The National Law University (NLU) Delhi last year implemented state domicile reservations after much pressure from the state government and resistance from students and alumni. The Karnataka government’s attempt to introduce a 25 percent quota for its residents at the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru, is pending in the Supreme Court. Over the past few years, most National Law Universities (NLUs) – old and new – have freshly reserved seats for students from the states in which they are located, or taken steps to expand the quotas.
This hasn’t gone smoothly. Students, alumni, former vice-chancellors and some of the best-known figures in legal education have opposed this change arguing that large quotas based on domicile will diminish the NLUs’ “national character”. For several institutions, the attempts led to court cases.
In the case of National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, the Karnataka government plans 25 percent reservation while local lawyers demand 50 percent. NALSAR Hyderabad planned to offer 50 percent seats to locals, but at present around 20 percent seats are being offered. The West Bengal National Law University of Juridical Sciences (WBNUJS) reserved 30 of percent seats for the state last year, and National Law University Odisha, 25 percent. Newer NLUs such as Himachal Pradesh National Law University, Shimla, have had quotas for local students from the start. The 25 percent quota proposed for NLU Jodhpur is yet to be implemented.
State laws, national character
The fight over domicile quotas has its genesis in the way the NLUs came up.
They were never envisioned as state institutions but as national ones – open to students and faculty from across the country. When the Bar Council of India, the regulatory body for legal education, took the initiative of setting up the first, NLSIU Bengaluru, in 1986, the law underpinning it was not framed to be state-centric either. These institutions were created as “national institutions”, intended to engage in “nation-building” from the start.
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