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Professor Dhananjay Raghunath Kulkarni contends that the UGC guidelines are backed by law and that all Universities are bound by it.
A retired professor has moved an application to intervene in the pleas before the Supreme Court challenging the UGC's revised guidelines of July 6 which mandate the conduct of this year's terminal semester or final year University exams by September, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In his application, Dhananjay Raghunath Kulkarni contends that in view of Sections 12 and 26 of the UGC Act, and in view of the 2003 Regulations issued by the University Grants Commission (UGC) regarding the Minimum Standards of Instruction for formal higher education, all Universities are bound by the revised Guidelines issued by the UGC.
Professor Kulkarni recounts that initially, the UGC had issued guidelines in April 2020, pursuant to the report of the committee headed by Prof RC Kuhad, Vice-Chancellor, Central University of Haryana. The Committee consisted of various experts and senior officers of the UGC
Considering the evolving situation of the pandemic, in June, the UGC requested the expert committee headed by Prof RC Kuhad to revisit the UGC Guidelines on Examinations and the Academic Calendar for the Universities. The Committee submitted a report recommending that terminal semester and final year exams should be conducted by September in offline or online or blended mode.
It was based on this report, that the revised guidelines of July 6 were issued, which recommended the conduct of terminal semester and final year University exams by September.
These guidelines also gave the University concerned the option to decide the mode in which the exam may be conducted i.e. online or offline or in blended form (online + offline), the applicant notes.
In this backdrop, Professor Kulkarni has defended the validity of the July 6 guidelines on the following grounds:
The guidelines contain a policy decision that is backed by a Statute.
The guidelines have been issued in the interest of students while ensuring that adequate steps are taken to protect them from the COVID-19. The exams are to be conducted in line with the SOP issued on July 8 for ensuring the health and safety of all stakeholders.
All stakeholders including the universities were consulted before issuing the guidelines.
The factual basis of the revised guidelines are sound.
The University can take into consideration the situation prevalent in its area and decide which mode to conduct the exam in (online/offline/blended).
The retired Professor further contends that the petitioners' contentions that the revised guidelines are arbitrary, disproportionate and constitutional are not substantiated. Rather, it is argued that the petitioners' contentions that the guidelines are against the welfare of society at large and that they create a threat to the life of students are completely baseless.
Professor Kulkarni has also submitted that the Resolution passed by the Maharashtra Government on June 19 which allow the conduct of exams beyond September or to simply allow students to graduate without appearing for the exam is contrary to the guidelines and lacks legislative competence.
In this regard, it is submitted that the State's executive cannot pass such an order on a matter that concerns the coordination or determination of the standards of higher education, which is a subject under Entry 66, List I (i.e. the Union List).
The petition has been filed through Dr RR Deshpande & Associates, drawn by Advocate Abhay Anil Aturkar and settled by Senior Advocate Vinay Navare.
In the meanwhile, the UGC is expected to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court in the pleas seeking the cancellation of final year exams across Universities in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, intimating its decision not to cancel the exams.
As per a UGC official, the Commission will stick to the ground taken by it earlier in the Bombay High Court that the students' future will be "irreparaby damaged" if final year exams are cancelled.
The UGC is also likely to submit before the Supreme Court that students who are unable to appear for the examinations conducted until September, a special exam may be held for such a student at a later point of time.