Prof. Bhavani Prasad Panda is the Vice-Chancellor of Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai. He graduated in LL.B from Lingaraj Law College, Berhampur, Orissa in 1979. Thereafter he went on to pursue higher studies in different disciplines of law.
Prior to his present designation Prof. BP Panda has held 16 other educational seats in various law institutes of India. He found his place as the Principal of NBM Law College, Professor of WBNUJS, Principal of Lingaraj Law College, Dean, Faculty of Legal Studies (BU), Chairman, Board of Studies Law, BU among others. He has numerous publications and has been an active member of different academic, executive and financial councils of various institutions till date.
In this interview we talk about –
- Studying Physics in his graduating years at SKCG College, Odisha.
- His journey through Behrampur University, Odisha – as a student and later as an academician
- Being the Vice-Chancellor of MNLU
- Case study of “Super-Cyclone”: a major research conducted in the aftermath of the 1999 disastrous cyclone in Odisha.
- Journey from Assistant Professor to Professor at WBNUJS
- Advise to the future legal academicians of India
Tell us about your educational background before college as well your graduation years at SKCG College, Odisha.
My early childhood education was conducted at the Government school of Paralakhemundi, Gajapati District, Odisha. Later on up to intermediate studies got educated at Visakha Tutorial College and at the very reputed Mrs. AVN College of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.
I studied graduation with physics honours from S K CG College, Paralakhemundi, Gajapati District, Odisha. and remained active in college politics during the emergency period of 1975-76. Failed to get good score at B.Sc (Hons.) consequently, also failed to get a seat in M.Sc Physics at the local University. And due to financial difficulties could not go to other universities to pursue Physics. Under ‘no way out’ situation joined LL.B. at Lingaraj Law College, Berhampur University with a lot of hesitation, reluctance and guilt. Nobody at the house appreciated my joining Law College. My family members expected that I should study science and get into a good job.
How did your interest gravitate towards law?
Adding to my ill mood for joining law, the law college was located in a shabby, dilapidated building in a hospital premises, reflecting a nauseate feeling of the surrounding. The college used to function from 7:00AM to 12 Noon with hardly 2 (two) professors on its roll. The whole environment at Law College was far from academics and my previous experience of educational institutions with best of institutional structure. However, in the damp atmosphere after resigning to my fate started attending classes, soon I got involved with legal education and also once again became active in college politics for obtaining better amenities, facilities, environment and making issue for increasing number of teachers to the college.
You completed your LL.B from Behrampur University, Odisha. Tell us about your law school journey.
Formerly, being a student of Physics there were many advantages like groomed to be analytical, logical, practical and disciplined. These learning habits when invested on legal education there were encouraging returns. The books of law, literature, political theory inspired me very much for getting seriously involved in legal education. Reading books of literature, and political science at the law college library was a rare opportunity for a physics student. Soon I realised that there is enough world beyond physics and science, and learning law and studying political science is more nearer to understand life, society and the state craft. Within few months at the Law College, it appeared that the Law College Library is a luxurious space that propelled the appetite for knowledge. Thrilled by the first lessons of law, jurisprudence, political theory started reading biographic of legal luminaries and political scientists. Pleasure of reading books doubled with reading of conceptual basis of the state, citizen and the law. This was a sort of self relishing, and purely a voluntary involvement. Developed unconsciously a habit that after reading a book, to search for someone and narrate what has been read, before reading another book. Soon created a circle where the political issues, jurisprudence were debated passionately. So also reported judgments were argued as if things happened there and the impacts can be many.
The legal education appeared to be the real subject and precisely for which I was meant. I felt tremendously satisfied that I was studying law. Often entered into debate that legal education and legal profession is meant far more responsible persons with flair in social work, statesmanship; and it is holistic scholarship with heritage of literature, politics, sociology, economics, history and skills of advocacy. But unfortunately in India pupil join to law when they find rejected elsewhere. Sometimes I was successful in convincing people with my arguments and sometimes I used to return to study more to logically establish my point.
To supplement the economic needs, part time tuition to school children up to +2 level were taken up and learned to be independent without bothering parents about finance, as many of the students in Odisha do.
