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The Supreme Court was informed today that a decision on whether or not to hold this year's Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) exams would be taken by tomorrow evening.
The Court also granted the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) liberty to follow the decision taken by the CBSE, with necessary changes.
A three-judge bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna heard the matter today.
The Bench was hearing a plea seeking cancellation of this year's CBSE exams, filed by the parents of students scheduled to appear for their Class XII Board exams in July.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) and CBSE, told the Court that the decision making process was in an advanced stage. He said,
"By tomorrow evening, a formal decision will be finalised. We understand the anxiety of the students. We can inform the Court day after tomorrow."
Accepting the submission, the Court deferred the hearing to June 25.
The Bench also noted that there was a matter concerting the ICSE exams and asked SG Mehta if he could respond on the same. In response, Mehta said,
"I am only for the Centre. If I am given the plea, I can respond."
Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta, appearing for ICSE, said that the Board was waiting for orders in the CBSE matter. He pointed out that a plea concerning the ICSE exams was pending before the Bombay High Court, which was awaiting the Supreme Court's decision in this matter.
Gupta then suggested that the ICSE matter also be heard the day after tomorrow. The Bench stated at this point,
"But will you follow what Centre or CBSE decides."
To this, Gupta replied,
"We will follow what the government decides."
This prompted the Bench to note,
"The situation is very unusual. If government decides and takes an informed call, then please take it seriously and don't discard it, because you are an autonomous body."
The Court then asked ICSE to give a copy of its petition to SG Mehta.
When Gupta submitted that ICSE will broadly follow the decision taken by CBSE, the Bench clarified that it would be at liberty to tweak the CBSE decision and follow an "informed decision".
On the last date of hearing, counsel for CBSE was asked to seek instructions on the plea.
Counsel for CBSE had then informed the Court that the Board was in the process of taking a decision on the issue raised in the plea, and therefore sought for the matter to be heard at a later date.
The petitioners highlight that according to data by AIIMS, the COVID-19 pandemic would be at its peak in India during this time. In this light, it would be a huge risk to hold Board exams even though the number of exam centres stands increased and the authorities have assured that proper safety will be maintained, the plea states.
The petition filed through Advocate Rishi Malhotra highlighted the various practical difficulties that will be posed should the exams be conducted as scheduled.
These include difficulties that a student from containment zones will face in order to leave the area to attend the exam centre and unavailability of private vehicles for all students to reach their exam centres.
On these grounds, among others, the petitioners prayed that the exam notification be quashed and that results be announced on the basis of the examinations already conducted, after factoring in the internal assessment marks of the remaining subjects.
Another petition filed through Advocate-on-Record and Khaitan & Co Partner Vanita Bhargava was tagged with the main petition. This plea also calls for the Board exams of Class X and XII students to be cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The plea states that the CBSE notification dated May 8, through which it was announced that Board exams would be held in July, differentiates between students of Classes X and XII with students of other boards, universities and of students of classes IX and XI of CBSE affiliated schools.
This, given the fact that the CBSE has decided to promote the students of Classes IX and XI on the basis of internal assessment. The petition thus calls for the same mechanism to be applied to students of Classes X and XII.