If there is a time on campus for togetherness, celebrating one’s cultural being and sharing in unique traditions, it is the vibrant Fest. We delight in the colourful exuberance of the Awadh Magadh and Rajasthani fests, gorge on the scrumptious food at Southie fest, spiritedly shake a leg during Lohri fest and marvel at the warm extravagance of Telugu fest. This year, after a long decade, we will also celebrate the distinctive cultures of Odisha, West Bengal and Bangladesh during the East fest.
Our variegated cultural fests are important. They help us remember our language, food and arts. They connect us into communities that transcend state borders on account of some past history or shared traditions. They offer a small opportunity to understand each other. Lastly, and perhaps most important for the NALSAR student body, fests allow for a pleasant break from the everyday routine of classes, project submissions, moot prep and NALSAR specific extra-curricular activities.
The Replication of Cultural Hegemonies
Over my past four years at law school, I have witnessed warm hospitality and the wholehearted zeal of all fests to represent their respective cultures. However, despite the sincerity to represent culture, it appears that there is little collective self-reflection on the ‘culture’ that is being sought to be represented. A large proportion of the student body in NALSAR belongs to the privileged urban, cosmopolitan, upper-caste and middle class strata of Indian Hindu society. Resultantly, the cultures that regional fests seek to represent also encompass only the monolithic and homogenous worldviews of this strata’s understanding of a region’s ‘culture’. There is little to no representation of the region’s communities that belong to a different ethnicity, religion, class, geographical space or caste in the culture that is showcased. From the choice of music and decor to the dishes on the menu, the erasure of the vast diversities in arts, architecture, music, traditions, food and festivals in a regional fest is apparent. In failing to reflect on the cultural hegemonies we replicate in our fests, we marginalise the voices and unique cultural heritage of our fellow members in the student body who do not belong to this dominant strata, and miss out on an opportunity to learn about the traditions of communities we cohabit with, and depend on.
Paying Lip-Service to Diversity
In the past, I have made attempts to bring light to this issue in fests that I have participated in, or in conversations with batchmates participating in their respective fests. The overwhelming response (apart from one notable exception) is a lip-service acknowledgment of the importance of diversity, which places the entire burden of suggesting (and organising) the representation of otherwise marginalised cultures of the region on my shoulders, whereas the issue of diversity is (and ought to be) a concern of the fest’s entire community. This response, however, is at least preferable to outrightly being told that a suggested rural folk song for the dance segment ‘did not have the beats for which we could possibly choreograph dance steps’!
An Apathy to Learn (and therefore Respect)
The second common response I have encountered is that one simply does not know any culture other than their urban, middle class, upper caste culture to be able to represent diversity. What is worrisome about this response is an abject apathy to seek to understand and provide platforms for cultures other than one’s own. Even within NALSAR, there are members in the student body who do not belong to the dominant strata. What prevents us from creating spaces where they feel welcome to help us learn about their cultures? Here it is also important to caution against cultural appropriation, and bear in mind that the possibilities of respectfully showcasing a minority culture (with the consent of the concerned student body members) can be explored without objectification or claiming ownership.
The ‘Logistics’ Argument
The third and last response I have received is the argument of ‘logistical problems’. Ironically, this response is usually reflexively argued without much thought to the logistics needed to showcase a minority culture. Furthermore, this response fails to adequately consider workable solutions to the ubiquitous and cryptic ‘logistical problems’ that inevitably arise even in the representation of the dominant culture.
Owning our Mistakes and Moving Foward
Despite being a student body that often professes the value of diversity and invokes the issue of cultural hegemony, our own record in pursuing the ideals we enunciate is patchy at best. It is my earnest hope that henceforth all cultural fests in NALSAR will meaningfully self-reflect on the ‘culture’ they seek to represent and make genuine attempts at showcasing the diverse cultures of their regions.
– Srujana Bej (Batch of 2019)
With the release of the election notification for the Student Bar Council (SBC) 2018-19, the student body must seriously begin considering which candidates it wants to elect for the academic year. As with any other election in NALSAR, the cult of personality, regional politics and ‘hostel’ politics (a convenient term to gloss over blatant sexism) continue to rule the roost. Candidates and interest groups usually plead the defence of the need to play dirty politics in order to be able to do good work upon being elected. But should the electorate fall for such glib?
Optics Triumphs over Real Diversity
Criticisms of the Executive Council and the Student Bar Council not accurately representing the demographics of the student body has led to the phenomenon of the politics of optics. In this politics of optics, candidates’ affiliates arrange for the token representation of ‘diversity’. The problem with this ‘diversity’ is that it does not truly embody the principle of diversity. The space for identities is carved out not so much after a consideration of the inherent benefits in having multiple perspectives on the SBC but for the narrow and consequential reason of shielding oneself from the criticism of floating a homogenous body.
Furthermore, this ‘diversity’ is curiously restricted to the identity of sex. Perhaps the prolonged demands for having a greater representation of women on the SBC has prompted the politics of optics to consider diversity in terms of sex. But other identities such as caste, class, religion, gender, sexuality and nationality are never worthy of consideration, even for this politics of optics. It is important to expand the notion of diversity on the SBC to include identities other than sex because individuals belonging to these identities, on account of being minorities, face difficulties in getting elected to the SBC – which as with any other democratic process relies on majoritarian support. Perhaps it is time to begin considering this need for diversity at the level of electing batch representatives itself by instituting reservation on the basis of these identities in the SBC.
Regional affiliations still loom large over the direct elections of batch representatives as well as in back-door negotiations regarding the posts in the Executive Council. It is difficult to understand why this is. One can only speculate that perhaps it is caused by xenophobic and sub-nationalistic fears of loss of power.
This is not to say that we ought to completely disregard the value of an equitable representation of different regions in our SBC. Regional affiliations carry cultural histories and there is immense value in carving the space for a plurality of cultures in the SBC. But the way in which regional affiliations have influenced SBC elections are more often than not antithetical to the idea of an equitable regional diversity in the SBC. As with the politics of optics, the influence of regional affiliations has little to do with the inherent value of diversity but more with narrow, immediate or consequentialist reasons such as votebanks. Furthermore, equitable regional diversity ought not to be restricted to the representation of North India and South India (largely restricted to the representation of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), but also the representation of regions that are not otherwise considered – for instance the North East, and countries outside India. Each batch consists of members that are foreign nationals and members of SAARC nations; however they are never considered when regional diversity is discussed. Furthemore, candidates who do not wish to affiliate with any region may find it difficult to successfully contest in the elections or for a post in the Executive Council.
