The Supreme Court of India has disposed of the petitions which challenged the guidelines issued by the UGC for conducting final semester exams by September 30.
ARGUMENTS OF STUDENTS:
If students are forced to show up for physical examinations when the COVID-19 pandemic is getting worsen then they are being exposed to serious health risks which affect their right to life.
The direction issued by the UGC without taking into account the local situations will be discriminatory towards many students as several areas are still in containment zones also, there are local lockdowns in many regions.
Conducting exams without a request number of classes is arbitrary and unreasonable.
There are many students of final semester ho have either cleared job interviews or secured admission for higher education. Therefore, the best course available as of now to protect the future of students is to give them degree certificated based on their past performance at the earliest.
The option of conducting the examination online is also not feasible in the view of a large digital divide, and the lack of uniform access to the internet.
The exam is not the only mode of evaluation. UGC follows the concept of continuous evaluation of the student from day 1. Therefore, internal assessments and performance of the past semester to award final degrees is a viable option.
1. HOW CAN THERE BE EXAMS WITHOUT TEACHING?
Senior Advocate Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued that the present case is related to life and health of students. Furthermore, he submitted before the Hon’ble Supreme Court that in the light of Article 14 of the Constitution it is important to note that different students have different access levels. Since there is a direct nexus between teaching and taking exams therefore exams must happen after teaching, he submitted.
He also argued that the direction issued by the UGC is a direct attack on federalism. UGC isn’t the appropriate authority to take action on this issue, the state is.
Taking the arguments further Senior Advocate Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that as per the Triple Talaq Verdict the decision of UGC regarding the examination of final year students was vitiated by “manifest arbitrariness”.
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2. WHEN EXAMS CANT BE HELD IN APRIL WITH 1137 COVID CASES, HOW CAN THEY BE HELD NOW WITH LAKHS OF CASES?
Senior advocate Shyam Divan argued that, since the guidelines issued by UGC are advisory in nature, therefore, they must be tailored in accordance with the local needs.
Ministry of Home Affairs on July 29 issued guidelines that, schools, colleges and coaching institution will not be permitted to open. Furthermore, MHA has also prohibited States and UTs from diluting the said restrictions. In such a scenario how can UGC direct the students to give exams asked Senior advocate Shyam Divan.
UGC CANNOT OVERRIDE THE DISASTER MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY
Directions issued by UGC are subordinate to directions issued by the Disaster Management Authority and therefore the stand taken by UGC that SDMA cannot interfere with the examination is not as per law.
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3. UGC CANNOT COMPEL THAT THE EXAMS BE HELD; CAN ONLY LAW DOWN GUIDELINES
Senior Advocate Arvind Datar argued that since the UGC Act is traced to Entry 66 of List 1 of the Constitution which deals with “Coordination and determination of standards” and as per the case of Modern Dental College Case, “Coordination and determination of standards” will not include tight to conduct examinations.
NOT HOLDING EXAMS NOT FATAL; WILL NOT DILUTE STANDARDS
Senior Advocate Arvind Datar argued that, If there are 42 courses then students a final year student has by far completed 36 courses. Not only this, but he also pointed out that job interviews take place in the last semester where the students have completed about 87% of the course.
UGC EXCEEDED THE STATUTORY MANDATE
Senior Advocate Arvind Datar argued that UGC’s direction to hold examinations by September 30 is Ultra Virus and outside the mandate of UGC Act. the uniform direction to hold exams without paying any account to the local situation is arbitrary and violative of Article 14.
He also argued that there are many institutions which are turned into COVID-19 quarantine centres which cannot be open until 31st August.
Click here to read written submissions of Senior Advocate Arvind Datar.
4. IMPOSSIBLE TO HOLD EXAMS IN BENGAL; UGC HAS NOT TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT GROUND REALITIES
Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta and Advocate general for west Bengal, Kishore Datta submitted before the Hon’ble Supreme Court that the UGC has taken the decision without consulting the universities which is against section 12 of the UGC Act. Furthermore, they contended that only conducting final semester exams is not reasonable as every semester is important. UGC cannot place the importance of final semester over other semesters.
Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta and Advocate general for west Bengal Kishore Datta also expressed the ground realities of West Bengal. In West Bengal, metro and local trains are not in function, not only this, due to cyclone Amphan many institutions are converted into a shelter and under these circumstances, it is impossible to hold examinations.
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5. POOR, DOWNTRODDEN AND THOSE WITHOUT ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY WILL BE HARD HIT.
Senior Advocate K V Vishwanathan appearing for the Government of NCT of Delhi argued that Poor, downtrodden and those without access to technology will be hard hit unless you decide to give them all Tablets.
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THE SUPREME COURT AFTER HEARING BOTH THE PARTIES MADE THE FOLLOWING CONCLUSIONS:
Guidelines issued by the UGC are not beyond the domain of the UGC.
The guidelines dated 6.7.2020 are in continuation of the earlier guidelines dated 29.04.2020 and are not contrary to the earlier guidelines.
Guidelines dated 06.07.2020 has to be treated to have been issued in exercise of the statutory powers vested in the commission under section 12 of the Act. As per the Act, it is the statutory duty of the universities to adopt the guidelines issued by UGC.
The differentiation made in the revised guidelines to hold final or terminal semester exams and to give an option for earlier years/intermediate semester for not holding the examination has a rational basis. Therefore there is no discrimination between the students of final year/terminal semester and those of intermediate and the first year.
Guidelines issued by the UGC are not violative of Article 14 of the constitution on the ground that one date has been fixed irrespective of the conditions prevailing in the individual states. The date was fixed to maintain uniformity in the academic calendar.
Guidelines issued by UGC dated 06.07.2020, Standard Operating Procedure for the conduct of examinations circulated vide letter dated 06.07.2020 of UGC as well as O.M. dated 06.07.2020 issued by MHRD shows a deep concern with the health of all students as well as the exam functionaries. Challenge to the Guidelines on the ground of it being violative of Article 21 is repelled.
The expression “other bodies” used in Section 12 of the UGC Act, 1956 is in reference to other bodies apart from Universities as per Section 12 of the Act. The submission that other bodies as occurring in Section 12 should include the State Disaster Management Authority or health experts is misconceived. Section 12 never contemplated any such expression. The guidelines dated 06.07.2020 are not in breach of Section 12 of the 1956 Act.
The direction of the UGC in guidelines dated 06.07.2020 shall be overridden by any contrary decision taken by the State Disaster Management Authority or the State government exercising power under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
The State Governments or State Disaster Management Authority has no jurisdiction to make a decision that the students of final year/terminal students should be promoted on the basis of earlier year assessment and internal assessment.
THE SUPREME COURT HELD THAT:
The prayer to quash the revised guidelines dated 06.07.2020 issued by the UGC, OM dated 06.07.2020 issued by the Ministry of Human Resource Development and letter dated 06.07.2020 issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs is refused.
The decision taken by the State Disaster Management Authority/ State not to hold final year/terminal semester examination by 30.09.2020 shall prevail over deadline fixed by the University Grants Commission i.e. 30.09.2020 in respect to the concerned State.
The decision of the State/State Disaster Management Authority to promote the students in the final year/terminal semester on the basis of previous performance and internal assessment is beyond the jurisdiction of Disaster Management Act, 2005.
If any State/Union Territory in the exercise of jurisdiction under Disaster Management Act, 2005 has taken a decision that it is not possible to conduct the final year/terminal semester examination by 30.09.2020, then that State/Union Territory will have the liberty to make an application to the UGC for extending deadline of 30.09.2020 which shall be considered by UGC and rescheduled date to be communicated to such State/Union Territory at the earliest.
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