Prof. (Dr.) Bhavani Prasad Panda has had over three decades of experience in teaching and administration; starting as Principal at NBM Law College in Vishakhapatnam, Utkal University Cuttack, Professor at WB National University of Juridical Sciences, as Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Law at Berhampur University, and now as the Founder Vice Chancellor of the prestigious Maharashtra National Law University (MNLU) Mumbai. Under his stewardship, MNLU Mumbai within a short span stands out as a bright star in the galaxy of law schools in the country. For his contribution to academic scholarship and to the development of Indian legal profession, the Society of Indian Law Firms and the Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy Training, awarded him with the prestigious professional distinction of Prof. N. R. Madhava Menon Best Law Teacher Award-2016.
In this interview we talk about the new developments at MNLU Mumbai, shifting of campus from TISS to CETTM, Powai, its mission of social inclusion and about the well-needed advice for CLAT preparers.
- First of all congratulations on securing a new campus for MNLU Mumbai at CETTM-MTNL, Powai. What change will this development bring for MNLU Mumbai?
MNLU Mumbai kick started its academic program in August 2015 at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai Campus with the kind and active support of Professor S Parasuraman, Director, TISS, and availed the advantage of being within the premises of an established and acclaimed institute of the nation. Among the facilities, MNLU Mumbai had the opportunity of availing the TISS Library and Reading room, seminar and conference halls, canteen and dining services, and support from the students, researchers, teachers and staff of TISS. This institutional support for a new university has been a great gesture for incubating MNLU Mumbai on the part of TISS authorities. MNLU Mumbai heartily acknowledges the cherished seat of commencement of the university. The arrangement between TISS and MNLU Mumbai has been very cordial and the available space was falling short for the expanding needs of MNLU Mumbai. Hon’ble Chief Minister of Maharashtra Shri Devendra Fadnavis, has been kind enough to suggest the relocation of the MNLU Mumbai campus to CETTM MTNL facilities at Powai. Accordingly, the relocation of the campus has been planned.
To answer the question, first of all, it need be noted that the CETTM is the abbreviation of Centre for Excellence in Telecom Technology and Management, a flagship visualised at one time under MTNL; it is an integrated state of the art campus with fully equipped residential facilities for the students and guest faculties. This temporary relocation at CETTM campus will fulfil one of the prime essentials of national law university system of legal education i.e., the residential arrangement for the students. The students are supposed to be open and available to the 24X7 learning process.
The facilities after relocation will provide us an opportunity for more integrated and intensive academic schedule and enable maximisation of the teaching and learning scheme. Concomitant clinical and outreach activities can be customised and undertaken. Ideally, more exchange programs can be planned. The students are eager to host certain moot-court competitions, hold seminars and conferences so as to expose themselves to the challenges surrounding their academic skills and organisational abilities. The new campus of MNLU Mumbai will give a little edge on things for more collaborative programs at the same time to grow independently. The students and teachers will find more space and time for academic and curricular experiments, respectively.
- One of the missions of the University is to bring to the frontline the students who have been staying behind within the brackets of reserved category? What is being done by the University in this regard? Moreover, considering the high fee structure of NLU’s including MNLU Mumbai; do you think that the actual deserving candidates from this section can be given a chance?
MNLU Mumbai is under a mandate to contribute its best to the social justice goals of the State of Maharashtra and of course of the nation too. MNLU Mumbai makes an adequate provision to provide 50% of its assigned seats to students coming from reserved category. For all deserving students, the university works for facilitating through various schemes of concessions. University takes active follow-up and remedial tutorials for bringing the students to the required standards of the law school. The University has been constantly considering and redefining methods in courses, curriculum, pedagogy, internship arrangement for the advantage of such students. It has been a very encouraging experience so far that all such students who gained admissions through the reservation, are steadily improving and have shown promising results.
- We have seen that the cream of MNLU Mumbai i.e. the students, are making their presence felt at a lot of prestigious competitions. Where do you see MNLU Mumbai in future in these competitions?
It is good that the students are participating in various competitions. Let me tell you, the participating students are not essentially the so called cream or best, but the mandate is the group of participating students have to be essentially inclusive. Again, we do not allow our students to reel under any stress of a competition, but it should be all pleasant exercise, hard work and cooperative participation and exhibit the best of one’s own talent. We believe in perfection rather than competition. We believe in excellence within our best of capacity. I see students are quickly learning to excel and are working with a zeal and joy, which has been more fulfilling to me.
- There has always been a craze attached to Delhi and Mumbai. Now, this NLU at the Financial Capital of India; will the location aspect impact the placements for your students?
Mumbai being the financial capital of India, MNLU Mumbai has its own location advantages and disadvantages. It is a very expensive city for the faculty, staff and students. The State Government has been incurring a huge cost in terms of capital expenses with regard to hiring of the University building and residential facilities. Whatever fees collected from the students is insufficient to self-sustain the university unless state support comes forth.
With regard to placements, there is a distinct location advantage. I see the legal professionals, the courts and the litigants at the dispute, are all more disciplined and exhibit high regard to the principles of ‘rule of law’ with an ardour. The acclaimed law firms also operate on more professional zeal. There is a lot of scope for para-legal services. The legal professionals in Mumbai are all with a discrete culture and tradition for which Mumbai is proud of. This provides an ample opportunity to the MNLU Mumbai students to get acclimatised to the requisite culture and skills necessary to their placement aspirations. MNLU Mumbai has been inventing curricular methods so as to expose the students to Mumbai specialities of legal skills.
- In CLAT 2016, we saw MNLU Mumbai take a huge leap ahead of its peers. Any forecast for the CLAT 2017?
MNLU Mumbai is determined to continue its good work without any expectations, and it is premature for setting targets and claiming honours. It is for the students to make a choice and contribute the best and make the university reach the apex.
- A lot of new NLUs have opened up since MNLU Mumbai. Do you think this will again lead to lowering the competition and thus affecting the quality for which an NLU stands for? Also, why MNLU Mumbai is distinctive from the other sister universities?
MNLU Mumbai will not be in competition at any time as the set agenda is huge and much beyond any competition; hence a lot of homework is still pending before we wish to look up anywhere. It is a welcome sign that more institutions have come up, let no institution sacrifice quality due to competition. We know that “we have miles to go….”.
- Any development on the permanent campus of MNLU Mumbai?
Maharashtra Government has allotted 60 acres of land for MNLU Mumbai at Gorai, Mumbai sub-urban city, near the State Judicial Academy. The state is exploring the best dimension of the land around the place.
- Any piece of advice for CLAT preparers?
Any learning is a response to the calling of inner enthusiasm which can be called as ‘insatiable desire to learn’. Scholarship in law is not only learning but, a noble vocation in itself. The pressing need of legal education is to contribute to the quality of justice. The modern society is grappling with issues of rule of law and social justice wherein client is invented. The aspirants should opt for the course provided they are confident that they would sustain the changing legal professional dynamics and take pleasure in contributing to the making of a constitutionally determined society. Study of law has become an expanding regime and choices are many.
My best wishes to all the CLAT aspirants.
The interview was taken by Isha Gandhi, Managing Director of Lawlex.