The Draft Constitution: Breathing Life into NALSAR’s Student Governance Structure

[Editor’s Note: The Draft Constitution passed with an overwhelming majority of 94.4% voting ‘Yes’. Voter turnout was 357 students and no proxy votes were allowed. You can read the new Constitution here. ]

After the Transition Constitution had been renewed each year for three years, a Kafkaesque sense of being stuck in a legal limbo prevailed over the student body. So acquainted had we become with this situation, that our despair became a source of humour. The SBC (2016-17), and particularly the President – Yugal Jain (Batch of 2017), made it a priority to constitute a committee to look into drafting a new Constitution for NALSAR. The resultant Constitution Review Committee (CRC) was promising as it accounted for representation across all batches and comprised an equal number of men and women. As an inclusive body, it surpassed the first criticism often levelled against constitution drafters – that of lacking a diverse perspective and reflecting the will of the majority alone.

With the emergence of the Draft Constitution, a new era of constitutional reforms has swept the University. Much like many constitutions across the world, the Draft Constitution was born out of negotiation and compromise between radical visionaries and pragmatics of the CRC. While some members of the CRC wished to aim for the stars, the others wished to capture public acceptance so as to not revert to the Transition Constitution. Members on the CRC who had witnessed the resistance to the previous CRC’s ambitious draft in 2014 realised the importance of not straying away too far from the ways to which the student body had become accustomed. The CRC had to walk a tightrope between addressing pertinent concerns arising with respect to student governance while not challenging entrenched norms.

How We Got Here – A Brief Legislative History of the Draft Constitution

In August 2016, a call for applications was made to organize a Committee to review the SBC Constitution. The CRC comprised two members from each of the five BA. LLB. batches, with one member from each section of the 2021 and 2022 batches. The criteria for selection was based on Statements of Purpose. Since only one person had applied from the Batch of 2018, 9 members were ultimately selected and the President was to serve as the 10th member of the Committee.

Timeline of the Drafting Process

Final Timeline

Five long months after its institution, the CRC released its first draft on the Restructuring of Student Committees on 10th February, 2017. On 18th February, the draft provisions on elections to the Student Bar Council were circulated. Students were given until the 21st February to send in their suggestions, but this cut too close with the upcoming Mid-Semester examinations. A public request for extension of the deadline for sending in suggestions was requested, to which there was no response from the CRC.

On 25th July, an informal discussion was conducted by the CRC to clarify its stand on certain issues and take into account the demands and suggestions raised by several students. Amongst other issues, the Student Body was highly aggrieved by the lack of transparency on the CRC’s part to maintain and publish minutes on a timely basis. However, as promised, the CRC released a consolidated mail with regards to minutes from most of their discussions the following day.

The Open House was conducted on 2nd August with the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mustafa and Professor Sidharth Chauhan as moderators. They put forth vociferous demands in certain aspects and channelized the session through constructive discourse in others. Those who attended the Open House purely for entertainment purposes were disappointed. The discussion was largely deliberative and marginally personal.

With the referendum today, it’s time to take stock of what the Draft Constitution entails. If you’ve missed the informal discussion and the Open House for the discussion of the Draft Constitution, or/and believe that it is an onerous document to read, or have read it and require clarity with regards to the same, this article is for you!

What changes are present in the Draft Constitution and why were they introduced?

