Lord Hewart, the then Lord Chief Justice of England in the case of Rex v. Sussex Justices, gave the world the oft-quoted aphorism we all fall back to every once in a while - "Justice must not only be done, it must also be seen to have been done"
The conduction of NLAT today, with supposedly good intentions and nothing more than an below average usage of technology to catch the cheaters, gave a huge dent to the perception of fairness of the law entrance examinations, the narrative which was so carefully built up by the Consortium since November, 2019, when they finally made some syncing between the kind of students they wanted to study in the premier national law schools of the country and the kind of examination that should be prepared to let only such students in.
And yes, NLAT conduction today also brought back the scary memories of the conduction of CLAT 2018, which was marred by plethora of problems, including but certainly not limited to ill-conceived centres (with no ACs even in Comp Labs), unprepared invigilators (students knew more about the platform than them), pathetic platform with coding issues, 'saving of answers' issues and a lot lot more. Consortium had taken the onus of getting CLAT conducted smoothly right because of such issues and CLAT 2019, though an extremely easy and feel-good paper, was conducted in a smooth manner.
Let's get back to NLAT 2020, the examination which got controversial within the first hour of it going public. After two petitions in MP and Jharkhand High Court could not stop the examination from happening, the Supreme Court gave some ray of hope when they gave a green signal to the exam but asked to keep the result on hold till after the next hearing, which is now on September 16.
Issues with the conduction of NLAT today started within the first minute when the test began. To collate all issues, we created a Google Form and asked the students to report the kind of issues they faced with today's conduction of NLAT, which also included the instances of using UFM that they have come across and here is a summary of responses that they have reported (as of 5:30PM), broadly in decreasing order of the instances of such issues:
Non-Unfair Means (UFM) but equally unfair issues:
1. Verification Issues. In many cases, verification took as much as 45 minutes. In most cases, students are reporting that they got no extra time in lieu of time lost due to verification. In some cases, verification did not complete at all and thus, student could not write the paper.
2. The examination got submitted on its own well before the stipulated ending time. Surprisingly, this happened with a lot of candidates.
3. Getting multiple warnings that the mic is turned off when the students are sure it isn't.
4. Options weren't getting selected properly. Multiple clicks were required to get one option selected.
5. A few students reported that when they opened the portal, it showed that they have already completed the test.
6. Students repeatedly got the message of 'Audio proctoring not enabled' when they double checked that their audio was on.
7. Constant reminders of 'Face not detected' when the students were sitting right in front of the webcam.
8. The timer got stuck and suddenly started with very less time left.
9. A few students had to switch from mobile to laptop or vice versa due to various issues, which resulted in loss of time.
10. Login issues. Students weren't able to login using the credentials that they had got.
11.Website crash issues for a few candidates.
12. A few students reported that the slot message they got the night before and the one they got today was different from each other.
13. Even after submitting all genuine documents, verification of a few students failed, owing to which they could not write the exam at all.
14. Amidst all issues, students tried calling the helpline number. Mostly, it wasn't picked up and in some cases, the advice wasn't useful.
To top it all, here are the list of Unfair Means (UFM) issues:
15. Rampant using of calculator during the examination.
16. Mobile phones were easily accessible to candidates.
17. Questions and screenshots were being posted on a few Telegram groups in the middle of the examination.
18. Googling for answers either on a separate tab or on a separate device.
19. Using of HDMI cable to display the same screen on multiple devices.
20. Video analysis of the paper was being done on a few YouTube channels even without the paper being submitted of all students.
21. Disconnecting internet for a minute or two to search for answers.
22. In an Internet cafe, A (genuine student) had the camera facing towards him and pretended to write the exam where it was being written by B (proxy) on the PC on which the examination was actually being attempted. All that was required was a webcam with a long cord.
Furthermore, there are one off but equally grave instances like a PWD candidate who had to come close to the screen to read the question was repeatedly being sent a message of moving away from the screen or the website not getting loaded at all (for the entire duration of the examination). This is just the tip of the iceberg and the issues are continuously getting reported as we write this.
NLSIU, for the law aspirants, has been give god-like status, right alongside Sachin Tendulkar (or for me personally - Rahul Dravid), Roger Federer, Lionel Messi, Ayrton Senna and the list is endless, subjectively of-course. And it pains to see people and institutions falling off from this status. If the admission process of NLSIU is concluded on the basis of the mess that happened today, that the exactly what will happen!
September 16th. Fingers crossed!
Views are personal only
(Author is a Graduate from NLIU, Bhopal, Director of LegalEdge Tutorials and author of Complete CLAT Companion.)