UGC and Supreme Court
UGC and Supreme Court

UGC has shown complete apathy to students, no concern for worsening COVID-19 situation: Rejoinder in Supreme Court

The rejoinder states that UGC has ignored the floods in Assam, Bihar and North-Eastern states, which has killed hundreds of people, making it virtually impossible to conduct either online or offline exams.

Debayan Roy

After the University Grants Commission (UGC) decided not to change its decision to hold final year university exams by September 30, the lead petitioner in the case before the Supreme Court has filed a rejoinder stating that the Commission has failed to take into account the worsening COVID-19 condition.

The rejoinder to the UGC reply filed by Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava states that one out of the 31 students who had approached the Supreme Court is COVID-19 positive. It is stated that if he opts for the "special exam" option at a later date, he would lose job/admission opportunities.

UGC has 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.

The Commission has 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 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 in the "extremely urgent rejoinder" filed before the Apex Court, the petitioner has argued that UGC has failed to 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."

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

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".

However, the petitioners argue that the poor internet connectivity in rural areas and in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh would be a hurdle for any online exam or hybrid mode tests.

These areas are also plagued with lack of training, possibility of hacking/tampering with results, and lack of safety, the rejoinder states with reference to conduct of online exams.

UGC has also assailed the decisions of the Maharashtra and Delhi governments to not conduct final year exams amid the pandemic. These decisions, the affidavit states, are in violation of the guidelines.

The rejoinder contends that since the UGC itself does not know when the COVID-19 crisis will subside and when the proposed special examination will be conducted for the students, most of the students will ultimately take the final year exams by September 30 "making it patently violative of their fundamental right to life, which includes within its ambit, Right to Health, under Article 21 of the Constitution of India."

The rejoinder further raises concerns about students who have returned to their hometowns in different states. It is stated,

"Now, travelling back to the said states to appear in the final year examinations, would not only endanger their lives, but their parents lives too,"

The rejoinder argues that if the students are not awarded marksheets based on past performance by July 31, they would lose out on employment and admission opportunities.

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.

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