Election processes

  1. While status quo requires candidates wishing to stand for the post of President to declare the same before 24 hours of the election, the Draft extends the time period to 48 hours before the election in order to give more time for students to deliberate. In the Open House, the Vice Chancellor advised against extending the period for declaration, fearing that election politics would consume more time and distract students from academics. However, the vote on the issue showed that students popularly supported an extended time period.
  2. The idea of Presidential Debate was introduced wherein the candidates contesting for the respective posts of President and Vice-President will present their views before the student body. This is to make the process of selecting the President and Vice-President less political and more rational.
  3. The President and Vice-President will be directly elected by the Student Body according to the Draft. This provision is significantly different from the Constitution of 2005, which envisages indirect elections for the post of both President and Vice-President, and the Transition Constitution, which allows a system of direct elections for the President alone.
  4. One of the most debated amendments in the Open House was regarding the eligibility criteria for the post of Vice-President. The question was whether to restrict the post of Vice-President to the fourth year and above. In the Open House, a majority were overwhelmingly in favour of limiting the post of Vice-President to the fourth and fifth-year batches. The amendment passed despite spirited opposition from a few members of the junior batches. However, no substantiation was given for this limitation.
  5. An amendment introducing the option of NOTA was presented in the Open House but was immediately struck down. The moderators reflected the perception of most participants of the Open House when they trivialised the idea of NOTA. Their rationale was that electors were allowed to abstain from voting in the present system, rendering NOTA redundant.
  6. The moderators refused to allow deliberation on the possibility of having preferential voting since they believed that such an election system was logistically difficult to implement, invariably increasing the burden on the administration.
  7. With regards to the Hostel and Sports Committee, separate positions have been made for women as well as men to adequately represent both genders. This is more an administrative decision on the part of the CRC than an affirmative action. It ensures that concerns arising in either hostel can be resolved at the earliest. The introduction of this provision has been unanimously appreciated. The Sports Committee has not seen a woman representative in the past three years, and the sports culture among women has considerably suffered as a result. With this new provision in place, it is hoped that budgetary allocation of sports equipment will happen on a more equitable basis between both hostels. People across hostels are now assured that issues of dilapidated gyms and dysfunctional washing machines will be woes of the past.
  8. The Draft Constitution, much like the Transition Constitution, had in place an impeachment procedure for the Executive Council alone, since the Vice-Chancellor feared that extending the impeachment process to every representative would create a situation where multiple representatives were being impeached on a daily basis. However, much to the Vice-Chancellor’s chagrin, the student body strongly believed that to ensure accountability among representatives elected within their batch, it was imperative to have an impeachment process for batch representatives as well. Finally, a clause was introduced through amendment for the impeachment of committee members as well. The Vice-Chancellor glorified this moment as ‘a victory of democracy’.
  9. A procedure for re-election of seats that are left vacant either through resignation or impeachment was inserted through amendment.  While there was no corresponding provision in the earlier constitution, the provision on re-election now states that any vacant seat must be filled within 7 days from the day of such vacancy.

Executive Council

  1. The Draft Constitution reposes a controversial obligation on the President by making them responsible for ensuring that there are no incidents in the student body of ragging, discrimination or consumption of illegal stimulants. A majority of the Student Body who attended the Open House wished to repeal this provision, arguing that it laid an unfair and onerous burden on the President. However, the Vice-Chancellor vehemently refused to allow deliberation or voting on the removal of this provision, contending that this was “UGC mandated” and expressing his belief that holding the President accountable would go a long way in curbing such activities on campus.
  2. The General Secretaries are to ensure that every Committee releases minutes. Based on Student Body experiences of the past, an amendment was suggested to the effect of specifying a time period within which such minutes are to be published. The Open House came to a consensus that minutes ought to be published within a week from the day of the meeting.  However, in exceptional circumstances, such as when a vote is to be conducted before the expiry of the week, the minutes would have to be released before the end of the week and before such vote.
  3. The task of re-allocating funds lies with the Executive Council. However, the Student Body in the Open House was largely of the opinion that the Executive Council must pass this re-allocation by consulting with the committee whose funds are being re-allocated and a majority vote from such Committee. This prevents the Executive Council from acting in an arbitrary and totalitarian manner. An amendment was thus passed to this effect.

Committees

The mandates of the Sports, Hostel, Cultural, Mess, Moot, and Academic Committees have been retained intact. The creation of several new committees and the bifurcation of one brewed discontentment amongst some who believed this to be an unhealthy precedent. On the other hand, a need was felt for the formation of new committees and restructuring of existing committees to capture the burgeoning set of interests and initiatives amongst students.

