INTERVIEW: Dr. Neeti Shikha, Head, Centre for Insolvency and Bankruptcy, IICA Tells Us About her LLM Experience, Foray Into Acads, and More

Dr. Neeti Sikha Interview

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on March 7, 2019

Please introduce yourself to our readers:

I am Dr. Neeti Shikha. I am currently working as Head, Centre for Insolvency and Bankruptcy at the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs. I have completed my LLB from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi and LLM from University College London, UK.

I have done my PhD from National Law University Jodhpur.

Your background:

I hail from Patna, Bihar. I did my education from Notre Dame Academy, Patna. Whatever I am today, I owe it to all my teachers.

I grew up in a very liberal environment. My mother retired from Bihar Education Services. My father retired as a university professor. Coming from a family of teachers, ethics and value systems were given the highest priority in our growing up days.

For our parents, it was okay to fail but not to cheat. We were taught to work hard and speak truthfully. This value system was also inculcated in our school.

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Please tell us about your college (undergraduate) experience.

During my undergraduate studies, I was lucky to have great teachers who mentored us beyond the textbooks. I was an avid mooter and I state with great pride that we had a wonderful team that won several moot accolades.

I personally won over 10 best mooters/researchers award in the various national and state-level moot competition, including the Bar Council of India moot.

During my law school days, I was interested in mooting. I also got introduced to policy discourse through seminars at the Centre for Civil Society. I regard my involvement with CCS as one of the most rewarding experiences as a youth.

What about your LLM Experience at University College London?

I rate my LLM days as the best days of my life. University College London is a premier law university. I remember I had declined several options to study at UCL.

I had great teachers such as Dan Prentice, Arad Reisberg, Graham Penn, John Lowry, and Ian Fletcher. These professors are authorities in their given field.

My first source of inspiration to become a teacher came from my LLM days, from these wonderful teachers. The diversity within the lecture hall as well as outside enriched our learning experience.

My biggest motivation to join UCL was the prominent list of alumni that included Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, and many others.

UCL was truly a global university and had a great set of faculty. Being in London had its own advantages. I could attend many events and seminars in the city. The Alumni community of UCL is very globally very active and it helped during my stay in London, Singapore and even now in India.

When I joined academia, I found that there is one set of people who rate foreign education with high regard. There is also a group that finds it overrated.

I firmly believe that it is important to have a foreign exposure and if possible, a learning experience. The level of commitment of teachers, the level of education and standard of ethics is extremely high. One learns to interact with the international community.

Foreign education makes one educationally explorative and culturally rich. The Indian education system needs serious thinking. At the same time, I do not appreciate the culture of elitism that prevails in academia by those who hold a foreign degree.

Was academics your natural choice?

Let me acknowledge at the onset that joining academics was not my natural choice. I come from a family of teachers. I had seen highs and lows of a teacher’s life. I grew up with the understanding that money should never be the motivation for a job and at the same time, I was aware of financial hardships that a teacher may face.

I started my career at OSC Exports which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Clifford Chance, UK. I received initial training at the Clifford Chance UK and at OSC, we did high-quality corporate work related to international transactions.

But after my LLM, when I returned to Patna, I took up teaching at Chanakya National Law University in order to keep myself relevant and engaged. Soon within 6 months, I received an opportunity to teach in Singapore. And I never looked back!

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My father. My father is a great professor, a wonderful parent, and a great human being. He was a great researcher but could not pursue his research dreams due to financial constraints.

Growing up with him, I realise the importance of empathy in a teacher.

Tell us about your journey of completing a PhD from NLU Jodhpur. 

I was lucky to have Prof Umakanth Varottil as my external supervisor for my PhD. His work on corporate governance is commendable and I, like Eklavya, of Mahabharat, with all my belief and faith in him, followed his work and advice. I regard Prof.

Umakanth greater than Guru Drona, for he is ready to impart his wisdom and knowledge to one and all, irrespective of the person being from a top law school or not, irrespective of whether the person works under him directly or not.

PhD is more of a self-learning journey. It requires firm commitment and discipline. My advice to PhD scholars would be to stay disciplined and stay in touch with the research community.

I reckon I presented my PhD work at the ASLI Conference at NUS Singapore, at India Finance conference at IIM Bangalore and IIM Ahmedabad, and at the SUSCON conference at IIM Shillong. The critical comments received from peers helped me strengthen my work. So, be open to discussion and embrace criticism to strengthen your work.

