UGC and supreme court
UGC and supreme court
Litigation News

The Ultimate Test? States divided over UGC guidelines mandating conduct of final year exams amid COVID-19, await Supreme Court verdict

On August 18, a Justice Ashok Bhushan led bench of the Supreme Court reserved its judgment on the petitions challenging the decision of the University Grants Commission (UGC) to hold final year University exams.

Debayan Roy

Even as the verdict from the Supreme Court is awaited on the challenge to University Grants Commission's (UGC) July 6 guidelines mandating final year exams across universities to be conducted before September 30, states remain divided on whether or not to follow the UGC directive.

The challenge to the UGC guidelines was first filed by 31 petitioners across India . Thereafter, petitions by a final year law student from Bhopal and Aditya Thackeray-led youth wing of Shiv Sena, Yuva Sena also came to be filed.

The plea by the final year law student had all states as respondents. Thus, when the Apex Court took up the matter, though no formal notice was served to the states, they were open to filing their replies in Court.

Out of all states, Maharashtra, Delhi, Odisha and West Bengal were the only ones who replied.

Maharashtra

The Uddhav Thackeray government informed the Supreme Court that the State Disaster Management Authority on July 13 had resolved to not conduct examinations in the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision was taken after a majority of university Vice-Chancellors from across the state voted against conducting exams in view of the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

It stated,

"The authority took into consideration various aspects such as the prevailing alarming COVID-19 situation in the entire state, lockdown imposed by various municipal bodies, declared containment zones, college buildings being used as isolation centres and the view was put forth by the majority of vice-chancellors of universities that it is not possible to conduct the examinations in the state."

COVID-19 Status: As of August 25, there are a total of 11,015 new COVID-19 cases in the state, with 14,219 recoveries and 212 deaths. As of now, there are 1,68,126 active cases. There have been 6,93,398 cases till date with 22,465 deaths and over 5 lakh recoveries.

States before the Supreme Court and States that have opposed the Exam
States before the Supreme Court and States that have opposed the Exam

Delhi

The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government of Delhi had informed the Apex Court that a decision was taken to direct all Delhi State Universities to cancel their written online and offline semester examinations including final year exams.

In its affidavit, the Delhi government states that on July 11, a decision was taken by the Deputy Chief Minister/Higher and Technical Education Minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi that all online and offline exams of universities, including final year exams, would be cancelled in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases.

Status of exams: GGSIP University, which has around 27,000 final year students, is now devising a mechanism for assessment to award marks to final year students. This is also the case for the Delhi Pharmaceutical Science and Research University (DPSRU).

Six other universities have completed final year examinations by online mode.

COVID-19 Status: Delhi has so far logged 1,61,466 COVID-19 cases which includes 11,778 active cases, nearly 1,46,000 recoveries and 4,300 deaths. The health department on Sunday said that more than 14 lakh tests have been conducted till now.

Covid Cases and Deaths statistics ever since UGC 1 and UGC 2 guidelines have been issued
Covid Cases and Deaths statistics ever since UGC 1 and UGC 2 guidelines have been issued

West Bengal

In June itself, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government had announced that considering the rising number of COVID-19 cases, universities should evaluate students through alternative methods, with 80% weightage on the best aggregate percentage obtained in any of the previous semesters/years and 20% on internal assessment.

After the UGC revised guidelines were issued on July 6, the state government informed the Centre that the revised guidelines went against the spirit of the federal structure enshrined in the Constitution as education was on the Concurrent List.

"The number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise; many villages and colleges suffered damage due to Cyclone Amphan, and some 40% of our colleges are serving as quarantine centres," the affidavit from West Bengal read.

COVID-19 Status: August 21 was the eighth consecutive day that the number of new infections crossed the 3,000 mark in a day, pushing the number of active cases to 27,804. The death toll due to the Coronavirus mounted to 2,851 after 57 people succumbed to the disease, while the state's tally reached 1,41,837 with 2,967 new cases of infection.

Odisha

The Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal Odisha Government told the Supreme Court that the UGC's July 6 guidelines are not implementable in the State of Odisha, given the prevailing COVID-19 situation.

