The Supreme Court has adjourned till Tuesday, 18 August, its hearing on a bunch a petitions challenging the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) decision to conduct final-year university exams by end of September.
During the hearing on Friday, the apex court heard arguments made by Senior Counsels Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who was representing one of the petitioners, and Shyam Divan, who had appeared on behalf of Yuva Sena, also a petitioner in the case.
While Singhvi pointed out that unlock notifications had remained silent about the possibility of exams, Divan argued how provisions of the Disaster Management Act had necessitated the cancellation of final-year exams in Maharashtra.
What were the arguments made by Singhvi?
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for final-year law student Yash Dubey, pointed out that this is a matter of right to life, as the number of coronavirus cases have been ‘increasing exponentially’.
“Exams have to be held after teaching...teaching has been disrupted and exams will be held now?” asked Singhvi.
Singhvi also said that a large number of students have gone home and that many students rely on public transport – which is a concern.
He pointed out that unlock guidelines issued by the MHA in June and July had not mentioned that the exams would be conducted. “In no circular are you warning the students that the exams will take place,” he said.
"“Education is not special here; pandemic here is special. Pandemic applies to everyone and everything. If NDMA says that don’t have physical courts, can I come and say that I have this right and that right?”" - Abhishek Manu Singhvi
How did Yuva Sena justify NDMA?
Appearing for Yuva Sena, Senior Counsel Shyam Divan said that the UGC guidelines are advisory in nature and that each university must be allowed to chart out its own course depending on the local situation.
Responding to this, Justice Shah said that the manner of conducting the exams may be advisory in nature, but not the conduction of exams itself.
Divan then said that internal evaluation or other methods could be used to assess students and that the conduct of exams itself is ‘certainly not mandatory.’
He further said that Section 6 of the Disaster Management Act provides for prevention and mitigation and hence, the Maharashtra government’s order is directed at preventing the spread of the pandemic.
"“There is no dispute to the power, but once you have a disaster going on where you’ve elevated the right to life, you cannot have an authority coming in and saying that they will dilute the restrictions”" - Shyam Divan, Senior Counsel
What happened before this hearing?
On Thursday, the UGC had filed a reply before the apex court, saying that the argument made by Maharashtra for cancelling final-year exams was contradictory, while the decision taken by Delhi was unilateral.
On the same day, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that it had granted exemption from unlock guidelines to educational institutions for conducting exams in the interests of “a large number of students.”
Why did Delhi & Maharashtra cancel final-year exams?
Delhi Government had informed the Supreme Court on 9 August that it had asked “all Delhi State Universities to cancel all written online and offline semester examinations including final year exams.” According to the government, digital divide in online classes, coupled with unavailability of study material for scores of students had led to cancellation of exams.
Maharashtra Government had on 7 August told the Supreme Court that the State Disaster Management Authority had decided not to conduct examinations due to the COVID-19 situation in the state. The government listed declaration of lockdown by municipal bodies, existence of containment zones, the use of college buildings as containment centres and the opinion of majority Vice Chancellors against conduct of examinations as reasons behind its decision.
What do UGC guidelines say?
According to revised UGC guideline, final-year university examinations may be conducted by the end of September, either online, offline or through a combination of both.
The guidelines also say that in case a student is unable to write final-year exams, she can appear for a special examination at a later period, as and when feasible.
For students of the first and second semester, there have been no change in guidelines. This means that universities can evaluate students on the basis of internal assessment and marks scored in previous semesters, if they are unable to conduct exams due to the prevailing situation.
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