You’ve been a professor at IMT Ghaziabad and SLS Noida. What did you like the most about your job as a professor? What did you not like?

I loved my tenure at both the institutes. As you would know, IMT Ghaziabad is among India’s top ten institutes. Symbiosis is also very reputed. I learned tremendously at both the institutes.

Personally, I feel that access to research grants for professors is more in business schools. Also, the teaching load is less. This gives professors more time to research. Further, most of the B-Schools acknowledge quality research and the output is more industry-relevant. There are more consulting opportunities too.

I have taught at IIM Rohtak and Fore School of Management also and I take guest lectures at Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi. I thoroughly enjoy interacting with MBA students.

I like teaching at law schools but there is less scope for innovation. Lawyers are generally very purist by nature.

Recently, one of my students from NLU Jodhpur who is now a lawyer in a leading law firm in Singapore visited me. I asked her what she liked most about my lectures. She said she enjoyed my tutorials in the library and newspaper reading sessions the most.

Well, that I could do at NLU Jodhpur because our vice-chancellor Justice N N Mathur was extremely supportive and allowed us to innovate with our teaching pedagogy. But most of the institutions do not let you do that! We have somehow killed creativity in children by following “one size fits all approach.”

Tell us about the ‘Repeal Laws’ project by Centre for Civil Society (CCS) and your role in it.

The Centre of Civil Society initiated the Repeal Laws project in 2014 with the 100 Laws Compendium. We aimed to identify laws that could be repealed on by virtue of being redundant, having been superseded, or posing an impediment to growth, development, governance, and freedom.

I joined this project as the National Coordinator in the year 2017. Over the past two years, we have helped develop compendiums for 12 states in partnership with several law schools across India, with close to 400 laws being recommended for repeal. We worked with leading law schools including NLSIU Bangalore, MNLU, Maharashtra, SLS Noida, HNLU, NALSAR, GNLU, Jammu University.

I aim to cover all the states by the year 2020.

The project received immense support from Shri Hemant K Batra, who is India’s leading lawyer. He agreed to involve his law firm Kaden Borris Partners, to vet these reports on a completely pro bono basis.

The vetting of these laws is a challenging task as sometimes laws are so old that even bare act for these are not easily available. But Kaden Borris has shown immense commitment. The success of the project is owed to the students, the institutes and the KDB. On behalf of CCS, we deeply acknowledge their support.

Dr. Neeti Sikha Interview

You’ve recently joined as the Head, Centre for Insolvency and Bankruptcy at IICA. What are your plans for this role?

With the enactment of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code in 2016, India has been in the process of creating a robust framework for insolvency. The reforms have made valuable gains since 2016.

As a first, the Centre has been established as the apex institution for learnings in the insolvency framework through best practices in the educational sphere. The Centre will offer a Graduate Insolvency Programme that is recognised by the IBBI.

The route forward shall lie in building insolvency practitioners who are equipped with the best tools that India has to offer, backed with high-quality policy teams, which will carry this program forward on various fronts. It aims to enable these young professionals to reach their greatest potential in the nascent field of Insolvency and Bankruptcy.

What is so unique about the Graduate Insolvency Programme?

This course is the outcome of rigours put by multiple stakeholders who have done intense discussions and deliberations with the industry not just in India but also outside.

They have tried to prepare an intense course work that has equal weight of experiential learning as the classroom teaching for an insolvency professional. This programme is homegrown but has all the elements to make one a truly global professional.

The level of planning, from 40 thousand sq feet vision to a micro detailing of each of the lecture delivery and the training elements is exceptional. I have been involved with various institutes and in several course planning but this one is truly remarkable.

Most importantly, the commitment to give the best and not settle for anything less is what makes the course so unique.

Any final advice for young people?

Young people, these days are full of energy and ambition. The new generation is also very tech-savvy and fast learners. But I see one thing that is missing in them is the habit of reading. Online sources can never substitute books. They must read good books. They must put more hours in reading.

Secondly, always stay in the company of peers who inspire you. Ask your teachers the right questions. A teacher is as good as his student. Only when students ask good questions does a teacher grow and last but not the least, respect your peers and your teachers.

The Internet age has bridged the communication barrier between teachers and students. Students can interact with their teachers even on twitter. In such, unrestricted space, there is a tendency to flow with emotion.

Both teachers, as well as students, must learn to celebrate dissent and dissent must be ‘dignified dissent.’

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