The GH’s campaigning is no better than BH’s
For far too long, the women on this campus have struggled to find themselves represented in the SBC, even in years when they held the numerical majority. While it is widely accepted that the campaigning culture in the Boys’ Hostel (BH), at least at the first level, works on the basis that all residents must vote for a male student for the very reason that he is a male member of the student community, the Girls’ Hostel (GH) has massively failed in countering this culture. Campaigning in the Girls’ Hostel is also majorly based on the rhetoric of voting for a candidate for the very reason that she is a female member of the student community. Instead of challenging the sexist culture of campaigning and voting that is perpetuated by the BH through transforming elections discourse and propagating an alternative that is completely unrelated to markers of sex, the GH has largely replicated this culture. Through replication and responsive adaptation, the GH is perpetuating the very sexist culture it rallies against!
Unless the GH rejects the BH’s sexist culture of campaigning and creates a different discourse, it will not succeed. Furthermore, the GH needs to discard its myopic priority of only getting women candidates elected to the SBC and begin strategizing about making the day-to-day functioning of the SBC truly feminist.
The Power of the Cult Personality
Presidential elections, if not elections to other Executive posts, often operate on the cult of personality. With each V Year batch, it is widely known who is likely to nominate themselves as a candidate and who is likely to win, years in advance. This is because students groom themselves or are groomed by seniors to pursue Presidential ambitions years prior.
There is nothing wrong with having these ambitions or working towards them by understanding how the system works and by representing student interests in earlier years and then campaigning upon this evidence of ‘merit’. However, when that ambition translates into the creation of a cult personality, we must ask ourselves if something is amiss. Candidates who have created a cult of personality for themselves, keeping in mind the capitalisation of such personality during SBC elections, are often projected high above other candidates who may be just as competent, by disproportionately taking the credit of collective work done by past SBCs or by creating the investment of great expectations through hyperbolic illusions of their accomplishments and dedication to the interests of the student body.
By the cult of personality, they come to be regarded as the only ‘saviours’ of the SBC, begrudgingly even by their critics, and create such an illusion of indispensability that the student body’s collective imagination cannot fathom a SBC without them. (It is also imperative to consider which members of the student community are enabled to create the cult of personality on account of their gender and regional identities.)
One may very well argue that such candidates are well within their right to create the reputation they wish and that if the student body is gullible enough to fall into the trappings of cult personality, it deserves the candidates it gets. But what this argument fails to consider is that the cult of personality is created and can only be maintained by the Cult Personality’s constant real and symbolic appropriation of the power of the student body. The Cult Personality narcissistically and insidiously assumes for itself the power of the student body and actively perpetuates the politics of dependence. To maintain the support of the administration, the cult personality may also attempt to rob the student body of its power to initiate, protest and demand. Why must the student body demand, when the Cult Personality has promised to be the saviour and take up the issue? Why must not the student body feel indebted when the Cult Personality has seemingly achieved the impossible, but only really fulfilled what is constitutionally mandated and reasonably expected? The cult of personality perpetuates the illusory culture of power-worship and robs individuals of their power to challenge, question and reclaim. It prioritises symbolism over substance and completely overlooks moral and political principles and ideals.
Systemic change and power to the people have been achieved in the past not through the cult of personality but through the efforts of the collective public. The very election of a cult personality by the student body means that we have, ourselves, given up our power and vested it in one individual. Neither the SBC nor the Executive Council ought to be located in, or revolve around, one individual. Of course, the President is the representative of the student body and the SBC. But the President ought never to envelope the SBC nor decide for the student body its fate.
Reclaiming our Power
The problems with NALSAR elections are numerous, but not insurmountable. As much as we’re made to believe that this is how the system works, we need to keep reminding ourselves that we’ve accepted these problems with our complacency and internalised them.
Addressing these problems begins with the self-realisation that we hold the power to resist these tendencies, and can constantly strive to negate them through individual electoral choices and alternate collective mobilisation and campaigning. This election cycle – Resist. Reclaim your power. Exercise your agency.
– Srujana Bej (Batch of 2019)
The author would like to thank Amani Ponnaganti, Kumarjeet Ray and Priyamvadha Shivaji for their comments on the piece.
The Student Bar Council Constitution of 2017 entitled, for the first time in NALSAR’s history, the student body to a Presidential Debate. Earlier, campaigning occurred behind closed doors with no institutional open forum for candidates to explain their manifestos, which were restricted by diminutive word limits. The introduction of the Presidential Debate is aimed towards empowering the student body to make an informed choice. Thus, the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates that preceded the SBC 2017-18 elections attempted to level the playing field and offered the student body a chance to understand their leaders’ stands on important issues.
While this was a milestone in NALSAR’s electoral history, there is much that needs to be reformed in the conduct of the debates. We lay out a few proposals to help ensure that the text of the SBC Constitution achieves its purpose of addressing information asymmetries during the election cycle.
I. Time constraints on speeches
The Presidential Debate is a platform for each candidate to explain their vision for the SBC and make the case for why they are a suitable candidate in whom the student body should trust. Apart from outlining their vision, speeches should also include lessons from past experiences in the SBC (if any), reflections on the failings and shortcomings of the SBC and proposed plans of action. Given the breadth and gravity of issues that need to be covered, the paucity of time with respect to the speech should be among the last concerns for a candidate. First, each candidate should be given adequate time to share their vision and make their case. Perhaps, a maximum of 15 to 20 minutes could be allotted to each candidate. Second, candidates ought to be given prior information of the time limit for their speech, so that they may prepare accordingly. It would also be beneficial in the long run for the University to draft a set of rules that govern the format of the Debate. This would ensure that there is uniformity in the conduct of the Debate over the years and that time limits on speeches are not left to administrative discretion.
II. Outlining of manifestos by candidates
Although the student body has witnessed only one Debate and it is presumptuous to assume trends at this point, it is unfortunate to note that candidates contesting in the 2017-18 cycle used the platform to merely read through their manifestos and failed to make full use of the opportunity to explicate their ideas. Manifestos are circulated among the entire student body and there is no need for rehashing them in the speeches during the Debate. In their defence, the candidates contesting in the 2017-18 cycle were restricted by a short time limit. Given more time, the platform of the Debate would be better utilised if it were used to clarify candidates’ plan of action and set realistic expectations for achieving these goals. We hope that for the sake of a more constructive dialogue, contesting candidates in the future will use the platform of the Debate to offer explanations and critically engage with differing viewpoints or valid concerns.
III. Calling for an Unrestricted Question-and-Answer Session
Interference by the administration in the process of the Debate is an impediment to the very premise of it being an open forum for candidates to explain their visions to the student body. The administration’s imposition of a time constraint on the question-and-answer session after the Debate significantly hampers the free exchange of ideas and resolution of the student body’s doubts and apprehensions. It is worrisome that the time constraint may result in certain fundamental concerns being sidelined. Further, the time constraint may be strategically used by candidates to evade certain questions which might be difficult to answer. It may also be used by candidates to avoid taking stands on polarising issues.
Candidates also employ the tactic of planting questions. This may be done for the purpose of either highlighting certain latent credentials which might not be incorporated in the candidate’s speech or it may be used in conjunction with time constraints to eliminate certain questions by simply monopolizing the available time. However, this is easy for students to identify (thanks to multiple experiences with project presentations). Moreover, acknowledging this practice and negating its impact by doing away with time constraints would be a viable tradeoff for a more productive debate.
