UGC Supreme Court
UGC Supreme Court
Litigation News

Supreme Court reserves order in challenge to UGC Guidelines mandating final year exams by September 30

The UGC guidelines require universities to conclude their final year examinations by September 30 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bar & Bench

The Supreme Court is presently hearing the challenge made to the University Grant Commission's guidelines (UGC guidelines) that require universities to conclude their final year examinations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Live updates of the hearing today feature on this page.

The matter was heard last on Friday, August 14.

Read an account of the hearing on August 14 here:

Senior Counsel Arvind Datar begins making his submissions, takes the Court through Counter filed by the UGC

Arvind Datar
Arvind Datar

Datar begins reading from UGC counter. UGC can lay down standards but it has no jurisdiction as regards conduct of exams as per judgment of the Constitution Bench.

Supreme Court: The judgment refers to medical colleges

Arvind Datar: I will show the relevance of the judgment

Datar says the controversy in the judgment pertained to the power of the State and Central Government.

Datar: It just dealt with the determination and coordination of standards.

SC: But the UGC is not conducting the examination. Universities are conducting the examinations

Datar: the judgment shows the limited scope of Entry 66 which is laying down the standards for conducting the Exams

Datar: The most important aspect today is the welfare of the students

Justice Bhushan: Students cannot decide their welfare, Authorities can decide their welfare.

Justice Bhushan: There are 2 parts in play here,

  • one is UGC laying down the guidelines and standards; and

  • the other is States declaring that they cannot allow holding of exams

Justice Bhushan: The question also here is that declaration of results without holding of exams may not be within the domain of the Disaster Management Act

Justice R Subhash Reddy: Wouldn't it lead to dilution of standards of exams are not held?

Datar addressing the Court in the question of dilution of standards first, cites the example of IIT

SC: We are not concerned with IIT

Datar: Only saying if a central institute of such repute can do it, then why can't we?

Datar refers to 2003 UGC guidelines, highlights three things - Program, Semester, and Course

Datar: The guidelines state that the overall performance of the students throughout the year has to be assessed.

Arvind Datar is elaborating on the cumulative grading/ marking system provided for in these guidelines (UGC 2003)

Datar: Our concern is final exams.

By February or March 2020, students have the CGPA which is the average of their first five semesters (assuming it's a three-year program having semester system)

SG Tushar Mehta raises a question regarding the assessing system and whether it is uniform throughout the country.

Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta
Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta

Datar says most universities follow the semester system.

Datar: At least in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu they are

Justice Bhushan: Some universities may not follow the system. I know of some universities in UP where there is no semester system

Mehta: It provides for semester system throughout the country, but it is not mandatory

Datar: My instructions are that it is applicable throughout the country

Justice MR Shah points out excerpts from the guidelines which point out there could be annual, semester or trimester system

Datar: They still have a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) by the end of their course

Justice Bhushan circles back to the question of whether the final semester can be skipped?

Justice Bhushan: We have gone through the regulations, if there is something you want to point out?

Justice Shah: Your point is that first five exams (semester exams) should be considered

Datar: A person who has cleared all the exams till March 25th, has completed five semesters, has a CGPA, has completed internal assessment.. essentially over 85% of the course is completed

Justice Bhushan: If there is a standard fixed by UGC that without final exam, a degree cannot be given, can universities really decide to cancel the final exam?

Then all the universities will come up with their own method.

Datar: Today the concern is the correctness of UGC direction for holding of exams.

One is of holding exams and other is of holding them till 30th September

Datar: My submission is that UGC can say don't award a degree without holding of an exam but it cannot say that you hold the exam by 30th September at any cost.

Datar: What is under challenge is UGC circular of July 6.

My submission is, it should be struck down

Datar: COVID has hit different parts of the country differently. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi are badly affected. Maharashtra is the worst hit.

Datar: UGC guidelines make uniform rule for the whole country without taking the pandemic and practical difficulties into consideration. This is violative of Article 14 as they are treating unequal situations equally.

Justice Bhushan: If exams were to be held at different times then the argument would have been against that also?

Datar: UGC says, the States can take the situation into account and hold exams but by 30th September. When we could not hold exams when the cases were at 15,000 how can we hold exams now?

Datar gives example of practical difficulties

In Pune, which has a lot of students who come from other cities and now have gone back home How can exams be held? Most institutes have been converted into testing or quarantine centres.

Datar also touches upon the technical and technological limitations, raises the question pertaining to students with disabilities whose concerns have also not been taken into account.

Datar says that any decision which UGC says should be taken in consultation with other bodies and should include authorities under Disaster Management Aact

Datar: How the guidelines can be made mandatory now? "When the UGC back then, said chart your own course, how can they now make it mandatory?"

