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[BREAKING] "How can new academic session start but no exams?" - UGC rebuts stand by Maharashtra, Delhi Govts to not conduct final year exams

The UGC states that it is "entirely wrong" on part of the State government to say that the UGC’s revised July 6 guidelines are “void-ab initio” or that they are “not binding on the State Government."

Debayan Roy

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has registered its opposition to the stance taken by the Government's of Maharashtra and Delhi not to conduct final year exams this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the UGC's in reply, the regulatory body has stated that the State government is taking contradictory stands with regard to starting the academic session and conduct of the final year exams.

In the reply before the Supreme Court filed by Dr Nikhil Kumar, Education Officer, UGC, it is stated that the Maharashtra government's decision is contradictory to its own claim that the prevailing circumstances are such that universities cannot function even to hold final year examinations.

"Needless to say, those alleged circumstances should then prevent even the commencement of the next academic session. That apart, the State Govt. avers that the next academic session must begin in the interest of students, while, at the same time, contending that the final examinations should be cancelled and degrees can be awarded without such examinations even though such a step would irreparably damage the future of students. Such contentions by the State Govt. are clearly therefore meritless", reads the reply.

On August 7, the Maharashtra government had informed the Supreme Court that the State Disaster Management Authority on July 13 had resolved to not conduct examinations in the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision was taken after a majority of University Vice-Chancellors from across the state voted against conducting exams in view of the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

Government of Delhi also informed the Supreme Court that Delhi State Universities exams have been cancelled.

In a latest decision, Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi had directed "all Delhi State Universities to cancel all written online and offline semester examinations including final year exams."

However, the UGC states that it is "entirely wrong" on part of the State government to say that the UGC’s revised guidelines of July 6 are “void-ab initio” or that they are “not binding on the State Government and its Universities.

The UGC maintains that its guidelines provide sufficient time till the end of September 2020 to conduct the final year/terminal semester examinations after following the prescribed protocols and procedures to guard against the spread of COVID-19.

The reply states that the guidelines give sufficient flexibility to universities/institutions to conduct such examinations in online, offline (pen and paper) or blended (online + offline) mode.

Further, it is pointed out that the guidelines also provide for an examination through "special chance" for students who for whatsoever the reason(s) may be are unable to appear for the examinations.

It is also noted that the Supreme Court order sought to know the decision of the "State Disaster Management Committee." However, such a body was not set up in Maharashtra, and it was the State Disaster Management Authority that is functioning. On this aspect, the affidavit reads,

Disaster Management Act 2005 does not contemplate the constitution of the ‘State Disaster Management Committee.’ Section 17 contemplates the constitution of an advisory committee by the authority and section 20 contemplates the constitution of the state executive committee. Section 14 thereof contemplates the constitution of the state disaster management authority. Thus there is no decision of June 19 order of state disaster management committee as such a body does not exist in Maharashtra.”

UGC has further stated that the Maharashtra government had accepted the UGC recommendation made last May by an expert committee for the conduct of final year examinations in the State Universities.

"It transpires that the said expert committee had in fact recommended that final examinations can be conducted in the State from 01.07.2020 to 31.07.2020. However, this decision was later reversed by the State Authority and the State Govt. in contravention of the UGC’s Guidelines. Therefore, it is wrong to claim that it will not be possible to conduct the final examinations in terms of the UGC’s Guidelines", reads the UGC reply.

The reply has been filed in line with the Supreme Court's direction.

UGC in its reply before the Supreme Court rebutting the Delhi government's reply has stated that government of the national capital has "unilaterally chosen to cancel the final year exams and graduate students using alternative assessment measures in contravention of the UGC's guidelines even though it was required to hold such examinations in the interest of students."

"Decision taken by Delhi government will impact the standard of higher education in the country which the UGC is mandated to maintain," reads the reply.

A Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan had asked the UGC to submit its reply to Mumbai and Delhi's stand of not conducting the final year exams. The Court had also asked for a clarification on whether the Disaster Management Act notifications can override the UGC guidelines.

Substantiating this aspect of how universities are bound by the UGC guidelines, the education regulator has said that "July 6 guidelines of the UGC which now mandate the exams to be conducted by September 30 have to be adopted and applied by all universities including state universities."

Pursuant to provisions of the UGC (Minimum Standards of Instructions for the Grant of First Degree Through Formal Education) Regulations, 2003, UGC (Minimum Standards of Instructions for the Grant of Masters Degree Through Formal Education) Regulations, 2003, and the UGC (Open and Distannce Learning) Regulations, 2017, all universities are bound to follow the UGC guidelines

reads the reply of UGC to the Delhi Government affidavit

"UGC is the apex body for maintaining standards of higher education in the country including the standards of examinations because UGC Act is traced to Entry 66 if List I Schedule VII of the Constitution," reads the reply.

The reply comes close in the heels of an intervention applicaton that has been filed by the Maharashtra Students Union in the Supreme Court supporting the July 13 decision by Maharashtra's State Disaster Management Authority to cancel final year University exams in the State this year, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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