A possible way to go about the question-and-answer session would be to make it open to the entire student body and do away with time constraints entirely. This can be achieved by having the Electoral Officer put out an online open call for questions from the student body prior to and during the Debate. Questions may be filtered for redundancy, ad hominem attacks or unparliamentary language and common concerns can be combined into single questions. An open call for questions before the Debate would ensure that even those who are unable to attend the Debate may send their questions in and seek answers.
A transcript of the entire debate, including the question-and-answer session, can be circulated to the student body subsequently to inform students not present at the Debate. Further, a transcript would ensure that the Debate is on record and that every question has been tended to.
IV. Regulation by the administration
While a case for moderation, to an extent, in the Debate can be made; inarguably, the presence and interference of the administration is a hindrance to a candid discussion on issues. This leads to a tendency towards self-censorship by both the candidates as well as the student body, which in turn may lead to the sidelining of relevant issues. There is also a strong likelihood that the administration might underestimate the gravity of certain issues that the student body faces, owing to them not having lived those experiences. Consequently, these issues might not get adequate attention if there is interference by the administration by way of their discretionary regulation of the Debate and continuous presence. Therefore, we suggest that even the moderator of the Debate be bound by a set of uniform rules on conducting the Debate and the question-and-answer session.
V. Outlining the Language problem
The privilege of familiarity with the English language is still restricted to the domain of a student who comes from a specific class, caste and geographical background. The very fact that the Debate is required to be held in English may impede interested candidates from putting their names in the ring. Additionally, even among speakers of the English language, there is a higher value attached by the student body to a specific diction and style of oration, with some candidates possibly not being seriously considered for lacking class-determined ‘sophistication’. In doing so, the student body may possibly overlook substance for style. If candidates prefer speaking in the vernacular language, they ought to be given the opportunity to do so and translators can fill in the role of communicating candidates’ ideas and answers to questions from the student body.
The Presidential Debate plays an important role in informing the student body about candidates’ policies and stands on important issues. It offers a formal means of communication in a campaign framework largely built on informal whisper networks and covert dialogues by contesting candidates with reputation and regional affiliation often being deciding factors. It has a secondary influence on SBC agenda setting, insofar as the reception to certain ideas and models during the Debate helps elected candidates gauge and prioritise the most important concerns for the student body. However, in order to draw the benefits of the Debate, reforms in the conduct of the Debate need to be instituted. These reforms would include doing away with time constraints on speeches and the question-and-answer session, establishing uniform rules for the Debate, allowing for translators and having an open call for questions. Just as important is the willingness of the student body to participate in the Debate as active listeners and prompters of dialogue.
Srujana Bej (Batch of 2019) and Ayush Verma (Batch of 2022).
The authors would like to thank Amani Ponnaganti (Batch of 2019) for her comments on the piece.
How Committees Have Fared in Performing their Duties and Other Important Things the Student Body Ought to Know
Editors’ Note: We owe a huge thanks to all the SBC representatives and student auditors who spoke with us and took time out to respond to us. This piece would not have been possible without their cooperation and contributions.
The Student Bar Council (SBC) in the 2016-17 academic year comprised eight committees and a 7-member Executive Council, elected by the student body. With every election, SBC Committees come and go, often functioning laissez-faire, unless the activity facilitated involves high-stakes and constant student body scrutiny. Individual students tend to judge SBC Committees based on their immediate interactions with their representatives or by the memorable and visible initiatives undertaken by the committees. However, the opinions students form on the various committees tend to be based on insufficient information and assumptions. This is because there is no comprehensive account that aggregates and presents all the activities undertaken by each of the committees during the academic year.
There is a lack of oversight on whether these committees adequately fulfill the purposes for which they were set up. Conversely, there is little appreciation for committees when they go above and beyond their obligations, whether they be to encourage and facilitate student endeavours or ensure that student grievances are speedily addressed. There are also situations of asymmetry in the expectations that students have and the capabilities that committees possess. Administrative decisions, budgetary restraints, lack of adequate facilities and genuine personal issues may impede the performance of committees. Furthermore, a public record of the functioning of committees enables benchmarks to be established for the future.
Through this post, we hope to ensure some independent oversight over committees, address the information asymmetry that prevails and allow both appreciation and criticism of committees. Most importantly, we hope that this post provides the holistic information the student body needs to make a balanced and nuanced assessment of the various committees’ performances.
On July 13th, we reached out to the eight SBC Committees and all the members of the Executive Council via email requesting a comprehensive list of all the activities undertaken by them for the academic year of 2016-17. We also requested committees to send us their budgets and attach documentary proof for all expenses incurred. The following day, we clarified the purpose of the post to the committees and underscored its importance. We requested committees to send in their representations to us by July 25th so as to give us sufficient time to carry out independent fact checking. We also encouraged all committees to use this post as a platform to communicate to the student body the external restraints that impede their functioning. Furthermore, we consulted auditors to gather information on the finances of their respective committees.
It is important to note that neither the Academic Committee nor the Moot Court Committee can furnish budgetary proofs for reimbursements since these are submitted directly to the administration by the participant students. Nevertheless, the Academic Committee sent us photographs of certain receipts and thereby provided proof of expenses incurred. First, we laud the Committee for being the only one to account for certain budgetary allocations and expenses and provide documentary proof. Second, we contend that all committees ought to maintain a photographic record of receipts and expenses as a best practice for transparency and financial accountability.
In the interests of indicating the responsiveness of committees to student queries relating to transparency, we would like to point out that only the Sports Committee, Student Welfare Committee, Moot Court Committee and Academic Committee sent in their representations within a reasonable period of time. The Cultural Committee, Mess Committee and Hostel & Campus Welfare Committee neither replied to our email nor acknowledged its receipt. The Cultural Committee only responded in part. The Mess Committee did not make a representation. The Hostel and Campus Welfare Committee’s Convenor refused to participate in this process or contribute to the post. Therefore, the post falls short of providing more information than that which is present in the public domain with respect to the three committees. Further, the Literary and Debating Committee was unable to make a representation as it was awaiting the audit of the recently concluded Literary Festival.
Before we begin the discussion on the functioning of the Executive Council and the various committees, here is the 2016-17 President Yugal Jain’s advice to future SBCs. (We have paraphrased our conversation for the purpose of brevity.)
The President Reflects
Yugal characterises his time as President as a good experience overall. Although there were low points, he is happy that he was able to deliver on initiatives and help build a long-lasting framework for NALSAR through the institution of the Constitution Review Committee, the institution of the Hostel Rules Committee, increased funding for ADR competitions and lobbying with the administration to increase library resources.
