UGC and Supreme Court
UGC and Supreme Court

UGC Guidelines on Final Year Exams: Supreme Court adjourns matter to August 10, asks MHA to make its stand clear

While refusing to pass interim orders in the matter, the Court asked the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to clarify its stand on the issue.

Debayan Roy

The Supreme Court today adjourned to August 10 the hearing in the challenge to the University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines on conduct of final year university exams amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While refusing to pass interim orders in the matter, the Court asked the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to clarify its stand on the issue.

The Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah was hearing a batch of petitions challenging the July 6 guidelines issued by the UGC to universities across India requiring them to complete their final year and terminal semester exams by September 30.

R Subhash Reddy, Ashok bhushan, MR shah
R Subhash Reddy, Ashok bhushan, MR shah

Appearing for petitioner Yash Dubey, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi submitted that there were 16 lakh COVID-19 cases in the country at present, and that the UGC had issued its guidelines without application of mind.

When Singhvi pointed out that the UGC had reversed its initial guidelines passed in April, Justice Bhushan noted,

"UGC can always revisit guidelines."

Singhvi countered,

"This revisiting was arbitrary."

He further pointed that some universities lack basic IT infrastructure to conduct online exams. He also assailed the UGC's option of holding another exam at a later date.

"This optional exam is problematic. If someone cannot appear in the exam and given a later option, it will create chaos."

Arguing that the UGC's July 6 guidelines ignores the MHA guidelines for the COVID-19, Singhvi said,

"Heavens will not fall if exams are cancelled."

However, the Bench stated,

"MHA guidelines were of July 20. How can July 6 guidelines take them into account? The purpose of that guideline by MHA did not relate to exams."

The Bench went on to seek the response of the Maharashtra State Executive Committee formed under the Disaster Management Act.

It also directed the MHA to make it stand clear on the conduct of exams amid the pandemic. To this, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said,

"We will. By Monday latest. Nobody should be under the impression that they cannot prepare. Students should prepare for the exam."

While adjourning the matter to August 10, the Court directed that affidavits be filed by August 7 and rejoinders be filed a day after.

At the end of the hearing, Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, appearing for the petitioners, sought an interim order for students in flood-hit regions of Assam and Bihar. He asked the Bench,

"How will they travel, my Lord?"

However, the Bench refused to pass any interim orders in the matter.

On July 30, the UGC had informed the Supreme Court that it will not alter its July 6 guidelines mandating universities across India to conduct their final year examinations by September 2020.

In its affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the Commission states that its decision was taken "after due deliberation by taking into account and balancing all relevant factors".

The 50-page affidavit is in response to a batch of petitions challenging the UGC guidelines for being arbitrary, claiming that conducting the exams during the COVID-19 pandemic will put students at great risk.

However, rebutting UGC, the lead petitioner in the case through Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava submitted a rejoinder before the Apex Court, stating that the Commission has shown complete apathy to the students.

The rejoinder by the petitioner states that UGC has failed to take into account the worsening COVID-19 crisis in India. It is averred that more than 52,000 COVID-19 cases "have been added in last 24-Hours alone and there is no sign of any improvement betterment before September 30, even as per the ICMR Report."

It was further stated that UGC has ignored the floods in Assam, Bihar and North-Eastern states, which has killed hundreds of people and badly affected more than 100 districts of these states, making it virtually impossible to conduct either online or offline exams.

However, UGC stated that the July 6 guidelines adequately take into account the evolving situation of COVID-19, as "sufficient time" has been given to conduct the exams. Moreover, universities have been given sufficient flexibility to conduct exam via online, offline or hybrid modes.

UGC had further stated that in case students are unable to appear for the exam, they would be given a chance to appear at a specially conducted exam at a later date so that they are not put to any "inconvenience or disadvantage."

The lead petition in the case is a plea filed by 31 students from Indian universities across the country. They have challenged the UGC guidelines as being arbitrary, given that it would compel students to appear in exams during the COVID-19 pandemic, posing a risk to their health.

The other petitions in this case are by Yuvasena chief Aaditya Thackeray, and final year law students Yash Dubey and Krushna Waghmare.

Yuva Sena had submitted that the current condition in India is only deteriorating owing to the COVID-19 crisis. In this light, the time is not conducive to conduct examinations.

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