Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the University Grants Commission (UGC) in the Supreme Court on Monday, said students must continue to prepare for the exams, according to several media reports. Mehta added, "If exams aren't conducted, students can't get a degree. That's the law."
The Supreme Court on Monday was hearing a clutch of pleas by students from Karnataka, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Meghalaya and other states challenging the UGC's 6 July circular directing universities to conduct final year examinations by 30 September. The students have asked that marks be calculated based on their internal assessment or past performance.
The bench comprising justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah asked if the Disaster Management Act overrides the UGC's guidelines and sought a reply. The bench further posted the hearing for 14 August.
Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, representing the students in the apex court on Monday, sought to question the legality and constitutional validity of the 6 July guidelines and not the conduct of the exams itself, Bar and Bench reported.
The court allowed senior advocate Arvind Datar's request to allow him time to file consolidated replies to put on record the position of all states of the conduct of final year exams by the UGC.
Pointing out that Delhi and Maharashtra have filed affidavits stating exams will not be conducted in the states, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta asked, "How can states cancel exams when UGC is empowered to confer degrees?" He also sought time to reply to the affidavits filed by the two states.
According to a report in The Times of India, an apex court bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan had earlier asked the Delhi and Maharashtra governments to place on record decision of state disaster management committee. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has also been asked by the court to clear its stand.
According to the UGC, universities were asked to inform the status of holding the exams and responses were received from 818 universities including 121 deemed, 291 private, 51 central and 355 state universities. Of the total 818 universities, 603 have either conducted or are planning to hold the examinations, while 209 have already conducted exams in either online or offline mode.
As per the report, 394 universities are planning to hold exams (online/ offline/blended mode) in August and September.
The UGC had submitted in the previous hearing that it is not willing to change its decision.
In a 50-page affidavit, the commission said that decision to conduct the exams was taken to "protect the academic future of students across the country which will be irreparably damaged if their final year/terminal semester examinations are not held, while also keeping in mind their health and safety."
It also stated that the decision to cancel the exams taken by Delhi and Maharashtra will be considered as contradicting the guidelines and will be detrimental to the standards of higher education.
The affidavit further mentioned that no student will be forced to give the exams at the cost of their health. The commission has also allowed universities to hold special exams for those who are unable to take the exams held by September.
As per a report in Bar and Bench, the Delhi government has informed the apex court that the universities exams in the National Capital have been cancelled.
Delhi deputy chief minister has directed "all Delhi State Universities to cancel all written online and offline semester examinations including final year exams."
Also, the Maharashtra government has informed the top court that the State Disaster Management Authority on 13 July had suggested not hold examinations in the state amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision was taken after vice-chancellors from most universities in the state voted against conducting exams.
With inputs from PTI