Datar refers to recommendations made by the Expert Committee which provided for students to be assessed internally if the Covid situation did not abate

Datar: Who they consulted is interesting. In June 2020, UGC requested the committee head to revisit the UGC guidelines. The committee consulted VCs of many technical universities.

Datar: They said that the committee consulted VCs of technical universities but in Maharashtra no VCs, no minister, nobody was consulted!

Datar: If SC considers the Union vs State issue, State enactments would overrule the guidelines.

Datar concludes.

Advocate General for Odisha makes arguments, says sanctity of exams has been compromised as far as final semester exams is concerned; says his stand is similar to that of Arvind Datar

Odisha AG refers to the affidavit filed before the SC, highlights:

1) technological inaccessibility and disparity among students for online exams; and

2) threat of exposure to the virus in case of physical exams

AG Odisha: It is not practical to implement the guidelines of the UGC. Under the current circumstances, it is impossible for the State to conduct the exam by 30th September

Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta representing an Organization of Teachers from West Bengal now makes submissions.

Gupta: On June 27, the decision was taken by State-aided universities to allocate 80% marks on a weighted average of previous examinations and 20% on internal assessment

Justice Bhushan: We have said it earlier also, if it is permissible, then all the Universities can evolve their own modalities

Gupta: For those who have to take the final examination, significant portion of their examination and assessment is already complete. There is no difference between other exams and last examination.

Gupta: Most universities are not campus universities. There will be different exam centers and transport is an issue. Cyclone amphan also affected many establishments and facilities leading to infrastructural issues

Gupta: On legal arguments, this order is an executive order and is in violation of Article 14 and is arbitrary and unreasonable

Gupta: This is against the Wednesbury rule. They have not even taken into consideration the difficulties faced by the State to hold offline exams. This order has to go

Gupta: They did not hold "effective consultation" as was required. The did by merely consulting 3 persons. If they had consulted even 1 person per state, they would have understood the difficulty faced

Advocate General Kishore Dutta for West Bengal now making submissions, says "we are in exceptional circumstances, we have to see whether UGC has taken the decision keeping in view the extraordinary situation."

Dutta: There is an interplay between various Articles which also have to be looked into by the Court - 39E, 47, 41, 45, 46

Without looking into the public health aspect, could the UGC have drafted these guidelines?

Dutta: I doubt if any health expert from any States have contributed to the decision making to give ground clearance on the feasibility to hold exams

Dutta: I doubt if any health expert from any States have contributed to the decision making to give ground clearance on the feasibility to hold exams

Dutta: In this pandemic, States like Maharashtra and West Bengal cannot be treated to be the same. UGC has taken this decision unilaterally

Dutta: UGC proceeded on the premise as if this was 2019, 2018 etc

Justice Bhushan: UGC guidelines say that all the health-related guidelines have to be followed..you cannot say that they have not considered the public health, the guidelines mention it.

Dutta: I bow down to the Court then

Dutta concludes. Senior Counsel KV Vishwanathan representing Delhi Government making submissions now.

KV Viswanathan
KV Viswanathan

KVV: We have submitted our affidavit. Manish Sisodia announced that exams may not be held leaving it open for the universities to hold their exams. .

SC observes that 3 universities have conducted their exams also

KVV: There is a divide between the classes of people with rich having access to technology and poor being at a disadvantage

KVV: There is a serious handicap when it comes to access. Not all of the students are able to access books and study material. Even online has its handicap.

KVV: This is in pith and substance an issue of public health and States have control over it under Article 239AA (for Delhi)

KVV questions the RC Kuhad committee report also, says no alternative methods have been explored. KVV urges the Court not to rest with this committee report.

"Please consult someone of repute."

KVV: The most affected people will be the poor and downtrodden, unless you decide to give them all Tablet Computers

KVV: Finally, what happens to those universities who have already followed the April guidelines.

SC: There is no contradiction between April and July guidelines... Earlier guidelines only allowed discretion to decide method.

Senior Advocate Mihir Desai for Teachers Association of Maharashtra sought to make submissions.

SC says it will hear him later.

Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora for one of the petitioners begins her submissions, says students not given a level playing field

Meenakshi Arora
Meenakshi Arora

Arora: Let the students not be made guinea pigs in this experimentation.

Some students can give exams now, some can't. The leftover students will lose out on opportunities and jobs later on

Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava makes submissions now.

Alakh Alok Srivastava
Alakh Alok Srivastava

Srivastava: As per Section 12, Health Experts should have been consulted by the expert committee.

Srivastava: Section14 allows UGC to stop giving grants to Universities if they don't follow the UGC guidelines.

Srivastava invokes the States duty towards public health of the citizens under the Constitution of India.

Srivastava: The pandemic could not have been foreseen.

Srivastava invokes Article 14, says students passed out earlier would be treated at a different footing than students passing out this year. This would be violative of Article 14.

(Audio gets patchy in the media room)

Srivastava concludes his arguments. Intervenors commence their arguments.

