The two recommendations in the draft National Education Policy 2019 concerning legal and multilingual education are perhaps a social necessity than political comfort.
India’s development in the twenty-first century and the fulfilment of our dream of taking our rightful place in the global arena will depend crucially on our ability to strengthen institutional frameworks that underpin governance. The Human Resource Development Ministry recently uploaded on its website the draft National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 to improve education in the country. The report became a national debate and received critical attention from all corners of the society, but for many bad reasons.
The 484-page document drafted by the K Kasturirangan Committee is perhaps the most widely-consulted report on education since 1986. This comprehensive education policy for India created a furore among the southern states. Political parties strongly opposed the three-language formula in the earlier draft alleging that it was tantamount to thrusting the Hindi language on non-Hindi speaking states.
The committee came forward and clarified that there were no efforts to impose Hindi and dismissed reports of dissent against the removal of the Hindi clause. This entire scenario got much media attention, but what was lost in the noise was the effectiveness and academic value of the report to streamline education in India.
The au fait recommendations in the report will no doubt bring a disruption in the education system. From governance to management, technology to digitisation, government to institutions, the report has tried to decipher and unravel many grey areas, which require priority attention.
Despite grabbing headlines for all wrong reasons, on a contextual reading of the NEP report, one cannot deny the fact that the report tackles many complicated issues and provides a set of sensible and contrivable solutions for numerous contemporary challenges. One such unusual area which has received extra special attention of the committee is — reforming the legal education.
The report has highlighted that “...a key aspect of governance systems is the ability of the State and private interests to adhere to Constitutional values, and establish, support and maintain the rule of the law as envisioned in our founding documents. The maintenance and flourishing of socio-political institutions require a cadre of professionals in the judicial system, including lawyers, judges, paralegal and administrative staff. All these roles require the continued development of legal education.”
The draft policy contemplates a legal education that is informed and illuminated with constitutional values of justice — social, economic and political — and directed towards national reconstruction through instrumentation of democracy, rule of law and human rights. Law being a noble profession carries with it a duty of social responsibility and social inclusion. Hence, it is of paramount importance that legal education is visualised as a public rather than a private good wherein the state, society and markets have distinct interests and reasonable expectations related to their contribution to inclusive and equitable development.
The committee has made two significant suggestions in this context.
First, the curriculum should reflect socio-cultural contexts. It means that the legal education should retrocede upon the culture and traditions of people and society, the history of legal institutions and victory of ‘dharma’ over ‘adharma’ writ large in Indian literature and mythology. The committee has come to this conclusion on the basis of growing consensus worldwide that the study and practice of law cannot be independent of the culture of society, including the study of classical law texts.
Social relevance and acceptability cannot be achieved unless the curriculum reflects the evidence-based jurisprudence of the Indic way of dharma. From a personal viewpoint, it is equally important that the current legal system should draw the best practices of religions as a source of law. In the famous tort case on negligence, Donoghue Vs Stevenson, the judge adopted the neighbourhood principle from the Bible.
Second, multilingual education. The demand for bilingual education for law students is not unhackneyed. Legal transactions or court procedure at the lower courts are conducted in their respective regional languages whereas those at the high courts and Supreme Court continues to be done in colonial English, in most states in India. The linguistic diversity of the society as a barrier to access justice is still to a great extent unaddressed by legislative tools. This contributes to the considerable delay thereby leading to judicial pendency as cases can move up only after the documentation has been translated.
Law is a reflection of the society, and to address society-specific challenges, the law should be taught in society-specific dialect. The committee has recommended that state institutions offering legal education must consider offering bilingual education through translation cells and a host of measures for future lawyers and judges in English and in the language of the state in which the law programme/institution is situated.
This is not the first time that reforms in legal education are put forward for consideration. Due to constant interventions by academicians like late Dr N R Madhava Menon, Dr Upendra Baxi, Dr N L Mitra and others, institutions like Law Commission of India and Bar Council of India have recommended numerous conspicuous academic changes like inclusion of clinical legal education and alternative dispute dechanism as compulsory subjects, etc. But the Indian legal education can be implicitly divided into three classes — The National Law University (NLU) system, private institutions law education system and government-administered law education system. Even though NLUs are administered by the respective state governments, they because of their inherent institutional structure, enjoy certain foundational and administrative autonomy in their academic functions. Due to which they have a flexible procedure to amend syllabus, introduce innovative initiatives and address contemporary legal issues through institutionalised academic interventions.
It is also noteworthy to analyse the social reality that a handful of NLUs is not an answer to the Indian problem of access to justice. Because it is an open secret that a majority of advocates, who actually practise in the lower courts or who work at grassroots levels are graduates from traditional law colleges. Hence, it is of utmost importance that the curriculum and pedagogy of traditional and conventional universities are changed from time to time so that these students are academically equipped enough to grab opportunities and tackle contemporary issues.
In the Constitution of India, there is no specific entry in the VII Schedule that deals with legal education. The regulation of standards of legal education is subscribed through the more umbrella entries pertaining to higher education and entitlement to practice before courts. “…Coordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education…” is the subject matter of Entry 66 of List I of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India. Entry 25 of List III also pertains to education: “education, including technical education, medical education and universities, subject to the provisions of Entries 63, 64, 65 and 66 of List I; vocational and technical training of labour.”
So, the duty is cast upon the government to streamline the profession and rationalise the education. Law is a globally competitive profession and it requires adopting best practices and embracing new technologies to ensure timely delivery of justice.
A policy on paper may convey a grand vision, but the real effectiveness of a policy will be tested when it is implemented. The two recommendations in the NEP are perhaps a social necessity than political comfort in the current social order. As Iris Marion Young said, a constitutional change is a movement away from the liability-based “blame model of responsibility” to a “shared political responsibility model”.