We know you have been a consistent top scorer in all subjects. Tell us a bit about it.
At the end of the first year of Law, it came as surprise for scoring highest mark in four subjects out of six and got nominated as the best student of the law college. Teachers became friends and got opportunity to spend more time among teachers’ company. During the second year of LL.B, I started taking interest in teaching the first year students as and when the concerned teacher of the class remained absent. I always waited for the opportunity to teach in the classroom at junior class, and was accepted by friends for the purpose and started training colleagues for moot-court, other academic competitions as well as assisted friends for competitive examinations.
The inputs of labour to legal studies were hardly anything compared to studying physics at graduation level. From the remote distant of Berhampur, Odisha, the law college made it’s presence feel by bagging prizes in national moot-court competitions. At the end of 3 year LL.B studies, bagged all the gold medals meant for LL.B.
As a student of LL.B, with a mission to change the stigma to the prevalent legal education that is mired with mass-copy, last-option course, and things like that, I participated actively in college politics and got elected as President of the Students Union and achieved reformation in the examination system made it free from much tainted malpractice at Berhampur University. The State Government and the University Authorities were compelled to construct a new building with holistic infrastructure facilities for the Law College. The foundation stone was laid and accordingly a new building of the Law College was built, as a constituent College of Berhampur University, Odisha.
After the successful completion of your LLB degree, you obtained numerous other courses as well. Can you tell our readers about your timeline after Behrampur University?
I joined M.L at Andhra University College of Law in the year 1980, and after completion of the academic period of study, found it difficult to cope up with economic needs. Joined as a Commercial Executive in New Delhi, with M/s. Desein – Indure Group of Companies and got exposed to the industrial and commercial world in the country (1982-87).
During my period in Delhi, I obtained ‘Diploma on Corporate Laws and Secretarial Practices’, conducted by Indian Law Institute, New Delhi; (1982-83) and also studied M.A. in Politics at Andhra University by private appearance (1983-85). However, there prevailed an inner calling to get back to legal education/profession.
In the year 1987, with little struggle, I obtained the LL.M degree from Andhra University and decided to join litigations at Visakhapatnam, giving up the alluring job at Delhi, enrolled as an I advocate to practice at Visakhapatnam. More than the practice at the Court, the local Private Law College teaching assignments provided me satisfaction and I soon joined as the Principal of the NBM Law College.
While you were the Principal of NBM Law College, you had the opportunity of meeting Prof. Madhav Menon. Can you share your experience with our readers?
During those struggling (1988-94) years of making a quality Law College, I got the opportunity to meet Prof. N R Madhava Menon who practically provided a new orientation to the mission of life and the concern for legal education. In the refreshers course at NLSIU Bangalore, Prof. Menon gave all the participants a forum and provided an opportunity to interact with the legal luminaries of the country like Prof. Upendra Bakshi, Prof. N L Mitra, Prof. Ranbir Singh, Prof. B B Pande, Prof M P Singh, Prof. Chandrsekahran Pillai, Justice Krishna Iyer, Justice Hidayatullah, Justice Venkatachaliah, Advocate Ram Jethmalani, Advocate K K Venugopal, Advocate F S Nariman, Advocate Ranjit Mohanty and many others.
Professor Menon was perhaps least knowing that he was creating so many future Vice Chancellors like Balraj Chauhan, Gurjit Singh, B L Sharma, S K D Rao, B Nagraj, N K Chakraborty, V Hemalata, L Jaisree, Faizan Mustafa, including me.
We were all so fortunate to follow Prof. Menon both by letter and spirit. All of us value the learning at NLSIU, Bangalore which was of great help.
Later you enrolled for Ph.D working for “Adolescent Offenders” in 1990. Tell us about your experience.
I accomplished my Ph.D work in the year 1994. It was a total involvement for conducting research about adolescent offenders undergoing sentence at Visakhapatnam Borstal schools. I still feel the Borstal school system of reformation of adolescents up to the age of 23 is more mature and better system of institutionalisation and reformation compared with much acclaimed juvenile justice system. The country has not given free and fair opportunity to Borstal School System and is being neglected to perish under the eclipse of JJ Act.