According to Yugal, the role of the President of SBC requires one to strike a balance between the often competing demands of the administration and the student body. Yugal’s advice for future SBCs is that they publish minutes for all meetings in the interest of transparency and to make students aware of what the SBC is working towards. He particularly stressed on the importance of having a proper, long-term agenda. Often, firefighting and dealing with students’ personal issues took away from working towards long term goals and collective interests of the student body. He also cautioned the Executive Council to be accountable and sincere as from his time in the SBC, he found that it was easy to fudge SBC accounts. Upon being asked about transparency and accountability in his Executive Council, Yugal shared that he and Srimukundan (the Treasurer) wanted to release all the accounts publicly. He states that while they did push for it, the Conveners and auditors were not cooperative.
Yugal identifies the inadequacy of need-based scholarships as an important matter for the future SBCs to look into, particularly in light of the increased fees and larger number of incoming students every year. While attempts were made during his tenure to work with the administration to address this issue, no headway could be made. Thus, his advice for the future SBC is to re-examine the scholarship policy and revise certain aspects to suit the changing circumstances. Further, he stated that the policy ought to allow room for discretion in cases where the income availability of a student is only marginally above the scholarship’s eligibility criteria.
Another issue he identifies is the exclusivity of research centres in NALSAR, with the student body sometimes being unaware of their existence. He suggested that research centres be opened up to students through a more inclusive process rather than the current practice which often involves professors only telling those students whom they favour about particular projects and thereby restricting participation in projects to a close circle. To address these issues, he stated that the SBC could inform people about the Centres and highlight that there are other academic pursuits for students to channel their energies into, besides mooting.
Yugal also shared his views and experiences on making the campus more accessible to students with disabilities. During his tenure, the Executive Council had collaborated with IDIA Hyderabad Chapter to draft a short report on certain small changes that could be introduced in order to make an immense positive difference in the lives of students with disabilities. While the administration responded favourably at first, further discussions never materialised despite the SBC’s best efforts. He lamented that till date, the college has failed to provide a scanner for visually impaired students, despite it not being a very costly investment. He stressed that the needs and interests of disabled students are not prioritized.
Yugal also spoke about how the administration often makes decisions unilaterally without consulting students. While they might consult the President or another Executive Council member, he reasoned that this was not the same as consulting all the members of the student body and suggested that there is a need for a more deliberative process.
On a personal note, Yugal stated that he thought the exclusion of students from MBA and LL.M. courses in the organisation of or participation in fests and other activities was detrimental to the larger student interest.
I. The Executive Council
Members: Yugal Jain (President), Kunal Parashar (Vice President), Srimukundan R (Treasurer), Prabudh Singh (General Secretary Male), Renuka B (General Secretary Female), Aditya Sarkar (Joint Secretary Male), Enakshi Jha (Joint Secretary Female)
(Note: The Vice President resigned during his term. No explanation was offered to the student body for the resignation and no elections were conducted thereafter to fill the vacant post.)
- A Constitution Review Committee was constituted early in the academic year to ensure that the NALSAR student body had a permanent document governing its elected representatives. The Executive Council went beyond merely constituting the committee and the President ensured that it was actively working towards its goal. Last week, the new Constitution passed with an overwhelming majority voting in favour of it.
- In light of incidents of selective enforcement of the harsh punishments present in the Hostel Rules, the Executive Council entered into negotiations with the administration and formed a committee to review the Hostel Rules in order to make them more fair and reasonable.
- Another important accomplishment was the change of the mess contractor. Despite many previous SBCs working towards changing the mess contractor, it was finally achieved under this SBC.
- When the student body became aware of the tender for CCTV cameras to be placed on campus, the Executive Council expressed the spirited student resistance to the administration. It was agreed in an Open House that the CCTV cameras would only be installed after the student body drafted a policy concerning the same. A committee was set up in pursuance of this goal.
- With respect to medical facilities on campus, the Executive Council acquired a new ambulance for students to use in emergencies. The Executive Council also tried, through the Health Secretary, to improve health facilities on campus.
- The Executive Council worked with the administration to allocate a corpus for procuring new books for the library in a phased manner over the years
- Joining hands with the students administrations of NLSIU and NUJS, the SBC contributed to a joint manifesto urging the government to appoint a panel to assess the NLUs and consider them for the Institute of National Importance status.
- A substantial increase in funding for ADR activities from Rs. 2 lakhs to Rs. 8 lakhs was secured. This enabled students to participate in more ADR competitions, winning prizes both nationally and internationally.
- Lack of funds is a major issue plaguing the SBC and this was apparent even in the functioning of the Executive Council. The Executive Council pushed for a book bank where students could access books for mandatory subjects, but this was rejected by the administration due to lack of funds.
- Further, the SBC budget provides insufficient funds for Carpe Diem with only Rs. 2 lakhs allotted while expenses tend to be around Rs. 5 lakhs. This requires channeling unspent funds from other committees towards the event.
- Another issue is that, with respect to some initiatives, the Executive Council can only facilitate but student participation is necessary to ensure that the initiative is successful. For example, the Executive Council constituted a Standing Committee on Student Diversity comprising members of various under-represented groups of the NALSAR community. While one member of the committee took it upon themselves to organise a book donation initiative, the Committee as a whole was largely dormant.
- Time is very valuable and when on the Executive Council, much time is inevitably consumed in addressing short term problems. This makes it difficult to actualise long term solutions. The Executive Council wanted to establish an alumni association portal but couldn’t prioritize it.
- With respect to sexual harassment, the Executive Council found itself at a loss on how best to address the needs of the victim because it realised that it found itself lacking the training and resources to deal with the issue. In our society, it is only now that sexual harassment is being discussed widely and openly. There is much ground to cover on how to tackle the issue and ensure safety for everyone. Moreover, while administrative mechanisms for complaints regarding sexual harassment exist, there are no open resources are provided to the students to deal with the issue on the ground-level. Thus, the Executive Council could only provide support for victims who approached them and dealt with the issue on a case-by-case basis.
II. Academic Committee
Members: Aishwarya Joshi (Convenor), Eshwar R, Aayush Mallik, Abhijeet Singh Rawaley, Nishanth Vasanth Kumar, Aparajita Kaul, Rudra Deosthali
Auditors: Pranahita Srinivas, Balaji Subramaniam, Shivsaai Prasad
- The Academic Committee successfully secured an adequate budget to facilitate student activities, particularly national and international ADR competitions.
2016-17 Rs 8,04,300
2015-16 Rs 3, 25,000
2014-15 Rs 1,30,000
- Much of the Committee’s functioning related to ensuring the smooth functioning of academics everyday across batches. This primarily involved liasoning with teachers, tutors, the Examination Committee and library staff.
- The Committee made the case to the administration to allow students to receive a reasoned evaluation on projects.
- In October 2016, certain instances of course allocation were arbitrary. Therefore the Committee successfully lobbied for the process of course allocation to be transparent. Consequently, the Examination Committee now clearly specifies the criteria for course allocation when course details and registration calls are sent out at the beginning of the semester.
- The Committee proposed that the administration provide certain courses to the student body and some of these recommendations saw fruition.
