The objective of this brief is to provide a comprehensive overview of the issue of domicile reservations in National Law Universities. It incorporates doctrinal research, critical analysis and qualitative insights to provide a contextually appropriate background resource material for those litigating and researching on this issue.
The public debate and legal developments around domicile reservations at National Law Universities raise crucial questions for the future of legal education. These questions include whether domicile quotas further the cause of increasing access to legal education; whether the beneficiaries stay back to work in their states; and, whether these quotas further constitutional values. This brief provides clarity about the complex implementation of domicile quota along with other vertical and horizontal quotas. It also recommends a way forward for NLUs, the State governments and the Union government.
This brief shows that while many NLUs implement SC/ST and OBC quotas on an All India basis, some accord these caste-based quotas solely to candidates domiciled in the State. At the same time, domicile reservation is implemented horizontally across caste categories in multiple NLUs while in some it is only applicable to those who are admitted through SC, ST, and OBC quotas. The constitutional scrutiny of these quotas shows that while domicile reservations have been upheld in many medical education cases, they are either justified on the basis of benefit to the State or the disadvantage (backwardness) of candidates belonging to remote regions within the State. This connects with the juridical status of National Law Universities. In this context, the concerns raised in the section on the national character of NLUs assume importance. They show that without the parliamentary recognition as an institution of national importance, NLUs would remain duty bound to implement UGC guidelines that in turn mandate implementation of reservation policies as notified by the State Government. Hence, the implementation of SC/ST quota on All India basis, as well as irregular implementation of OBC quota would need a resolution at the federal level.
In this light, the attempts by NLSIU governing bodies and the State Government to resolve the dispute after a short-lived Supreme Court appeal proceedings, are laudable. The NLSIU Inclusion and Expansion Plan 2021-2025 commits to implementation of a horizontal compartmentalised quota of 25% for students domiciled in Karnataka. In addition, it commits to implementing the mandated quota for Other Backward Classes, Persons with Disability as well as Economically Weaker Sections. While this addresses some concerns, larger policy issues pertaining to interaction between quotas and their proper implementation remains. These include- a) juridical status of NLUs; b) interaction between domicile quota and existing caste and gender-based quota policies; c) constitutional validity of domicile status as the sole criteria for identification of quota beneficiaries; and d) measures to ensure fulfilment of the purpose of domicile quotas.
With respect to the contestations around the juridical status of NLUs which are established through statutes passed by State legislatures, we recommend that their demands for parliamentary recognition as institutions of national importance should be considered. This would confer legal legitimacy to the prevailing practice of implementing SC/ST quota on the basis of All-India ranks. Alternatively, if this parliamentary recognition is not granted, the admission process under Common Law Admission Test should identify beneficiaries of the SC/ST quota solely from within the State where the NLU is located. In order to confer constitutional legitimacy to the policies for grant of domicile quotas, the eligibility requirements should incorporate a dimension of social and educational backwardness. This can be achieved through two means: a) candidates from backward and remote regions within a State and b) candidates who attended government schools in regional language medium, should be eligible for availing the domicile quota. Finally, we recommend that the State Governments should formulate a legal services fellowship scheme to supplement the domicile quota. Under this scheme, the students availing of the domicile quota would undertake to serve the state legal services authority and other public institutions mandated with legal aid and education, for a period of at least four years.
Read the full research brief here – Domicile Reservations in National Law Universities.