Amongst your accomplishments in the legal journey, academia has been in the forefront. What were the platforms which contributed to this journey?
My best years of teaching and academic administration were at NBM Law College, Visakahapatnam, it provided a platform for me to experiment everything what I felt best with legal education including classroom teaching/ lectures. I found some of my school time teachers and schoolmates joined in the evening college, and were all committed to attend my classes. It gave me pride and satisfaction. The college made a record progress and best students of the area joined to enhance the credibility of the law college.
In 1994 joined as a Senior Lecture in Law at a premier University – Utkal University of Odisha. The M.S. Law College being the first Law College in Odisha manufactured about 90% of Advocates at the Odisha High Court, 80% of the Judges at the High Court and the subordinate Judiciary and also provided law degrees to 70% Legislators in the State of Odisha. But the College remained far behind to contribute any quality legal education. During the days of service struggled hard to change the environment for Faculty Members coaxing them to enrich with greater exposure and wider participations in Law Seminars and Conferences. Also struggled to initiate the All India Bar Council Moot Court Competition, at Cuttack which somehow could conclude in 1996, this to register the college name in the national list.
In 1996, joined as a Reader in Law at Post-graduate Department of Law, Berhampur University and actively participated in academic activities to modernise the prevalent out-dated courses and syllabus being taught and got occupied with the University System of Administration.
In the year 2000 joined NUJS Calcutta, as a Founding Teacher along with Professor N R Mahdava Menon to establish the National Law University. It was a great experience to work with Prof. Menon in the founding days of NUJS Calcutta. In 2002 after availing the lien period joined back to Berhampur University and this time worked hard to contribute to the development of the Lingaraj Law College. It was an amount of satisfaction to join as the Principal of the Law College, where I was a student, but there the struggle for quality development was much more. There was a little cooperation from any side. As a student leader achieved more success than as a principal of the law college. Dissatisfied returned back to the Post –Graduate Department of Law, Berhampur University.
Quickly finding little leisure time, I got engaged in conducting post-doctorial research studies and completed the work in 2006 obtaining LL.D degree from Berhampur University.
In the year 2008, after a renewed association with Prof. M P Singh, joined NUJS Calcutta, for a second stint after obtaining two years lien from Berhampur University, and actively participated in University activities both academic and administration.
In 2010 returned back to Berhampur University. Found it hard to contribute to the newer challenges to legal education and corresponding deterioration in educational standards vis-à-vis growing challenges participated actively in University general administration until 2014.
I took voluntary retirement to assume charge as Vice-Chancellor of MNLU Mumbai on 10.10.2014.
How did you strategize your work on legal research?
During the time I enrolled for PhD there were very few research guides available to provide the direction and supervise research work to its logical end.
Research in law for an academician is a must; we learned the first lessons about research at Professor Menon’s Workshop. Little learnt and much unlearnt but with a great zeal to contribute to society with legal knowledge enrolled for PhD.
Legal Research by itself a separate discipline and methodology was not fully grown. Every research teacher explained the conduct of research and thesis writing in quite differently, mostly bookish or very confused. The practical implementation of the learning from most of the teachers was very difficult or impossible.
I spent quite some time in contemplating how to start legal research. I read many books of sociological methods of research as I was planning to do research in criminal law, and I was not getting a clue how to go about – choosing topic, defining the research problem, setting goal and designing the research. I started diving straight into prison studies and later focused on adolescent offenders at Borstal School of Visakhapatnam. Read more and more existing literature on young adult offenders from books of criminology and law. It happened on its own motion that I could identify the research problem and formulated hypothesis and realised the roadmap of the research terrain. Essentially, research is an individual personal scholarship and involvement and there can never be any fixed straight jacket method and finite prescription from any supervisor. I realised why the teachers were so different and incoherent. It has to evolve creatively on one’s own involvement and provide strength of logic and reasoning to defend the thesis that is being advanced.