Senior Advocate PS Narasimha makes his arguments now.

Narasimha makes a case for final year exams, says for many students who wish to study abroad or pursue further studies, final exams are absolutely necessary

Narasimha argues that it may be unfair to assess students on first two years' performance. He argues not everyone studies throughout the course. Students put in a lot of hope in the final exams.

Narasimha: Life must go on! The government is cautious, courts are cautious. We must be resilient. UGC has given Covid guidelines.

Narasimha opposes KVV's argument, says UGC guidelines do not contravene health issue. Narasimha concludes.

Senior Advocate Vinay Navare makes arguments now

Navare: Cannot say there is no legal soundness in the UGC guidelines

It is okay if students to say that under pandemic situation, students cannot go and give exams, Navare.

But students cannot under Article 32 say that we cannot give exams but confer degrees.

Navare: UGC did not exceed its power. Right now, the deadline to hold exams can be asked to be pushed but it cannot be asked not to hold exams at all.

Navare questions Yuva Sena's move to file the petition.

In May, it was Maharashtra Universities that decided to hold exams then Yuva Sena which is headed by Minister's son files this petition. This issue cannot be used to earn popularity!

Navare: The only powers conferred upon a State is under Section 8. There is no other provision that gives powers to the State... even Vice Chancellor is given the power, but not the State.

Navare: UGC has the power to mandate conduction of exams but the deadline may be left to the universities.

Navare concludes.

SG Tushar Mehta for UGC begins to make his submissions. UGC does not have the luxury to confer degrees without holding exams, he says.

Tushar Mehta
Tushar Mehta

Tushar Mehta: I don't wish to make this Centre vs State issue. Both are Supreme in their own capacity under Disaster Management Act

Media Room in the Supreme Court briefly loses connection. to the Supreme Court hearing. Connection has now resumed. Tushar Mehta continues his arguments.

Tushar Mehta: On May 6, Maharashtra constituted a committee. Their own high-level committee recommended holding of exams.

Mehta says the Maharashtra government's change in position a "is a summersault from earlier decision. I don't want to go into political allegations raised by some petitioners."

Mehta: June 29, Unlock 2 guidelines were issued which provided that States may make stricter restrictions but not dilute them

Mehta: After taking into consideration recommendations made by the RC Kuhad committee there were guidelines which are mandatory.

Tushar Mehta: Final year is the degree year, exams cannot be done away with

Mehta taking the Court through the provisions under the guidelines (July 6), points out that the earlier guidelines (April 30) of the UGC were not mandatory

Mehta reading an office memorandum of the MHA and MHRD. Mehta cites the example of exams being conducted by some Universities in Delhi, adds that many top-level University have opted for online exams

Mehta: Many universities have conducted exams in online, offline and hybrid mode

Mehta continues to read from guidelines issued by the government to highlight that the unprecedented situation was taken into account and addressed in SOPs and Dos and Don'ts

Safety guidelines were communicated to and adopted by MHRD which were communicated to the university through UGC

Mehta: Foreign Universities and further education require degrees and the future prospects of the students was taken into consideration while providing for the degree to be conferred after folding exams

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta sharing statistics on all the Universities that have conducted exams so far.

Mehta: Guidelines are not merely for preaching. They are mandatory. The guidelines that are challenged before the Court have statutory mandate

Mehta: UGC Act derives its power from Entry 66 of List 1 in Schedule 7. It is Section 12 which provides functions of University.

Mehta: Regulation 6(1) of 2003 Regulations pertains to the minimum standard for giving the first degree... The University must adhere to it. That is the statutory mandate

Mehta refers to two judgments - the 2005 judgment in the case of Yashpal Singh and the 2013 judgment of Maha Vaishno Devi Mahila Vishwavidyalay vs UP.

Mehta now addresses on DM Act, says he does not want to traverse in the realm of whether Union Government has precedence or State Government. "Disaster can be local or pan India", he adds.

Justice Bhushan: The only issue which we need answer to is if State Disaster Management Act of Maharashtra has decided not to conduct exams, can that override UGC guidelines?

Mehta: It cannot override the directions of the UGC which is functioning under a different statute in a different area

Justice Bhushan: But, we have to harmonize all the provisions. UGC may say that we cannot award degree without exams but UGC perhaps cannot say that hold exam against the SDMA recommendation

Mehta: States can approach the Centre and request for pushing of the date of exams for whatever specified reasons but the State cannot say that they will confer the degree without exams

Mehta: This deadline was given in the interest of the students, it was not a diktat. Students have to go for post-graduation or jobs

Mehta: The country is opening up gradually, these students are 20-21 year old students. Can we really believe they are not going out?

Supreme Court asks all the parties to file their written submissions, if any, within a period of 3 days. Court clarifies that interventions are not being permitted. Supreme Court reserves its order.

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news
www.barandbench.com