This statement is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, iPleaders
Recently NUJS uploaded a notification on their website. Here is the text of the same:
After this, at iPleaders, we have been flooded with queries from existing students of online courses of NUJS (in excess of 3000) about what is happening. It has become impossible to deal with each query individually despite answering calls day and night, and even concerned parents of students are calling us up as NUJS does not respond to any calls. Hence we are forced to issue this statement.
Our role is that we are the service provider to NUJS for all of its current online courses. After students make payment on NUJS website and take enrollment, they are serviced by iPleaders (technology, content access, customer services). iPleaders also markets the courses. NUJS plays a role in approving study material, assessing the assignments and conducting exams (using iPleaders’ technology infrastructure) and issues certificates. These courses have been running smoothly since 2012 and over 4000 students have finished their courses so far, received certificates and have gone on to achieve success in their careers. If you want a sample of who these people have been, check here.
Approximately 15% of NUJS annual budget comes from these courses. So it has been very successful for NUJS as well. Apart from money, they got accolades for the same too – SILF (Society of Indian Law Firms) gave an award to NUJS for reaching out to a wide section of the society through online courses and India Today mentioned the same in an article. From secretary level IAS officers, CEOs and MDs and Supreme Court lawyers and even acting judges, many luminaries took these courses managed by us on behalf of NUJS.
While it is true that we played a significant role in conceptualizing these courses and bringing industry experts to teach in these courses, it was always clear that these are NUJS courses where iPleaders is a technology and service provider. Since NUJS did not want to make any investment in creating or running these courses, iPleaders was paid on a per enrolled student basis. Out of the money received, iPleaders is expected to bear all costs of running the course.
However, recently there was an administration change at NUJS. Retired Justice Mr. Amit Talukdar has been appointed as acting VC at NUJS from April 7. Since then, we have not received our due payments from NUJS. Any course completion certificates that were to be issued since then, even if signed by course coordinator, registrar, etc. were not signed by him so they could not be sent to the students. Those students who finished their courses in March, April or May continue to wait for their certificates. And we continue to run courses bearing all expenses from our own pockets for ongoing batches since we cannot shut down courses that are running and students are studying. Also, we believed that this is a temporary issue arising out of a new VC taking charge, and will soon be sorted.
We requested for meetings, appointments, wrote emails, made calls – but they were not even acknowledged. We continued to wait. Sometimes in June, we heard that Academic Council, led by the VC, has heard an objection related to distance courses offered at NUJS and have taken some decision to stop new admissions. We tried to approach the university, but the professors who agreed to speak with us such as Acting Registrar Sarfaraz Ahmed Khan (who since then resigned from that post), Prof. Anirban Mazumdar (Professor in charge of School of Distance and Mass Education at NUJS), Asst. Prof. Vaneeta Patnaik (Course Coordinator), Asst. Prof. Sujata Roy (Course Coordinator for Diploma and Certificate Courses) informed us that there is some decision taken by Academic Council and we will be informed in due course about what to do. We received no communication from NUJS thereafter. We continued to write emails, make calls and try to get appointments. Abhyuday Agarwal, COO of iPleaders, visited Kolkata and tried to meet the VC, and was unsuccessful.
The new Acting Registrar told Abhyuday that she has just taken charges and will see what to do. Abhyuday requested the Registrar that an opportunity for a hearing be provided before taking any adverse action. She said that she had not applied her mind to the matter as of then, and said she would consider the matter in due course. Abhyuday also furnished her a clarificatory statement explaining the extraordinary performance of the courses, which she received. Abhyuday also approached the Vice-Chancellor’s PA, Urmi Majumdar, who promised that she would fix an appointment with him after the vacations are over and let him know so that he could travel to Kolkata. Abhyuday followed up but was not provided with an appointment.
