Delhi High Court Examines the Language Barrier in CLAT: Calls for Inclusion of Regional Languages in Entrance Exam

Delhi High Court Examines the Language Barrier in CLAT: Calls for Inclusion of Regional Languages in Entrance Exam

 The Delhi High Court has directed the consortium of National Law Universities to explain why entrance examinations for medical and engineering courses can be conducted in regional languages while the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), which is currently conducted in English, cannot be conducted in regional languages. The court has given the consortium four weeks to respond to a petition that seeks to conduct the CLAT-2024 not only in English but also in regional languages.

During the hearing, Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad highlighted that experts are already translating papers for other exams like NEET into regional languages, and questioned why the CLAT papers cannot be translated as well. They pointed out that if medical education and entrance exams for MBBS and JEE can be conducted in Hindi, there should be no obstacle in conducting the CLAT in regional languages. They also mentioned that even the All India Bar Examination (AIBE) is conducted in Hindi.

The consortium's counsel responded by stating that they were not opposing the plea and were in agreement that the examination should be conducted in languages other than English. However, they expressed the need for linguistic experts with legal knowledge to ensure the accuracy of the translations.

The Public Interest Litigation, filed by Sudhanshu Pathak, a law student at Delhi University, argued that the CLAT (UG) examination discriminates against students whose educational backgrounds are rooted in regional languages and fails to provide them with a level playing field.

Senior advocate Jayant Mehta, representing the petitioner, emphasized the urgency of receiving a reply from the consortium in a timely manner. He expressed concern that if the matter is not heard promptly, the consortium may argue that they do not have enough time to translate the English paper into other regional languages before the scheduled examination at the end of this year.

Acknowledging the validity of Mehta's concerns, the bench granted the Consortium of National Law Universities four weeks to submit a response. The bench scheduled the matter for further hearing on July 7.

The petitioner, represented by lawyers Akash Vajpai and Sakshi Raghav, argued that students from non-English language backgrounds face linguistic disadvantages in hyper-competitive exams. They have to overcome the additional hurdle of learning and mastering a new language. In contrast, students from English-medium schools have an advantage over their peers from schools that operate in Hindi or other regional languages. The petitioner contended that underprivileged and disempowered aspirants cannot consider an exam conducted solely in English as "obvious," unlike their privileged, English-speaking counterparts.

Bhagwan Swarup Shukla, standing counsel for the central government, mentioned that the NEET examination for admission to MBBS courses and the JEE examination for engineering colleges and IITs are also conducted in several regional languages. He requested time to seek instructions on the matter, and the court granted him four weeks.

The counsel for the consortium stated that they are a society with newly inducted members. He informed the court about the committee responsible for language matters related to the CLAT examination. This committee will also decide on conducting the exam in other regional languages as per Schedule 8 of the Constitution. The counsel mentioned that the committee has a meeting scheduled for Saturday to discuss the issue.

The counsel representing the Bar Council of India (BCI) clarified that while they do not conduct the CLAT examination, they do conduct the All India Bar Examination (AIBE), which is held in most regional languages.

Previously, the high court had issued notices to and sought responses from the Consortium of National Law Universities, BCI, and the Ministry of Education through the Centre regarding the petition.

The petition highlighted that the New Education Policy, 2020, and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, advocate for the use of the mother tongue as the medium of instruction in schools and higher education institutions.

It expressed concern that the exclusive use of English as the medium for CLAT (UG) deprives a significant portion of students, who have studied in their regional or native languages, from the opportunity to pursue a 5-year LLB course.

The CLAT-2024 examination is scheduled to take place in December 2023.

The petition seeks the issuance of an appropriate writ or direction to conduct CLAT-2024 not only in English but also in all other regional languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. It argues that the practice of conducting CLAT (UG) exclusively in English is arbitrary, discriminatory, and violates Articles 14 and 29(2) of the Constitution.

The plea refers to a recent survey conducted by the IDIA Trust (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to legal education), which indicates that over 95 percent of the surveyed students come from schools where English is the medium of instruction at both the secondary and higher secondary levels.

The petition further states that this figure has remained consistent with the results of a survey conducted in 2013-14, where 96.77 percent of the surveyed students came from English medium backgrounds, suggesting that proficiency in the English language continues to be a significant factor in gaining admission to top NLUs in the country.