I was happy to contribute a unique work on adolescent offender in legal research. My involvement was little bit more than mere legal research work for PhD and emotional involvement with the staff, administration and inmates of Borstal School at Visakhapatnam. I continued to argue for eulogising the working of custodial system where any youth in conflict with law however heinous the crime may be put to reformation model maximum up to the age of 23years and was then allowed to assimilate in the mainstream of the society. The current controversy of 16-18years age group of juvenile stands fully addressed in the system, but unfortunately in India we never explore all the sentencing options before passing an order. Most of the legal fraternity do not know what the Borstal School System is about. The institution is under eclipse of Juvenile Justice System clout. I still hold that the young adults need be reformed in a specially designed institution like that of Borstal School System under Correctional Administration. The prison system cannot be condemned as ‘jail for penal action for hardcore convicts alone’. We need to change our prison into Correctional Houses.
Please tell our readers about the case study behind the ‘the Super Cyclone’ of 1999 in Odisha. Also tell us about your interest in ‘Disaster management studies’.
I was disturbed, and developed interest in observing the recovery phase and the human rights aspect of relief operation. The tragedy after super cyclone is more horrible. Crime rate increased. Hunger coupled with poverty loomed large. Funds were mismanaged. There were politics of funding and certification of ‘State v. Natural disaster’. There has been politics of centre and state in relief funding etc.
In 2000, soon after the Bhuj Earth Quake, Professor Madhava Menon assigned me with the work to make a case study of ‘Super Cyclone’, provided financial support for the project. Over next two years along with the work at NUJS Kolkata and Berhampur University devoted all extra hours to study on Super Cyclone and its various facets of devastation and legal support mechanism; conducted seminars and workshops and finally submitted a comprehensive report on ‘Case Study of Super Cyclone’ to NUJS Kolkata. In 2005, the Disaster Management Act was enacted, where the students and faculty of NUJS have contributed with the inputs of experience from Odisha Super Cyclone and Bhuj Earth Quake.
In 2005-06, at Berhampur University designed and offered one year Post-Graduate Diploma programme in Disaster Management, and I was surprised to see some of the students got appointed as safety officers in certain establishments.
‘Disaster Management Studies’ became my new found hobby. In October 2013, Odisha was struck with another very severe cyclonic storm called as ‘Phailin’. I was eager to serve the state in terms of offering schemes for ‘impact reduction’. And closely followed the state action for pre-emptive measures, Odisha was more matured after Super Cyclone 1999 left no space for disaster to tell upon human life. The preparations were well addressed and the meteorological department predictions were properly used. The disaster was contained to loss of property and loss of human life was only 34 almost negligible compared the size of the disaster spell.
Later you got associated with Odisha Fire Services Department to write a report on their “Response System”. Tell us about the new route of your life.
Taking time off from the University, with total commitment I conducted the report and the same was published by the OFS Department as a book. Odisha state government accelerated the process of establishing the Fire Station Offices at every block in whole of Odisha covering all the 335 blocks. The Fire Service Department of Odisha got equipped with all types of disaster rescue and management services; and with their experience they rendered a great service to the State of Andhra Pradesh when it was struck by the cyclonic storm called ‘Hudhud’ and got applauds from the State. Odisha Fire Service Department is one of the robust systems today to encounter disaster, it stays ever prepared. A department not being taken seriously by the states for services and/or for their contribution stands tall in Odisha. My recommendations in the report were to a certain extent useful for the government to strengthen OFS to its current status.
What were your personal takeaways from this experience?
I believe disasters provide a very good opportunity for everyone to contribute something to the fellow being. It is a signal to part something. It provides lot many lessons for ‘living and sharing together’. It strikes all the selfish aggrandisement and calls for community participation. It implants a renewed zeal and hope for newer and intelligent tomorrow, with life full of sacrifices. Natural Disasters are good and a challenge to humanity. One need be humane and human with fellow being, that is the way of life. I can speak on disasters for hours together how it can change life for good.
What is your perception on legal academia as a career? How would you guide the future teachers of India?
India needs good, committed, honest, hardworking teachers. Teaching is a passion. Teaching provides unlearning along with the students. Teachers need to be humble and skilful. Teacher is made with lot of sacrifices, the compensation is limited to ‘a good rejoicing class’. For a teacher, the best accomplishment the students should grow beyond the teacher and realise their dreams as a good human and responsible citizen of the country. In life everything deserved comes on its own for the person who works for others. And many more values of being a teacher, I have seen in my teachers, I respected them and loved to live like them. I still struggle in my pursuit to live like my teachers. These values chained me into teaching, and I am happy.