After this, since NUJS wasn’t paying us for several months, it severely affected our finances. We had to let go of close to 10 valuable team members. We decided to keep the courses running no matter what, even if that meant working late into the night and one person doing the job that normally 3 people do. Not only that, most team members took a pay cut to keep iPleaders running. For a couple of months, we could pay ourselves only 40% of our normal salaries, and co-founders including I decided to go without any remuneration indefinitely until the situation improves. We even received insolvency notices from aggrieved vendors whose payments were delayed but managed to pay those dues in one way or another and continued our journey. We also continued our other businesses (iPleaders blog, LawSikho courses that do not involve NUJS) and managed to survive as a venture so far. We were close to giving up, but we were not willing to give up on the students and that kept us going.
Nonetheless, the situation at NUJS has crippled us financially but made us realise that the work we do must continue, and preferably without the involvement of universities. We are doing exactly that. You would see us working on even more cutting-edge legal education without universities going forward. However, let me get back to the NUJS issue.
While NUJS has not clearly said anything to us or anyone else about what would happen to the past and ongoing batches of various online courses, we got a taste of what may happen last week. We found out that during an exam for medical laws distance course at NUJS (not an online course, not related to iPleaders in any way, but offered by NUJS), students who came to write the exam in NUJS from different places in India were turned away from exam hall stating that all courses are suspended. We heard this when we began our enquiry after seeing the notification on NUJS website. Some of those students told me, when I contacted them, that they are approaching the court against NUJS.
After this, I have received calls from various students who are anxious about the payment made to NUJS and their career plans being jeopardized. A few of them even accused me or iPleaders of cheating them. I understand their anger. After all, they talk to us as customer service providers regularly and identify us with the course. Also, some of them saw our marketing before buying the course. However, it is important to understand that we never anticipated that administration of a government university, that too a law university, will take such arbitrary actions without any explanation, prior intimation or information. And nothing changes the fact that we provided services on behalf of NUJS, for all of NUJS online courses, that NUJS launched and we serviced. As a vendor, our powers are very limited if the University engages in patently illegal and arbitrary actions.
At the end of the day, all students have enrolled with NUJS in courses announced by NUJS, on NUJS website and made all payment to NUJS. Many of them even finished their courses according to NUJS syllabus, and are waiting for their certificate. Others have done some assessments or appeared in exams which were set, checked and marked by NUJS faculty members. There is no way NUJS can deny you of your rights to finish the course. Most of you are lawyers, and I don’t need to explain that to you. However, you may have to take some actions to enforce your rights as when a government body fails to respect your rights, that is the recourse you are left with as you may have realised as all your calls and emails went without any answer over last 3 days.
iPleaders has served a legal notice and will initiate litigation as well as proceed with arbitration for violation of our contract with NUJS and to recover our dues.
Many of you asked us in Whatsapp groups if iPleaders can file a case against NUJS for violating your rights. We do not have legal standing (locus standi) to represent students’ case in a court of law directly, so they must do so themselves. We will, of course, point out these illegalities when we approach courts to protect our interests under the law.
NUJS has certain responsibilities in connection with the courses under our contract, and we will pray to the Courts that NUJS continues to do so for students who are already studying the courses. However, students approaching a court directly with respect to education promised by a University will stand a superior chance than a private party enforcing a contract.
We are putting out this statement as we have been contacted by media persons and many students. Some have come to the conclusion that we must have done something wrong based on inadequate information. It is important for transparency that you know the situation, especially when the University authority has been vague and strangely silent. Many of you were counting on us for to solve this deadlock, but our powers in this situations are nil except for sharing this information so that you can take any action you deem fit if you wish to. I have spent countless hours already answering questions and phone calls from upset students, many of them told us that they expect us to inform them about such debacle more proactively and I hope that putting out this statement will help the situation.
Here is the final mail we wrote the VC after we came to know of the 27th June notice on NUJS website.
