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The UGC guidelines require universities to conclude their final year examinations by September 30, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Supreme Court will tomorrow pronounce its judgment in a batch of petitions challenging the revised guidelines of the University Grants Commission (UGC) mandating the conduct of final year exams by September 30.
On August 18, the Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subshash Reddy, and MR Shah had reserved its judgment in the matter after a detailed hearing spanning over two days.
In its revised guidelines, the UGC has mandated that all final year exams be conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while following the Standard Operating Procedure.
However, in the wake of the consistently worsening situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, some state governments had already cancelled university exams, while asking universities to consider adopting an alternative marking system.
The UGC's guidelines prompted not just students, but also teachers' associations and youth wings of political parties to the Supreme Court.
Before the Court, the power of the UGC to lay down a direction of this nature while overriding the provisions of the Disaster Management Act was called into question. Another question that was put before the Court was whether state governments can declare against holding of exams when it is the UGC which is empowered to confer degrees on students.
A host of Senior Counsel including Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Shyam Divan, and Arvind Datar argued in favour of the interests of the students. They pointed out that the decision taken by some state governments to cancel the exams was only on account of the COVID-19 figures. Under normal circumstances, a deferment or cancellation of exams would not be stipulated.
Singhvi said that the UGC's initial guidelines displayed an element of sensitivity and flexibility. However, the same was completely absent in its revised guidelines which fixed a deadline of September 30 without taking into consideration the ground situation in different places.
He also questioned the UGC's rationale behind refusing to hold exams in April when the COVID-19 pandemic was still at its nascent stages.
Divan argued that Union Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines direct for educational institutions to be closed and that the guidelines may be made stricter by the states if required, but cannot be diluted. The holding of exams would essentially lead to the dilution of these guidelines, Divan said.
Datar explained to the Court the availability of option to adopt an alternative marking system as per the UGC's provisions.
Senior Advocates KV Vishwanathan and Jaideep Gupta raised pertinent points as regards disparity in access to resources for students to give the exams in online mode. Datar also added that the students with special needs have been left out of consideration.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that the UGC is not equipped to confer degrees without exams and the decision to conduct exams has been taken keeping in view the interests of the students, many of whom have applied for jobs and further studies.
Mehta argued that the guidelines have a statutory mandate and that they are mandatory in nature. States do not have the power to unilaterally decide that exams will be cancelled, considering it is the UGC that has the governing power in this domain, Mehta submitted.
The Supreme Court, after concluding the arguments in the case, had directed the parties to submit their written submissions if any, and had reserved the judgment on August 18.