Maharashtra’s first chief minister, Yashwantrao Chavan, former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, industrialist Arun Kirloskar and classical vocalist Prabha Atre have one thing in common, their alma mater—the Indian Law Society’s Law College or ILS Law College.
Situated on Chiplunkar Road, more commonly known as Law College Road, the ILS saw its early days in the amphitheatre of Fergusson College in the early 1900s.
The ILS has entered its centenary year, while its first child, ILS Law College, is in its 99th year, contributing to nation building and raising the legal consciousness—the primary vision of its founders.
From Fergusson College Amphitheatre to Law College Road
In 1903, J R Gharpure and PB Singhe decided to have a system for imparting legal education among locals and started the New Law Class Bombay. After running the class for five years, they thought it desirable to start a regular law college affiliated to the University of Bombay. Thus Gharpure’s Fergusson College Law Class was started in 1908 with more than 125 students. For some reason, however, the institution was immediately disaffiliated by the university. The experiment continued for the next 15 years in some form or the other.
For a very long time, Bombay’s Government Law College was the only option for Maharashtrians desirous of studying law. Narayan Rao C Chandawarkar, H C Coyajee, A G Sathaye, Gharpure and Singhe applied to the University of Bombay to open a law college in Poona.
“To start a college, they established the Indian Law Society on March 4, 1923, and the University of Bombay sanctioned the necessary permissions to start the college in Poona…Chandawarkar was the first president of ILS, while Gharpure became the first principal for the then Poona Law College, which was formally started June 20, 1924,” said Vaijayanti Joshi, ILS general secretary and director of academics and administration of ILS Law College.
Joshi said the early batches between 1924 and 1935 were held in the well-established Fergusson College’s amphitheatre. The British administration allotted the 154 acres of land where the institution is based.
“It required funds and to keep at their ultimate goal of providing good legal education, the members literally put in their blood, sweat and tears. In the meantime, the Deccan Education Society’s members gave Fergusson’s amphitheatre space for the law classes to begin, till the time the construction of the law college was not completed. We believe that as both the bodies were working towards the common social cause of education, and also, towards a strong foundation for a new nation, the arrangement for the early batches of the law college was taken…Interestingly the first batch in 1924 saw the enrolment of about 200 students, and former chief justice of India Pralhad Balacharya Gajendragadkar was from that batch,” said Joshi.
The main building called Saraswati Building was designed by Gharpure. With the law college hill and at distance the Vetal Hill as a serene backdrop, the building was constructed to look like a sage meditating in the lotus position. The foundation stone was laid by the common of Maharani Chimnabai, the Maharani of Baroda on Wednesday, April 17, 1935.
Growth of ILS and tough times
“Under its first principal, Gharpure, the college also got its boys hostel, the Hanuman Pavillion or the ILS Gymkhana as well as a swimming pool. The vision of the founding members was to construct a conducive environment for not just education but for the overall development of law students. He also worked on the ambitious project of the afforestation of Hanuman Hill, which at one time was barren. Today it houses several species of flora and fauna and is frequented by researchers,” said Joshi.
Between the years 1951-52, the ILS decided to open an arts college and constructed the Laxmi building for its operations. “The idea failed miserably as, by that time, there were other established art colleges in the city and after a change in the law curriculum by the Bar Council, the intake of the law students also went down. All in all, the ILS suffered a huge financial setback,” said Joshi.
G V Pandit, who took over as principal then, took timely decisions to lift the college out of the dreary situation. He mortgaged some spaces of the Saraswati Building to the LIC while the arts college was shut down.
“G V Pandit, who happens to be my father, worked effortlessly to ensure that the college keeps running while also taking it out of the financial crisis it was in. In 1961, Chief Minister Yashwantrao Chavan, who also happened to be an alumnus of ILS Law College, helped the ILS to repay the loan to the LIC,” said Joshi.
“Chavan secured a loan of Rs 3,28,000 from the government with liberal conditions of repayment. On receipt of this amount, the society paid off the LIC loan and recovered all the title deeds pertaining to Saraswati….gradually the institution paid off all the remaining loans by 1970…” reads the golden jubilee special ILS Law college magazine.
For their unmatched contributions towards the strong foundation of ILS Law College, the library is named after Gharpure and the auditorium after Pandit. The college reached its full academic capabilities S P Sathe was principal.
A century later
“After India opened its market in the 1990s, the drive towards legal studies saw a massive uptick. As foreign investors were interested and curious about our legal framework, the need for legal knowledge also saw a rise. While we still are far from the day where the law is the number-one choice among students, it did see a jump post-1990s,” said Joshi.
In 1991, ILS started the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies to impart legal education to non-lawyers through carefully structured diploma courses. In 2007, it began operations for the Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy (CMHLP), an international diploma course to address mental health, laws and policies as well as human rights. “The CMHLP works with several international bodies, including WHO and the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 was drafted by them,” said Joshi.
The ILS’s Centre for Arbitration and Mediation was established in 2016 with the objective to introduce the dispute resolution mechanisms of mediation and arbitrations with small courses. Two years later, it started the Centre for Health Equity, Law and Policy (C-HELP) for policies and laws pertaining to the health space.
In the ILS’s centenary year, on July 7, the Centre for Good Governance was set up.
“We are working towards increasing such inter- and cross-disciplinary courses as the law is an aspect present everywhere. It crops up in every field and career that is out there. We wish to take legal consciousness beyond just becoming lawyers and the ILS is a pioneer in that. In the words of an ex-student, ‘ILS is not just an alma mater, but a thought, an ideology and set of values’…” said Joshi.
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