If you cannot read it, here is the text:
This afternoon we received a mail from Manab Ghosh, of SDME NUJS containing an instruction to the website manager of the university suspending admissions to online courses by NUJS. An order signed by Academic Registrar was shared with us. So far we have received no communication from you regarding this. This is in violation of MoU signed between Intelligent Legal Risk Management Solutions LLP and NUJS, signed by Vice Chancellor and Registrar.
We have requested many times over the last month (see my emails dated 21st May 2018, 23rd May 2018 and subsequent follow-ups on 25th May 2018 and 29th May 2018) for a meeting with the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar to clarify things especially regarding a proposed violation of the legally binding contract. Also, the Vice-Chancellor has repeatedly refused to release our dues under the contract in an arbitrary manner in violation of the contract and natural justice without offering any explanation whatsoever, even after the payment order was signed by the head of SDME and Registrar for reasons only known to the Vice Chancellor.
In light of significant investment made for running these courses as per MoU, we are suffering irreparable loss. We were hoping that an amicable solution may be reached, but the University has refused to engage with us in any discussions whatsoever. Our requests for appointments were not answered and meetings were not granted. Our repeated emails to the VC and Registrar were not even acknowledged.
Currently, there are over 3000 students enrolled in various online courses. The authorities have not considered their interests in this matter either.
It is rather easy to close this chapter by terminating the MoU and following relevant provisions for termination, which the University has not attempted to follow, but for some inexplicable reasons only you may explain, you have chosen to put the careers of 3000 students whose fees you have received and used towards running of the university, in jeopardy, apart from causing irreparable loss by refusing to pay us for the last 2 months. You have not signed the certificates of students who finished their courses either, and they are waiting for over 3 months without any intimation or explanation.
This leaves us no choice but to invoke arbitration under the MoU as well as move to the courts of justice to seek the resolution of the current stalemate, by
- obtaining an injunction against the applicability of your decision to stop admissions without following contractual provisions of providing notice,
- payment of outstanding dues with interest
- payment of damages for the losses caused to us by stopping admissions without such notice
- any further reliefs as seen fit by the court or arbitral tribunal, as deemed fit.
In the interest of justice and transparency, we would also inform the entire student community about your despicable lack of responsibility and insensitive treatment that you have meted out to them. If you have any objection to this, please let us know by end of the day, failing which we will have no choice but to inform them that they should contact the university directly.
For the time being, we will continue to serve the students as we do not wish to breach the contractual provisions of MoU as we have continued to do so far.
We would still be happy to put an end to this situation in a mutually acceptable manner. Please feel free to reply to this mail if you would like to discuss a way forward without us having to knock the doors of justice and without further tarnishing the name of the University or our reputed organization, which may happen when 3000 students of online courses are afraid about the fate of courses they have enrolled into, studied for or finished as per prescribed syllabus.
As I would like to remind you, the students are enrolled with you (i.e. the University), and we are mere service providers. By not paying us our dues and breaching the MoU, you are harming those students as well as the reputation of the University, which can have even more serious repercussions for the University.
Intelligent Legal Risk Management Solutions LLP
For those who are interested in more details, I am adding the entire story of how these courses came to be and what happened so far in greater details below.
At the end, I am also adding a suggested way forward, and providing contact details of responsible professors and administrative officials at NUJS. You can ascertain the facts provided here and take the actions that you deem to be fit.
How we started courses with NUJS
When I was in law school, I was a good student. I had topped the law entrance (2nd topper, actually). I didn’t want to be ordinary. I believed I was special. My dream was to become a successful, amazing corporate lawyer.
I wanted to learn beyond what was there in the textbook. I wanted something that will really prepare me for my life ahead as a corporate lawyer. Maybe reading all the big fat textbooks in the library will do it? Maybe the secret is to win some moots? Maybe I just had to get the right internships? Maybe I should just read the pink newspapers like everybody says?