Teaching can be a wonderful career pursuit for it provides the satisfaction of living a life full of giving. Law teaching has to happen in a very refined and bigger way where the legal scholarship will flourish for justice education. Enough is still to happen, where men will learn to have a successful and contented life and pursuit of legal profession. We should be able to logically explain where one is at wrong side and what is due and appropriate. We should learn to respect the adversary. Advocacy has much to offer. Dispute resolution and peace are interconnected, and language of law should have that magic wand. It comes out of the human quality and character of the arbitrator.
For me a good class with full of students intimately and continuously involved in learning process is the fountain of pleasure. No wonder I am struggling to be a teacher like my teachers.
You have authored a number of research articles and books. Is there any inspiration which incites to pursue this?
Writing articles do not happen all the time. Nor writing a book is possible for writing book sake. There has to be a creative streak. One simple idea which allures one can be the matter of writing an article. The appetite should come from within, and the research follows, reading a lot of literature is necessary to understand what is it that one is so fond of and/or that keeps absorbed or disturbs the peace. It takes lot of time to reach to the material of choice, and in the pursuit the idea gets involved with other wonderful writings and scholarship; one need be dispassionate and remain focused from the beauty of other scholarly articles. Once the ideas get concretised and literature seems to be exhaust and one is updated with existing literature, one can venture to enter into substantiating the points of view and when someone is able to provide the logic and reason to establish the postulate, has accomplished a research article. This need be reviewed, and verified with fellow colleagues. Language of presentation should be simple to the core because the author stays miles away from his very important readers.
Ideally speaking, research articles should happen as often as possible. It provides a window to the world to look at the author and his view point while contributing to knowledge system.
I could write only very few articles with zeal and self involvement, while bulk were attended with a compulsion for contribution and participation at seminars and conferences; and / or contributing to the request of a fellow teacher. I always enjoyed writing in group, sharing views.
How important is it to attend seminars, conferences and workshops conducted by various legal luminaries while in law school?
Seminars, Conferences and Workshops at National Law Universities are really good ones and whereas at many of the state universities and law colleges it appeared ritual and a function of get together. The culture of a good seminar linked with scholarly exchange formally and informally during the time of seminar should emerge. Only serious minded people who have done their homework and are prepared to contribute with ideas can meaningfully participate. One should meaningfully gain from such participation and quantify in a scale of learning. Seminars should be a continuous affair with in the education system. There need be daily seminars and exchange of ideas. More informal seminars need to happen from voluntary groups of students on various issues of the nation, judgments delivered by the courts and newspaper reports. And the views can be published periodically appropriately.
At NUJS, once I did not feel attracted to a topic of seminar and chose to remain in library during the time. Professor Menon called me to his office and asked the reason for not being present in the seminar. And said “senior teachers have no choice to opt out of university seminars however disinteresting the topic may be’, there is a need to come out from the ‘disinterest’ in the realm of knowledge”. “Seminars are open forum for learning and more unlearning”, is the lesson that I learnt.
How was your teaching experience at WBNUJS?
Professor Menon exposed me to cooperative teaching. One of the first experiences to teaching and learning debut at NUJS was to co-teach with Professor Menon. We were addressing class on ‘legal method’, the subject provides the first glimpse of law to students. I made my preparations but in the class room the discussion went in a different paradigm to my preparation and I had little to participate in the partnership. I chose to vehemently oppose the postulates of law and found well attended by Professor Menon. The class went on very successfully. It is the kindness of Professor Menon, he praised me before everybody in the class. Later, he told me the techniques of cooperative teaching. I enjoyed cooperative teaching. Two–three teachers together can take up teaching together, and stage a script of substantial delivery of teaching and learning.
Case method of teaching is another exercise, which divides the class into groups for considered debate and yet another groups to sum up, while the teacher provides the conceptual finish as conclusion.
At NUJS we were encouraged all innovative models of teaching and learning process including on-field exercises at court hall, police station and other workstations. We never had any one method, depending on the topic requirement we adapted to different methods, mainly to drive out any monotony among the students. We used visualise and invent surprises for the students in our teaching exercises. We are happy we had great opportunity.