  1. Introduction of the Board of AuditorsThe mandate of this committee is to ensure that there is accountability within each committee. This committee is disjunct from the rest since members of this committee neither get to be part of the Executive Council nor have a say in the reallocation of budgets.
  2. Inception of the ADR CommitteeWith the recent escalation of interest in ADR, the Academic Committee was burdened with responsibility beyond its mandate. Thus, a separate committee was framed primarily to cater to this interest. The response to this committee has been overwhelmingly positive. However, the informal discussion highlighted the concerns of certain individuals who worried that the institution of the committee would lead to a overlapping of mandate between the ADR Board (operating under the aegis of the Academic Committee) and the ADR Committee. The CRC clarified that the mandate of the ADR Committee is to sanction funds and provide institutional support to those interested in taking part in ADR Competitions, while also conducting selection rounds for those interested in registering for competitions. The continuance of the ADR Board would then purely be an internal policy issue that the ADR Committee would have to determine.
  3. Bifurcation of the Literary & Debating Committee into the Literary & Quizzing Committee and the Debating CommitteeThe bifurcation of the Literary & Debating Committee into two separate committees – namely, the Literary & Quizzing Committee and the Debating Committee – was a major change that was polarizing. In the Open House, members of the Student Body, with a notable presence in the debating community, presented an emphatic push for bifurcation arguing that the existing structure led to conflict and a separate committee for debating would ensure its long-term sustainability. On the other hand, some argued that the splitting of the committee would lead to a domino effect and the creation of new committees. Further, there were a few who stressed that bifurcation would encourage literary and quizzing activities.  After much deliberation, the general consensus was that literary and quizzing activities had been shadowed by debating activities for far too long. The bifurcation was unanimously approved in the Open House. This bifurcation will help literary and quizzing activities grow and receive greater institutional support.
  4. Reorganisation of the Student Welfare Committee as the Social Responsibility & Student Welfare CommitteeThe CRC strongly advocated for the creation of a separate Social Responsibility Committee, which would have had the mandate of providing logistical and financial support to legal aid and socially responsible initiatives by the Student Body.  There was general apprehension regarding the formation of this committee. The major contention was that since the appointment to this committee would not be expertise-based, there was potential for it to be captured by interest groups and abused by candidates pursuing purely political ends. Many others believed that since social responsibility initiatives and legal aid are largely voluntary in nature, groups outside the SBC ought to pursue these ends. However, after much deliberation, Professor Chauhan highlighted the need to recognize the importance of social responsibility and the need to activate the dormant legal aid cell within the college. He particularly drew attention to the fact that NALSAR had no formal Legal Aid engagement thereby failing to perform its responsibility as a law school as well as missing out on opportunities from UGC. A compromise was finally reached by transferring the mandate of the Social Responsibility Committee to that of the existing Student Welfare Committee and reconstituting its name.

Miscellaneous Provisions

  1. Members of the Student Body in the Open House were worried that the Convenors of the different committees would cater to their own self-interest with regards to budgetary allocation within committees. To address this situation, a consensus was reached in the Open House to introduce an open-ended provision in the Constitution regarding the importance of avoiding conflict of interest. The expectation is that Committees will themselves formulate internal policies and adopt best practices to avoid conflicts of interests.
  2. The ‘Removal of Difficulty’ Clause empowers the Vice-Chancellor, as the Patron of the SBC, to interpret the Constitution along with the Executive Council in situations where discrepancies arise.
  3. Every academic year, we had to make the arduous choice of selecting two committees to enroll ourselves as General Body members. Not only was this number arbitrary, but also restrictive since several people who had multiple interests could only take part in the decision-making of two committees. The Draft Constitution, on unanimous demand, has done away with such a requirement and states that members of the Student Body are allowed to enlist themselves with multiple GBs. With regards to the provision of having one mandatory GB every semester and having a quorum of 50 per cent for a GB, the original position of the Constitution of 2005 has been retained.

Is There a Catch to the Draft Constitution?

Unfortunately, certain important recommendations have not found place in the final draft of the constitution. Batches with 120 students will not follow the one vote per person rule and each batch with a total of 120 students will account for 80 votes in the direct elections to the President and Vice President. Though this convention has been accepted for the past two years on the premise of equity, it creates a situation of grave inequality, which should have ideally been addressed. By overlooking this issue, the hierarchy of batches seems to solidify its grounding. Curiously, no amendment for the same was raised by any of the batches.

What will happen in the event that the Draft Constitution fails to pass the referendum?

For the past three years, we have been following the Transition Constitution. Since the same has now expired, the Constitution formulated in the year 2005 will kick in.

The important provisions of the 2005 SBC Constitution that are different from the Draft Constitution:

  1. Indirect elections to the post of President.
  2. A five-member Executive Council and no gendered representation in the posts of General and Joint Secretaries.
  3. No provision for section-wise representation in 120-strength batches.
  4. Impeachment of Executive Council members only by SBC members and no provision for impeachment of batch representatives.
  5. Amendment Powers conferred only on the SBC and not the Student Body.

 In Conclusion

Your vote today matters! You get to decide the legal framework that governs NALSAR for the foreseeable future! I implore you to carefully consider the implication of your vote, not just with regards to the transient benefits you and your batch-mates might accrue, but with regards to the future batches to come. History is decided by those who turn up.

Stuti Shah (Batch of 2018)

 

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