[Final Exams amid COVID-19] Karnataka HC asks VTU to examine if "Special Chance Exams" can be conducted Online
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[Final Exams amid COVID-19] Karnataka HC asks VTU to examine if "Special Chance Exams" can be conducted Online

The Court observed that it was not practical to order for the online conduct of final exams scheduled for September. However, the University should examine if special chance exams can be conducted online, it said.

Bar & Bench

The Karnataka High Court today declined to pass any order for the online conduct of University final year exams in Karnataka, in view of submissions made by VTU that they did not have the infrastructure and manpower in place for conducting online exams.

Instead, Justice Sunil Dutt Yadav asked the VTU to explore if "special chance exams" to be conducted for students who may not be able to appear for the final exams can be conducted in online mode.

The University is expected to file a detailed affidavit on this matter, after due consultation with experts, by September 25, when the Court will hear the matter next.

The Court was hearing a plea concerning the University Grants Commission's Guidelines (UGC Guidelines) mandating the conduct of final year University examinations by September end this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic (Vedant v. Union of India).

While the UGC guidelines leave it to the concerned Universities to decide whether the exam can be conducted online, offline or in blended mode, the petitioners had sought for the exams to be conducted online, given the COVID-19 situation in Karnataka.

Highlights of the order passed today

  • In any decision to be taken, the interest of the students to be foremost.

  • In this time of COVID-19, whatever technical options that could be feasibly applied should be explored.

  • The University is directed to reconsider the issue to examine whether special chance exams can be conducted online. The University is to take assistance and counsel from experts to the extent possible, and factor in the students' grievances. The number of "special chance exam" students may be smaller, so university may be in a position to take a better decision after the exam is conducted

  • The matter has been posted on September 25, i.e. about a week after the final exams. The VTU final exam is due to be conducted on September 15, Court was told. The Court said that this time is sufficient for the University to reconsider the issue.

  • By September 25, the University should file a detailed affidavit after taking note of court's orders of today and yesterday.

  • The University should keep in mind that the final exam would have a great impact on the students' future prospects. The University is expected to explore all grievances made by students with all seriousness.

  • The State has submitted that the SOPs applicable for the CET exam conducted in Karnataka earlier (amid the pandemic) would be followed in the conduct of these exams.

  • Appointment of Grievance Redressal Officer: Grievances by students, including students from out of Karnataka, are to be addressed by a grievance officer nominated by the Government along with the Registrar of VTU. The contact details of the government official designated as a Grievance officer to be put up on the website of VTU to enable the students to contact and get their grievances addressed.

  • VTU's submissions: Court has taken on record practical difficulties expressed by VTU in holding the exams online. VTU has submitted that they will try to hold the special chance exams "little earlier than December or January."

  • UGC has been directed to obtain instructions on its stance in the matter. The UGC today told the Court that it is up to the University to decide on whether it is capable of conducting the exams online, and that there are UGC guidelines to allow its online conduct if the University wishes to do so. The counsel added that the UGC requires some time to respond to submissions by students for having an online option for the special chance exam.

In arguments made this afternoon, Advocate Bhargav Bhat (for the petitioners) urged the Court to direct the University to respond on the feasibility of conducting the special chance exams by next week, in the interest of the students.

Bhat pointed out that the students would then be able to make an informed decision on whether to attend the September exams in person.

The Court, however, opined that it is unlikely that the University would be in a position to make the decision by then.

In the event that the University says it is unable to conduct the special chance exams online, the Court would then consider passing appropriate orders, Justice Yadav said.

The Court today observed that the primary consideration should be to protect the interest of the students and that the University and other agencies have to step up in view of this. Justice Yadav added that a study may be made of other Universities that have already conducted the exams.

The State has submitted that there would be no impediment citing quarantine restrictions for students appearing for the exam.

The plea had challenged the UGC's July 6 guidelines mandating the conduct of final-year examinations by September end as "illegal, onerous, arbitrary" and as "striking at the root of Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution." The petitioners were final-year engineering undergraduates at the Bangalore Institute of Technology.

During the hearing yesterday, the petitioners clarified that they are only urging for the exams to be conducted online, given that the main challenge to the UGC guidelines are pending before the Supreme Court.

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