- The Committee proposed the institution of a separate Clinic on non-binding ADR methods apart from Arbitration to the administration.
- The Committee successfully lobbied for the institution of an ADR Committee in the new Constitution so as to allow ADR activities to be given sufficient financial and institutional support.
- It also coordinated with the ADR Board to conduct ADR workshops and orientation sessions. Additionally, it provided the ADR Board with financial assistance, where necessary.
- The Committee instituted selection rounds for each of the three ADR formats. The Committee organised Selection rounds for mediation, client counselling and negotiation which saw the participation of 96, 24 and 81 students respectively.
- The Committee facilitated students’ participation in a number of competitions where NALSAR saw the maximum participation it has had in national and international ADR events, with students bagging some of the most coveted prizes. The ADR Board and student enthusiasm are to be lauded for this as well the Academic Committee’s efforts.
- Upon receiving requests from the student body, the Committee made a representation to the administration to have the end-semester examinations concluded before popular and widely celebrated festivals.
Issues faced by the Committee:
- Although the Committee attempted to propose changes to attendance requirements, the same could not be done due to the paucity of time required for extensive student body consultations. Therefore, it suggests that future Academic Committees take note of this.
- The biggest issue for the Academic Committee was the lack of transparency in NALSAR’s academic sphere. The Committee found that neither the Academic Regulations nor the policy were clear and, as a result, were being implemented inconsistently. Particularly, there is no specific definition or understanding for what qualifies as a “major illness” for the grant of medical exemption for exams.
- The Committee found itself overburdened with ADR-related activities as no administrative structure existed for ADR. Further, due to the high stakes involved for the student body in relation to ADR, there was more pressure on the Committee to perform these functions which took away from time that could be utilized towards core academic issues.
- Though a larger budget had been allotted to the Committee, significant hurdles were faced at the time of making requests for reimbursement of reallocated money. It is unreasonable to expect any Committee to provide for all competitions or expenses in the budget proposal as certain events are contingent on factors beyond the Committee’s control. This was not adequately reflected in the administration’s response at various instances.
- The disbursal of funds for various heads and maintenance of financial records is facilitated by the administration which is overburdened and not knowledgeable of student activities. Therefore, the Committee in certain instances found itself in a delay or having to re-clarify positions to the administration.
- The Committee finds that it is not able to develop adequate solutions at a consensus with the Examination Committee on issues such as the process of course selection and availability of electives.
- Lastly, the Committee faced the issue of attendance records being incorrect or not being published to the student body in a timely manner.
- The auditor stated that two GB meetings were held.
- According to the auditor, the committee did not pass on all receipts of expenses in a timely manner.
- The auditor did not find any unaccounted expenses, instances of conflict of interest, or disputes regarding reallocation.
III. Cultural Committee
Members: Arshiya Sharda (Convenor), Sanchita Aidasani, Mark Papang, Siddharth Sunil, Saumya Sharma, Arvind Kumar Tiwari, Kumarjeet Ray
Auditors: Sanchit Verma, Suyash Dhodawat
- The Cultural Committee’s mandate is to organise various cultural events throughout the year. This Cultural Committee ensured that at least one event or cultural activity was organised nearly every month.
- The Committee arranged celebrations for the festivals of Holi, Sankranti and Navratri. On Valentine’s Day and Friendship Day, the Committee organised a Secret Messenger Service, whereby students could send anonymous notes for their friends, batchmates and seniors.
- There were also number of events organised which allowed students to blow off steam and showcase their talents. These included an antakshari game, two DJ nights, an acoustic night, band performances, a NH7 Weekender band performance and a dance night.
- The Committee screened two movies throughout the year as well as screening the Federer-Nadal Final of Australian Open.
- A dance workshop was organised over one weekend.
- The committee facilitated participation in the NUJS fest Outlawed.
- Throughout the year, the Committee organised Themed Thursdays where students were encouraged to dress up on particulars themes such as Desi, Pop Culture, Retro and Twin Thursday.
(The Warbler has not received any information from the Committee on the issues it faced.)
- It appears that only one GB meeting was held by the Committee.
- According to the auditor, the need to pass on the receipts did not arise.
- The auditor further stated that there were no instances of conflict of interest, disputes regarding budget allocation or unaccounted expenses.
IV. Hostel & Campus Welfare Committee
Members: Arhant Madhyala (Convenor), Renuka B, Prabudh Singh, Pallavi Dehari, Ayush Mishra, Himanshu Joshi, Utkarsh Mittal
Auditor: Rohit Beerapalli
- The Hostel Committee introduced a complaint procedure for addressing day-to-day grievances.
- The Committee got the washing machines in both the boys and the girls hostels repaired several times. However, there were instances where the washing machines were found to be out of order for considerable lengths of time.
- The Committee had proposed plans to install refrigerators in the hostels and air fresheners in the washrooms. However, these proposals did not come to fruition due to the insufficiency of funds after meeting other obligations.
- A few GB meetings were called in the beginning of the academic year. However, the Committee had no choice but to cancel these GB meetings due to a complete absence of student turnout. The election of the auditor could only be conducted in the third GB meeting called for such purpose and even then, an extraordinary GB meeting had to be called due to lack of quorum. The absence of student turnout at GB meetings also resulted in a complete lack of discussion regarding the allocation of the Committee’s funds.
- The auditor was not provided with any receipts.
- The auditor is not aware of any conflict of interest or what could be considered as inappropriate spending or behaviour.
- The auditor did not find any unaccounted expenses.
- The auditor notes that leftover funds were reallocated to Carpe Diem.
V. Mess & Hospitality Committee
Members: Shubham Sharma (Convenor), PSS Bhargava, Amritam Anand, Ujwal Chowhan, Sachit Kapoor, Uma Mahesh Rathod
Auditors: Prakhar Nidhi Bhatnagar, Alok Prasanna Kumar
- The Mess Contractor was changed and the Mess Committee, as well as the Executive Council, were involved in lobbying and negotiations for the same.
- The Mess Committee coordinated with students organising fests and facilitated the serving of specialized menus.
- On request of student groups, the Mess Committee also arranged for snacks and tea/coffee to be served in the Academic Block.
- The Mess Committee tried to be responsive to student demands and communicated grievances to the Mess Contractor.
(The Warbler has not received any information from the Committee on the issues it faced.)
- The auditor was not aware of how many General Body Meetings had occurred, if any were.
- The auditor did not receive the receipts of expenses in a timely manner.
- The auditor found that there were no instances of conflict of interest, disputes regarding allocation or unaccounted expenses.
VI. Moot Court Committee
Members: Lavish Paliwal (Convenor), Lakshmi Dwivedi, Robin Sharma, Aashna Chowdary, Maitreyee Dixit, Yuvraj Rattan Mehra, Piyush Rathi
Auditors: TPS Harsha, Bhavini Singh, Angeline Benny
- The MCC organized the 10th edition of Justice Bodh Raj-Sawhny Memorial Moot Court Competition.
