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"The risk of congregation in the University would arise if the students have to attend examinations physically in the University", the Bench noted.
The Karnataka High Court has observed that conducting online exams in place of regular exams cannot be said to be "unreasonable" or "against the interest of students" amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision was passed by the Bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Ravi V Hosmani in a plea challenging the conduct of online semester exams by University of Agricultural Sciences, from September 2 to 18.
In its order, the Bench held,
Karnataka High Court
Senior Advocate Professor Ravivarma Kumar, appearing for the petitioners, firstly contended that the entire mode and method of examination has been changed from what is found in the examination regulations.
Kumar argued that this would be a hindrance as many students hail from remote and rural areas. They may not have the technological acquaintance to appear in online examinations, said Kumar.
Concern was also raised on the uncertainty of electricity supply in rural areas. Thus, if there is non-supply of electricity, then a particular student would not be able to appear for online examinations, Kumar contended.
Countering these submissions, Advocate R Srinivasa Gowda, appearing for the respondent University, firstly said that Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) had permitted both online and offline modes of examination.
Gowda also pointed out that that students are fairly familiar with technology, and that safeguards have been provided for students who fail to appear in the examinations owing to medical reasons.
He further submitted that as a one-time measure, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University may permit the students to be promoted to the next semester even if they have not scored well.
Gowda also contended that the new academic year would only commence from October 2020, provided there is no disruption of the schedule of the semester examinations yet to be conducted.
After hearing the rival arguments, the Court primarily noted the nature of the current pandemic. The Bench observed that the risk of congregation would arise if physical exams are permitted. Many a time, the students fail to observe the safety measures put in place, the Court observed.
This would expose all stakeholders including students to the risk of the disease, opined the Bench. The order states,
Karnataka High Court
On the concerns raised by the petitioners on the uncertainty of electricity, the Bench ordered that,
".....we may also add that if there are genuine grounds, such as not being able to appear in the examination owing to disruption in electricity supply or any other genuine ground which we may not specify or list out presently, it is for the student to make out a case before the University along with the requisite documents and the University in appropriate cases permit such student to appear in the examination when the same is missed."
Further, students who have missed the examination should be permitted to attend classes in the next semester, if the reason for their missing the exam is genuine, the Court said.
If a student who appeared in the online examinations desires to improve his performance, then such a student should be given such an opportunity, the Bench further directed.
The issue regarding the maintainability of this writ petition as a PIL has been kept aside, said the Bench. On a parting note, it stated,
"Normally, when the petitioner/petitioners who file a public interest litigation are also the beneficiary/beneficiaries of the orders to be passed in a public interest litigation, then it would not be entertained as a public interest litigation but would be treated as a private interest.
However, in the instant case, since a Coordinate Bench of this Court by order dated 20.08.2020 has entertained the writ petition and issued notice to the respondent...bearing in mind the interest of the students of the respondent University and having regard to the observations which are made above and also the fact that the ensuing examinations would be commencing day after tomorrow (02.09.2020), the issue regarding maintainability of this writ petition as a public interest litigation has been kept aside. However, this order shall not be treated as a precedent."