam. National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, is the most preferred one and is the biggest dream of every law aspirant in India, closely followed by National Law School in Hyderabad (NALSAR) and Kolkata (NUJS). These law schools provide very good campus placement facilities with huge pay packages. Not only international firms but scores of Indian law firms, corporate houses, LPOs and various entities require law graduates every year and they recruit students from these law schools.
In Tamil Nadu, there is still a closed mind-set against the legal profession. Here a lawyer is considered nothing more than a black coat who does litigation. The common public or the parents are not aware of the blooming field of corporate law and the huge demand the sector has every year for lawyers. Apart from civil and criminal litigation there are tens of important branches of corporate law which needs experts every year.
So, the onus to let the parents in Tamil Nadu realize that studying law does not necessarily means a black coat and unending litigation lies largely with the government.
Tamil Nadu has only 7 Government Law Colleges, eighth being School of Excellence in Law, Chennai, also government controlled. Apart from that there were five private Universities that offered law programs, which were allowed to function since they were deemed universities. The total number of available seats in 8 Government Law Colleges every year is 1052. And how many students competed in the year 2013-2014 for these 1052 seats? Meager 4500! Last year close to 8 lakh students gave their 12th standard exams in Tamil Nadu. With 80% passing, close to 6 lakh students passed the exams successfully. So, for the 6 lakh strong contingent every year the state has only 1052 law college seats.
A comparative study with other states puts Tamil Nadu at the rock-bottom when it comes to infrastructure in the legal education.
When we take into consideration the demand and supply state-wise, even then Tamil Nadu does not fare well.
The point here is not to prove that all law colleges functioning everywhere are good. Not all law colleges listed here are good. But this is the case with every other field.
The point here is about giving the students of the state their right to choose. There is always a demand for smart students. Anyone who aspires to become a good lawyer will definitely shine if proper opportunities are given.
As someone who was deprived of a quality legal education in my own state, who had to travel thousands of kilometers to pursue my desire of studying law away from my home state, I plead the government to concentrate on the quality of legal education in the state and enhance the same by allowing reputed private educational institutions to start law schools since the High Court of Madras paved way for the same now.
The writer is an advocate practising in the High Court of Madras & Vice President of BJYM (BJP Youth Wing) of Tamil Nadu.
Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.