- The MCC conducted 15 Open Challenges for both international and national moots.
- Additionally, for the first time, the MCC opened the international moots – Asia Cup and Nelson Mandela Human Rights Moot Court Competition. Furthermore, despite not receiving funds for these moots, the MCC conducted internal selection rounds.
- The MCC made the whole scheme of allocation of funds for international moots accessible to the entire student body.
- Over its tenure, the MCC approached a set of firms for sponsorships and talks are ongoing. The same is being done under the leadership of Mr. Sourabh Bharti (Faculty Convener, MCC).
- The MCC was unable to fund all the international moots that the students were interested in. The Committee found that more members of the NALSAR student body were willing to participate in international moots and were performing exceedingly well. However, the Committee could not always encourage participation due to the lack of funds. Thus, the Committee advises future SBCs to provide greater funding for international moots.
- The MCC also found that there was a lack of quorum for GB meetings and the participation of students in the deliberation of important policies was sometimes dismal. For example, the Committee only received around 30 votes on the MCC policy across the 5 batches even though the vote was conducted online and did not require the students to be physically present.
Food for Thought:
- The student body could reflect on whether there may need to be an interview or some screening criteria for the eligibility of candidates who contest for MCC, as is the model in other law schools such as NLSIU, where representatives are selected rather than elected. This is because there is a fair amount of organisational work that needs to be performed by MCC representatives. Thus, certain specific skills (for example, communication skills) are sine qua non for the efficient functioning of the MCC.
- The auditor notes that four GB meetings were held, none of which satisfied the actual quorum requirement. The auditor could recall only two GB meetings where constructive dialogue occurred – the very first GB meeting and the GB meeting during which allocation policy was discussed.
- To the best of the auditor’s knowledge, the MCC strictly and meticulously followed the accountability policy.
- As stated in our methodology, the administration is responsible for reimbursing domestic and international moots after verifying the bills. Since the reimbursements are vetted by the administration, the auditor need not verify the same. Thus, the MCC auditor’s role is restricted to vetting open challenges and other moots conducted by the MCC.
- The auditor commented that, in the prevailing scheme, the task of MCC auditors has been limited to ensure that the Committee follows the allotment and re-allotment policy adopted in the GB meeting.
- The auditors did not find any unaccounted expenses or conflicts of interest. The auditor advises that a mechanism be instituted to report unaccounted expenses or conflicts of interests to the auditors.
- The auditor found that allocations adhered to established procedure.
VII. Sports Committee
Members: Pranjal Gupta (Convenor), Alby Joseph, Vishal Vishwas, Balaji Naik Azmeera, Avinash Reddy, Yash Bhagwat, Prateek Mogili.
Auditors: Kushal Garg, Shubham Patsariya
- One of the most important achievements for the Committee was participation in the NLS-NALSAR-NUJS trilateral series where NALSAR dominated the tournament by winning Cricket and Volleyball and finishing second in football.
- The committee organised a year long tournament under the name of NALSAR Sports League (NSL) in order to to improve sporting culture on campus and encourage more people to play sports. Sporting events across a wide range were organised by the committee including Arm Wrestling, Reflex Ball, Athletics, Cricket and Football.
- The Committee organised multiple inter-batch tournaments for Football, Cricket, Basketball, etc. and helped in organizing various sports events for Carpe Diem.
- A new 50 kg set of Home Gym was procured for the girls hostel gym. Other equipment was repaired regularly.
- The Committee went beyond providing facilities for mainstream sports and invested in games like Poker sets, Monodeal cards, Carrom Boards and Chess etc., broadening the idea of sports in NALSAR to meet the demands of students.
- According to the Committee, the biggest issue faced by it is the misuse of sports equipment by the student body. The Committee’s hands are tied up in this matter as this entirely depends on how students choose to respect that sports equipment are commons used by all.
- The Committee also faced instances where some equipment was not working properly, but its hands were tied due to a lack of funds.
- Though the Committee successfully lobbied with the administration to have a professional volleyball court built, the same did not come to fruition. The tender for the same had been released last semester, but due to a lack of interest from the student body the plan was tabled.
- Since there is a set idea of what extracurricular activities law students must participate in, the Committee found it difficult to be taken seriously by both the administration and the Executive Council on several instances, specifically in instances concerning the release of funds or reimbursement for student participation in inter-college sporting events.
- The Committee found that the administration and Executive Council only supported mainstream sports such as cricket and football, and were not too keen on providing support for other sports. Further, the Committee found that even the support for these mainstream sports was lacking.
- The Committee had to overcome significant hurdles in securing funds for the NLS-NALSAR-NUJS Trilateral Series as funds were not initially allocated for the same.
- A significant amount of money in the Sports Committee’s budget was allocated to Carpe Diem. Of such allocated amount only a portion was used for sporting events during Carpe Diem. The remaining amount was not allowed to be fully utilised in other sports activities and was channeled to other events for Carpe Diem.
- The auditors note that the Sports Committee held a GB meeting at the start of its term. During this GB meeting, auditors were elected by way of nomination. No vote was required since there were only two nominees. As an aside, the auditors stated that although the present Sports Committee only conducted one GB meeting and worked very efficiently throughout its term, this is not always the case. The auditors suggest that significant decisions such as reallocation of substantial amount of funds be taken by the general body. Citing the instance of reallocation of money from Invicta to the Trilateral Series, the auditors stated that although the decision to reallocate funds was bona fide and in the best interest of all the parties, such discretionary exercise of power opens up the possibility to misuse funds. Further, the auditors stressed that the GB meeting acts as a platform for suggestions and discussions, giving all students a chance to voice their grievances. The auditors also pointed out that GB meetings could allow MBA and LL.M students, who have little representation in SBC, to voice their concerns.
- According to the auditors, the committee passed on most, if not all, receipts of expenses in a timely manner.
- The auditors found no explicit instances of conflict of interest. However, the auditors stated that there are always undercurrents of such conflicts in the functioning of the committees since members of the Committees are themselves active stakeholders.
- The auditors stated that there were no unaccounted expenses. However, they were provided with kutcha bills on few occasions.
- The auditors did not find any instances of misappropriation of funds by the Committee.
- On the handling of SBC finances in general and not with respect to the Sports Committee, the auditors noted that under the present system it was relatively easy for a Committee to appropriate funds, if it chose to do so. Auditors do not exercise oversight over whether funds allocated are spent accordingly; they can only check the receipts of expenses but not the quality of products procured. The auditors urge the student body to reflect on this and devise adequate mechanisms to address the same.
VIII. Student Welfare Committee
Members: Yash Karunakaran (Convenor), Srimukundan R, Kunal Parashar, Yash Singhal, Abhay Raj Singh Bundela, Shrey Som, Nikhil Sharma
Auditors: Maitreyee Dixit, Kanwar Inder, Sahir Boppana
- The Committee made more food options available on campus by introducing new stalls which was a considerable achievement and took a great deal of effort.