I did all those things. Quite successfully. But then I was dissatisfied. I didn’t find something that would really teach me how to become a good corporate lawyer. Reading the big fat Mulla and Mulla didn’t teach me how to draft a single commercial contract for which a lawyer can get paid a fat sum. I read the Companies Act, yes I really did. I still couldn’t make head or tail of corporate governance. I didn’t know anything about how all these play out in the real world.
I didn’t get what I was looking for, but I was studying at a top law school, had the right CV and marks, and I knew stuff. So I got multiple offers on the Day Zero of recruitment. I had a job that paid close to 1 Lakh per month even before I started my final year. I graduated.
When I went on to work for one of the best law firms in India, I discovered that people really struggle through the process of joining a law firm, learning on the job, adapting to the work culture, delivering on the clock – all at the same time. It is a very hard process. A large number of lawyers drop out in less than a year. There are a lot of other lawyers who never make it because they do not get a good senior who is willing to train them.
Abhyuday Agarwal (my Co-founder) and I thought that there must be a better way of creating powerful lawyers in India! Something was clearly missing. The hallowed law schools are really not doing their job it seemed! They teach statutes and case laws. Some of them claim to teach the law students to think like a lawyer but hardly any of them do that.
Most students who manage to do well have mostly their own contacts, or have their own effort or serendipity to thank for. I wanted to change that. I wanted to create a systematic way to learn practical aspects of the law, from the best in the practice, without jargons and deadwood legalese. Something that will set people on the path to excellence as a lawyer, a program that will help them to hit the ground running as they graduate and join a practice. What if we can create a system – where we can train them to be extraordinary business lawyers? What if we made an equivalent of a business law gym? What would it look like? What will it take?
We wanted to simplify legal learning to the extent that even a high school student should be able to understand it. Somehow, that really appealed to me – that we are working on a project that will one day enable crores of Indians to understand the laws that govern their life without having to break their head to make sense of every sentence. That is what propelled us to create the iPleaders Blog (now used by over 50 lakh people in a year), and courses on subjects like RTI and FIR.
Also, while I was in law school, I noticed that there are many non-lawyers who want to learn the law. Managers, CEOs, Directors, NGO workers – people can be empowered through legal training.
That, and the intent to create a new generation of powerful lawyers in India. These are the things that not only inspired us back then but still keep us going.
It has been over 7 years since we began. Even earlier, back in 2010, we took that question seriously. What if we have a 1-year curriculum to teach business laws – what can we teach in 1 year to set people on the path of becoming extraordinary business lawyers? We went and talked to people from the industry and asked them exactly that. We went and spoke to retired judges, we spoke to partners and associates of law firms. We consulted investors, bankers, litigators about what we should teach young lawyers and law students.
To be honest, many of the people we asked were either blank or pessimistic. One well-known Supreme Court lawyer almost threw me out of her chamber because she felt we are doing a disservice by trying to create shortcuts.
We were indomitable. We found our champions, we convinced them, we got them to form an industry-academia panel and to volunteer their time. Then we went and met Prof. M.P. Singh, at that time the VC of NUJS, and we convinced him to start a course for lawyers and entrepreneurs together. We convinced him and a full strength faculty meeting that such a course will bring glory to NUJS. And that was how we started our first online course, Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws.
Over the next 6 years, this course brought us many accolades. Prof. Ishwara Bhat, the new VC of NUJS who replaced Prof. MP Singh, was touched when while on summer vacation, he met a girl from Dharwad Law College, who did our course and then got a job at a Mumbai law firm. She told Prof. Bhat how the course made the impossible possible for her (she left the law firm in a while though, and now teaches at an NLU herself)! Prof. Bhat was impressed. He called us and told us to expand online courses at NUJS. Encouraged by his support, we launched a battery of certificate courses over the next few years. We also enabled NUJS to launch the MA in Business Laws course, with the goal of giving a solid competition to NLSIU Bangalore MBL course which is very popular.
We were successful beyond our wildest dreams. But NUJS had to stop the degree course due to some abrupt changes in rules by UGC. In order to offer a Degree course online, ideally, NUJS should get a NAAC accreditation which till date eludes the University because it never applied.
