[Published on 17 March 2011]
The laggard National Law Universities
It has been almost six years since the enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2005. While everybody from villagers to journalists to politicians to bloggers have been using the RTI Act to bust open scams and enforce their rights, the law schools seems to have missed out entirely on the RTI revolution.
Forget being a part of the RTI revolutions, several of the elite national law universities do not even comply with the basic requirements of the RTI Act, in terms of having their websites displaying the required information under the RTI Act. See here.
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But then again, the national law universities have been at the forefront of the institutional hypocrisy, leaders of not practicing what they preach.
Law students and the RTI revolution
Well, it’s time to change this perception, it’s time for the law students to take their rightful place in the RTI revolution. While the potential of the RTI Act is unlimited, the challenge I believe lies in designing RTI campaigns, which not only expose scams and corrupt practices but also enrich the process of legal education.
Following are three illustrative examples of how the RTI Act can be harnessed for the purposes of enriching legal education:
(a) Getting an insight into environmental clearances: I don’t know about most of you but when I studied environmental law in one of the national law schools, it was an infinitely boring experience which focused only on theory with almost no insight into the actual workings of the law on the ground.
There is however a remedy to this in the RTI Act. Let me elaborate.
We’ve all read reams and reams of the thousands of rules and regulations under the Environmental Protection Act but how much do we know of what exactly transpired in the Vedanta, Posco deals? Why is Jairam Ramesh being so erratic in granting and cancelling environmental clearance? Want the answers?
Just file a RTI with the Ministry of Environment asking for a photocopy of the relevant files pertaining to the clearances. Just imagine an entire government file on environmental clearances as a part of your reading material!
Of course it fattens your reading material but probably for the first time you will have an insight into the mysterious ways in which the Central Government works.
Also, you’ll hold them the government to task; a fantastic opportunity which a democracy affords to its citizens. Democracy coupled wit access to information results in infocracy and infocracy disrupts corruption.
(b) Getting funds for legal-aid societies: In an inspiring speech at NUJS earlier this year, which was covered by Legally India, Prof. Madhav Menon exhorted legal aid societies to audit both the National Legal Services Authority & the State Legal Service Authorities.
Apparently these authorities are supposed to be releasing funds for legal aid actions but are simply not doing so. With the right kind of information in their hands, through the RTI route, the legal aid societies can campaign for the release of more funds for legal aid societies.
(c)Minimum wages & Social Justice: Coming back to the hypocrisy of the National Law Schools. The most obvious burning issue is the lack of minimum wages for the housekeeping, hostel and security staff of these law schools.
For institutions which are constantly preaching their commitment to social justice, while of course teaching labour laws, it is unacceptable that they continue to blatantly flout the minimum requirements of social justice.
The only way to rectify the situation is to get out information through the RTI route and publish the same widely in a bid to shame these law schools to rectify the situation.
The writer is an alumnus of NLSIU Bangalore.