- The Committee also facilitated the mentorship program as well as the anti-ragging redressal anonymous complaint Google Doc.
- The Committee arranged for Nalsar Tee’s to be sold to the student body.
- The Committee lobbied with the administration to provide a litigation stipend. However, there is much to be done in order to ensure that it is functional.
- The Committee also worked towards establishing an Alumni Database although this did not come to fruition.
- According to the Convener, most of the members of the committee failed to pull their weight and he had no choice but to do everything on his own.
- The Committee attempted to procure new cycles at the very beginning of its term. However, due to administrative delay and bureaucratic hurdles, the cycles never arrived.
- A major portion of the SWC budget went into funding Carpe Diem, leaving little for the Committee to work with.
- The SWC did not have free access to the funds allotted to them in the budget. The administration acted as a gatekeeper and prevented them from realising certain initiatives such as cooking lessons.
- The idea of the Student Venture fund was introduced. However, no policy could be established for its use.
- The auditor noted that only one GB meeting was successfully held; the turnout for any subsequent attempts were significantly low.
- The auditor found that receipts for the NALSAR T-Shirts were received on time and that the other expenses, which were related to Carpe Diem, were audited by the Treasurer of the Executive Council.
- The auditor found that there were no instances of conflict of interest, disputes regarding allocation or expenses that were unaccounted for.
- The auditor also stated that the administration thoroughly checked through the accounts. The auditor added that on some occasions, the SWC Convener contributed personal money to cover expenses.
With another election right around the corner, we hope this piece provides a realistic account of the space in which SBC functions, balancing committee capabilities with student expectations. Our intention with the piece is to equip the student body with information on the performance of committees and allow them to draw their own conclusions on what the threshold of performance for each committee ought to be in light of the issues it faces. However, we wish to flag certain issues that consistently plague the functioning of SBC committees – the lack of quorum for GB meetings, the reallocation of funds from committees for Carpe Diem and the lack of financial transparency and accountability. We also hope that this piece encourages students to collectively think about the processes in the SBC and the ways in which we can make it better. Further, the continued engagement of the student body, beyond just casting our vote, is crucial to ensure that the SBC is effective and efficient.
– Srujana Bej and Amani Ponnaganti (Batch of 2019)
EDIT: (9:58 PM, 03/10/17) Included information regarding the resignation of the Vice President and the subsequent vacancy of the post.
[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
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Indirect elections to the post of President.
- A five-member Executive Council and no gendered representation in the posts of General and Joint Secretaries.
- No provision for section-wise representation in 120-strength batches.
- Impeachment of Executive Council members only by SBC members and no provision for impeachment of batch representatives.
- Amendment Powers conferred only on the SBC and not the Student Body.
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)
The following infographics display the proportion of men to women in the Student Bar Council (SBC).
There has been a decreasing number of women in the recent batches of NALSAR students which may be related to the lesser representation.
The SBC has also grown since two sections were introduced instead of only one, with 40 members in 2014, 48 members in 2015 and 56 members in 2016.
Srujana Bej and Amani Ponnaganti (Batch of 2019)
Come July, it’s election time at NALSAR! SBC elections attract equal parts excitement and apathy. The student body has a good reason to grumble about its problems. Groups find their internal dynamics challenged and struggle to consolidate the diverging opinions within, while exclusive cliques realise that they are in the minority and find their prominence threatened. Otherwise marginalised or ignored batch-mates find themselves holding power and receiving attention. Candidates hold onto hope and NALSAR revels in the drama, entertainment and gossip. The apathetic have a good excuse for a holiday and remain unfazed by the commotion of elections. The first years, for all practical purposes, are on the outside looking in.
For the team at The Warbler, elections offer an excellent opportunity to discuss the problems with the election system and suggest reforms to remedy the flaws. In this article, we look into the elusive SBC Constitution, argue for better voting methods, highlight the subversive and unfair modes of campaigning and call for open campaigns and presidential debates.
The Curious Case of the SBC Constitution
2014 was a significant year for the NALSAR student body. A sense of change and a desire for empowerment culminated in the setting up of a review committee of the SBC Constitution and the heralding of a Draft Constitution. In July, a divided student body debated, proposed amendments, made impassioned speeches and, as is customary for any large NALSAR gathering, banged desks. Enthused first years sat cluelessly through the proceedings, enjoying the heightened atmosphere of debate. As Anindita Mukherjee, a member of the review committee from the batch of 2015, succinctly put on her blog: “Parts of the debate were truly insulting, parts were saddening, but what it did do is throw open the question of representational equity for the entire student body to consider, publicly.” The Draft Constitution was used in the interim that year, with a few agreed upon changes.
The Constitution was not finalised by the time the 2015 elections were upon us. An open house, with moderate attendance, decided to continue the Transition Constitution and the incoming first year batch of 120 was given 2/3rd votes to equalise its share with the older 80-strong batches.
Two years since the Draft Constitution was introduced, the Transition Constitution continues to be in effect for this year’s elections as well. We are left wondering if and when the Constitution will ever be finalised in earnest.
A Flawed Voting System
The current voting method NALSAR follows is assumed to be the best because anyone can contest in the elections and the person who enjoys the greatest number of votes among her peers wins. While this method, known as the plurality voting system, is commonly used around the world, it doesn’t stack up against improved voting methods which are more reflective of the voters’ will. Though political scientists remain divided on what the best voting method may be, they are fairly unanimous in the conclusion that the present system is far from it.
Several alternatives to the traditional “one person, one vote” plurality voting system exist, giving voters the ability to better represent their views at the ballot box. Approval and range voting methods are two such alternatives that have gained traction with institutions and organisations around the world.
Alternative Voting Methods
Approval voting is much like the traditional plurality voting method, with the only difference being that the voter can choose more than one candidate to vote for. Our voting preferences are rarely black and white. Approval voting recognises this and allows a voter to exercise her vote within the grey area. While we may not agree entirely with any one candidate’s views on every issue, we often find more than one candidate agreeable. Approval voting gives us the space to express our multidimensional stand, freed from the binary of agreeing entirely with one candidate while disagreeing entirely with all the others.
For example, a group of 7 students is trying to decide where to go to dinner. There are three options: Mama, A & O and Aadil. Each person is asked to pick one of the three options, even if they like more than one option equally or are indifferent towards the others. One student chooses Mama, four choose A & O and two choose Aadil. By traditional voting, the group would go to A & O. The problem is that three people strongly dislike A & O while many of those who voted for A & O also like Adil. Now consider if this group is simply asked to raise their hands for each eatery that they like. The result is that one chooses Mama, five choose A & O and six choose Aadil. The group would go to Aadil.
Instead of just asking each individual’s favourite, approval voting allows the group to find out which option the most number of people agree with, without having to go through multiple rounds of voting. Letting people vote for more than one option reduces conflict and increases consensus.