The diploma courses and certificate courses were continued. There are 3 MA in Business Law course batches running too. In all, there are over 3000 students in these batches currently studying. The revenue from these courses contributes to over 15% of the annual budget of NUJS as of last financial year.
What is the way forward we see
At iPleaders we have resolved to not work with NUJS going forward given the extreme uncertainty, not only our own but also that of future of students, that we have experienced despite the past 6-years’ relationship (so far we received not a single complaint from NUJS about our services, and no termination or notice whatsoever). As soon as the current deadlock is resolved, we will like to serve the notice period under our agreement and wrap up.
However, any student who took admission before such time, we will continue to serve even if NUJS doesn’t pay us. This is out of our belief that we must do everything in our power to make the situation for students as easy as possible.
However, students will need to take some concrete actions to ensure that NUJS continues to perform its share of the duties – such as evaluation of assessments and issuance of certificates to students who pass the exams. We would definitely represent student interest with NUJS wherever possible, but in the changed circumstances, as a vendor, our ability to do so in perhaps limited.
There is no stopping of any assessments or exams in any courses. These have been launched in accordance with a course calendar prepared for the academic year for the courses, prior to the suspension notification. Everything is going on as per declared schedule. Whatever may be the vague or unclear stand of NUJS, they have not so far stopped any courses, nor informed us to stop any activities. They didn’t ask us to stop new admissions either, which we stopped on our own volition so that new students who may join do not get into this deadlock.
I believe that with time more clarity will emerge, especially since many students have told me that they are planning to file writ petitions in their respective cities. Once such petitions are filed, NUJS will have to take a clear and coherent stance in the courts. There can be no justification for stopping an ongoing course or refusing to issue certificates to a student who already finished a course. Hence, it is likely that now or later NUJS will make the right decision, or be ordered by Hon’ble courts to correct their actions and not jeopardize the students.
However, the problem of commons may occur here. Some students are waiting for others to take actions. Hence, there is a risk that nobody may end up taking expedient action in the wait for others. We have to wait and watch on that front.
Some students have also started an online petition but I am quite doubtful about the final outcome of such efforts given that students of various online courses are not well connected with each other.
We are listing some pointers that may enhance the effectiveness of students’ action:
- Students must send a communication or notice to the university staff mentioning their student ID, the course name and mention that they are performing/ have completed the requirements of their course. It is not necessary to coordinate for everyone, you can do this for your own self.
- The notice or communication must demand that the University must perform its responsibility in connection with the course. This is important because judicial forums may inquire as to whether you have approached the University first or not before entertaining the matter. This action will substantiate your claim that you have already demanded performance of NUJS’ responsibilities which has not been done by the University.
- If the university refuses to respond like it has done in the past, I see no option but to knock the door of justice as you may deem fit.
NUJS is our own alma mater and has been of support to us in the past, and we do not intend to promote litigation against the University. However, you must take your decision to protect your interests and enforce your rights, in light of the fact that you have spent large sums of money and much time and effort on these courses, especially since we would be unable to help you much here if the current administration at the University continues to refuse to see reason.
Important contact details
Since iPleaders is not able to help you with queries related to this so-called suspension order, as we have been told nothing by NUJS authorities, the best we can do is provide you direct contact details of those in charge of relevant offices at NUJS.
If you want to reach me, please call me on 8377972123 (Ramanuj Mukherjee).
Vice Chancellor: [email protected]
Registrar: [email protected]
Assistant Registrar: Anupama Ghoshal: her phone numbers and email ids are provided on her NUJS profile page.
Prof Anirban Mazumdar, Professor in charge of SDME – email id provided on NUJS website.
Vaneeta Patnaik, Course Coordinator, MA in Business Law courses – [email protected]
NUJS Landline: (+91)33-2335 7379 /0765/2806 /2809/2811/2812