The affidavit recalls that the Odisha government had issued a letter on June 18 to all educational institutions recommending the adoption of alternative evaluation mechanisms in lieu of final year exams in view of the COVID-19 situation at the time.

COVID-19 Status: In a biggest single day surge, 2,993 new COVID-19 cases were detected in Odisha in the last 24 hours taking the tally to 78,530. This was the biggest single-day count so far. As many as 2,924 cases were recorded on August 15. There are 2,129 recovered patients in the state.

Punjab

Though the state has not filed a response in the Supreme Court, it had expressed its inability to conduct examinations for final year students of colleges and universities and urged the UGC to reconsider its guidelines.

The Amarinder Singh-led Congress government had informed the UGC that over 30% of the students belonging to the Scheduled Caste population do not have required resources like internet connection, smartphones and computers, due to financial constraints.

On July 25, taking into consideration the worsening situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Punjab & Haryana High Court asked the Panjab University to consider the feasibility of passing the students on the basis of their score in the previous semesters.

The Court also ordered an interim stay on the final examinations to be conducted in the month of July, 2020 by Panjab University.

COVID-19 Status: The state reported 1,516 cases and 43 deaths in the last 24 hours. The total count of COVID-19 cases has reached 43,284. The total number of casualties has reached 1,129.

Assam

Unlike the above states, this BJP-ruled state has decided that Assam's Gauhati University (GU) will be conducting the final semester exam.

The state was also mentioned a couple of times during the Supreme Court hearings as it was recently ravaged by flood. Petitioners had pleaded before the Apex Court that students living in flood-affected areas would not be able to attend the exams.

The exams are going to be held from September 22 and these will follow the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) set by the UGC.

Final semester examinations will be conducted in blended mode maintaining COVID-19 protocol and the relevant SOP published by the UGC for the purpose,” reads the official statement.

Even Assam's Dibrugarh University (DU) has announced that it will be holding the final year and final semester examinations for undergraduate and postgraduate students in the month of September.

COVID-19 Status: As of now, 1,875 more people have tested positive for the Coronavirus, taking the total number of cases to 92,619. There is a total of 19,274 active cases in the state.

Tamil Nadu

Though the Edapaddi Palanaswami government of Tamil Nadu did not file a response in the Apex Court, the state decided to cancel all the intermediate year/semester exams except for the final exams in all the colleges and universities in the state.

The students who will not be appearing for the exam will be promoted based on the formula suggested by the UGC/AICTE.

The Chief Minister also said that the Tamil Nadu government had constituted a 11-member panel to finalise the modalities for conducting the examination. The panel had suggested that there is no possibility of conducting the examination amid the COVID-19 crisis in the state.

COVID-19 Status: The number of COVID-19 positive cases in Tamil Nadu remained under the 6,000 mark for the fourth day on Monday with 5,967 people testing positive for the infection. The total number of cases in the state now stands at 3,85,352.

Himachal Pradesh

On August 17, the Himachal Pradesh High Court stayed the final term exams in the state, mandated by the UGC, until the orders of the Supreme Court is pronounced in the matter.

Universities and their exam status

On August 18, UGC said that 194 universities in the country had conducted final year exams for final year students.

The UGC statement said it had got responses from 755 universities (120 deemed universities, 274 private universities, 40 central universities and 321 state universities) on the status of exams.

Out of the 755 universities, 560 have either conducted the examinations or are planning to conduct them.

It said that 194 have already conducted examinations. 366 are planning to conduct examinations in August-September. In addition, for 27 Private universities, which were established during 2019-20 to till date, the first batch of students is yet to become eligible for final examination.

It has now been a week since a Bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan reserved its judgment in the petitions challenging the decision of the UGC to mandate the conduct of final year university exams amid the pandemic.

The Supreme Court ruling is expected to clear the air regarding powers of the states to defer final year exams, especially since UGC has submitted that since it is entrusted to maintain standard of higher education in the country under a statute, state governments cannot surpass its guidelines.

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