One of the advantages of approval voting is that it eliminates the “spoiler effect” – a phenomenon where a candidate who runs against someone with similar appeal may split her votes and cause her to lose, ultimately leading to the victory of a candidate who may be less favourable to the electorate. For example, if two friends want to run for a committee, one would probably be forced to step down because her participation could divide the vote of their mutual friends and ultimately, neither of them would secure the majority. Approval voting prevents the spoiler effect, allowing mutual friends to vote for both individuals.
Approval voting has other advantages. Firstly, it discourages negative campaigning, since it favours candidates with widespread support. Secondly, it can help reduce voter apathy. By giving the voter more choice, she is less likely to think that her vote will be wasted or inconsequential. Thirdly, it decreases the scope for strategic voting and makes it more difficult to game the election process. Fourthly, it can make the election process more meaningful and encourage more participation. Finally, approval voting is very simple to implement and requires no change in the current system.
Range voting is the method whereby each voter scores each candidate on a scale. If the group of students from our example were to use range voting to decide which eatery to go to, they would have to get out their pens and papers and score each eatery on a scale of 1 to 5. They would then calculate which eatery had the highest average score and go to that eatery. Range voting gives the voter even more control on the outcome by allowing her to express the extent of approval for each candidate. However, it requires a degree of sophistication in counting that may challenge its implementation.
Voting methods like instant runoff voting and the single transferrable vote are also popular among electoral reform organisations. However, given that approval voting is a simple and effective voting method which would prevent the spoiler effect and lead to the election of candidates whom the most number of people agree on, we endorse the use of approval voting for SBC elections.
We also propose the introduction of a ‘None of the Above Option’, as per the UGC notification issued in July, 2016.* Sometimes, SBC ballots are either left blank or have random names, phrases or plain gibberish written on them. While it may be easy to prima facie dismiss these sparse instances as acts of mischief, the truth is far from it. In reality, the voter is exercising is her right to express her choice to reject the running candidates. Unfortunately, without an option to express this right, voters are left to use other creative methods. To quote the Supreme Court, “Democracy is about choice. This choice can be better expressed by giving the voters an opportunity to verbalise themselves unreservedly and by imposing least restrictions on their ability to make such a choice.”
While the voting method is the part of the election process everyone is privy to, much goes on in the shadows which can have a significant impact on the election results.
Behind Closed Doors
The election process has two levels. Each batch elects representatives for the various committees. These elected representatives go on to choose the members of the Executive (Vice President, General Secretary, etc.) and the conveners of the various committees from within the elected pool. While this may seem democratic, the truth is that most, if not all, of the crucial decisions for the posts of the Executive and conveners are made behind closed doors in meetings between a handful of students from the higher batches (mostly men) on the basis of batch hierarchies, negotiations and favouritism. On the night before the elections, the candidates with the most probability of winning the elections are informed of these decisions and made to fall in line.
Having an approval voting method would make it more difficult to predict winners and manipulate elections. It would significantly inhibit the ability of a handful of students to make important decisions.
The Boys Hostel Hegemony
It is notable that the elections demonstrate a stark Boys Hostel/Girls Hostel divide. Given that most candidates standing in the elections are men, important decisions about the elections and the running of the SBC are made in the Boys Hostel.
The Girls Hostel does not have the same hierarchy-enforcement or inter batch solidarity that the Boys Hostel does. Election decisions of each batch in the Girls Hostel are largely independent of the views of the upper batches. In the Boys Hostel on the other hand, considerable influence is exerted by small number of students from the upper batches. This phenomenon is in part due to the strategic voting that takes place due to the single vote method. Approval voting greatly reduces the scope for such influence.
Though approval voting can help counter some problems that plague the SBC election system, it alone is not enough to address under the radar campaigning.
Covert and Unethical Campaigning
SBC elections involve little to no open campaigning. The administration believes that campaigning causes disruption and disturbance to the peace of the campus. Despite its intentions, the reality is that the lack of open campaigning encourages the opposite and covert campaigning becomes the norm. Gossip is the sine qua non of election season: candidates face smear campaigns and character assassination. In such an environment, manifestos do not determine elections, misinformation about candidates does. The cold hard truth is that elections can be won or lost based on lies. Candidates also dabble in identity-association and vote-bank politics. Often when a girl and a boy candidate contest for a committee, they seek votes based on their gender identity and not on meritorious grounds. People are made to feel obligated to vote based on gender identity. Though the entire student body does not participate in what is largely accepted as an ‘inevitable consequence’ of campaigning for elections, the bad blood changes dynamics within batches, often for the worse. Ad hominem attacks, usually false, biased or constructed, are rife. Rumours take a life of their own and there is no way to verify them. Harassment by batch-mates and calling in of favours make things worse. First years are the most susceptible to believing misinformation and this can have a significant effect on presidential election results.
Calling for Open Campaigns and Presidential Debates
Creating a space for candidates to campaign openly and engage with the NALSAR community, beyond the token manifesto sent to our inboxes, would help inform students about the different candidates and their positions on various important issues, reduce student apathy and increase participation. Manifestos cannot address all the concerns of the student body and rarely convey the long term vision or values of the candidates. An open forum for communicating campaign ideas beyond the pixels on our screens could counter the covert campaigning that has reigned supreme.
As it stands today, the election for president is a popularity contest. Students who may not have taken the time to cultivate the image of being approachable and friendly stand little chance in the election. With only one’s batch-mates voting for most posts, there is a certain degree of familiarity with each candidate. However, in the presidential election, this is not the case. Only a fifth year can become president and only one popular with juniors stands a chance at winning. Introducing presidential debates, where candidates can present their views to the student body, would allow little-known candidates a chance to connect with the NALSAR community. Arguably, qualities like oratory skills and charisma may give some an advantage in the debates and threaten to overshadow the quiet introvert with visionary ideas. We would counter that the student body has the good sense to tell the difference between showmanship and sincere dedication.
The platform offered by presidential debates would help even the playing field against those whose reputations might otherwise guarantee that they are elected. It is imperative that in these trying times, when a student protest can turn into a spectacle of a media trial, we know our leaders’ values and stands on important issues. Presidential debates would provide a means for students to ask questions and gauge the quality of each candidate.
While NALSAR has made progress towards making the SBC more equitable, there is still much to be desired to ensure that the election process is truly open and fair. The introduction of approval voting and a NOTA option are small, simple and easy to implement changes which could positively transform the election process. Making campaigning more open and instituting presidential debates would help the student body make informed choices and give lesser known students a real shot. By engaging with the election system and critically evaluating the processes behind it that we often take for granted, the NALSAR community has the power to organise and work towards making the SBC elections more democratic and inclusive. Here’s to hoping for a better method of voting, fairer elections and a more engaged community.
Srujana Bej and Amani Ponnaganti (Batch of 2019)
*EDIT: (6:29 PM, 20/07/16) Included information regarding the UGC notification after Dipankar Das of the batch of 2016 brought it to our attention. We appreciate reader input and would like to thank Dipankar.