Do you think MNLU is having an edge over the other NLUs of the nation? What are the advantages which an NLU seated in Mumbai receives?
First the location advantage, that we are in TISS campus. The whole of campus, library, wi-fi system, the dining hall, the wisdom of the TISS faculty are at our hands reach. It is a unique privilege which no NLU student in India must have got in the very founding year. Thanks to TISS and the Hon’ble Chancellor Mr. Justice FM Ibrahim Kalifulla who have been instrumental in the understanding.
Secondly, Mumbai provides a unique opportunity with rich resource of very learned lawyers and retired judges who are always ready to assist the law students in their academics. Most of the advocates and other members of legal fraternity are associated with the local law colleges contributing their bit as part-time professors. MNLU Mumbai will be certainly tapping the best of the resources for its students too. There are the best of law firms in Mumbai and the students will be skilful enough to find a good exposure and can participate with them in their vacations. So also the whole field of legal practice and experimentation is open for the students in the corporate climate to look litigation from different perspective including alternative dispute resolution and arbitration experts. The students after five years from MNLU Mumbai will have mine of opportunity in Mumbai alone. For availing the interaction from the lawyers and judges, we are open on Sunday, it shall be our working day, and our weekly holiday will be Wednesday. This arrangement will provide students an opportunity to visit offices on Wednesday to collect material and right their project assignments.
Thirdly, the education at MNLU Mumbai will have to be geared up to make study a pleasant experience and at the same time competitive to take the challenges of life as a matter of fact. We are fortunate, that we have seasoned faculty from social sciences available at the immediate vicinity from TISS. We also have the support of professional counsellors from TISS, to guide and ease any blues. Apart from the teachers with in the campus, the students will have exposure to the best teachers from other institutions in India. MNLU Mumbai will have to make such arrangement until we develop our own cadre of best teachers. MNLU Mumbai will adopt various methods of teaching and imparting education as are essential and appropriate to a particular course, all option and autonomy will be given to teachers to make best of class work.
Fourthly, the first batch of the students will get ample opportunity to vent their skills and ideas and contribute to the student forums with facets of self-governance, student-bar council, moot-court bar association, student discipline committee, anti-ragging committee, welfare bodies, cultural club, athletic club, placement cell, and establish a system of student self-administration. Also associated along with the co-curricular activities they will have to design legal aid cell, arbitration house, disaster management cell, drafting committee and things like that.
Fifthly, MNLU Mumbai is not in competition with any institution, but it shall create for itself a distinct place in terms of its education skills, student discipline, teaching and learning process. The idea is MNLU Mumbai shall be a forum to provide space and opportunity for every member to enjoy their field of persuasion with a sense of satisfaction and reap rich dividends in legal scholarship. More than competitive achievements, the students will learn to enjoy their contribution to the society and nation, by steadily growing to reach to their set goals. Students will be the maker of the University for tomorrow. The administration shall facilitate the best practices to happen. The students will realise at the end of five years, the time at MNLU has given everything that they cherished in terms of legal scholarship, and they shall have to feel proud to remain connected to lead the institution to greater heights.
What would you like to share with students who are not from an NLU?
I feel sad when I look to the bulk of the law colleges, where students just manage to get degree foolishly without any substance and degrade the law degree. Lot many of them enrol as advocates without knowing what they are going to do. Some even manage to become judges of the lower courts and struggle hard to meet the demands of justice. The society suffers a lot out of their ignorance. A lot of measures need be taken to overhaul the traditional law colleges. Bar Council of India is struggling to change the system.
The above position being disastrous, a fine opportunity also awaits for a serious minded law student to bake his cake. If the studies are taken seriously in those law colleges with scanty of facilities, and goals are fixed to excel in that little sphere, there can still be space for continuing with that spree of perfecting on and on in life. The opportunity is that a sincere student can achieve easily the best among the deprived atmosphere. There is no short cut to success, but one should learn to enjoy harder task. Life should be full of pleasantness, which emanates from knowledge alone. In the world, there is enough for everyone to pick and remain content as long one realises one’s own ability to carry.