The Supreme Court continued to hear the pleas against the UGC guidelines making it mandatory for final year exams to be held by September 30 amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and reserved its judgment on August 18, 2020. After many, hearings had already been carried out on the matter.
The last hearing was on August 14 and thousands of college and varsity students across the India are waiting for a final decision from Supreme Court.Since,they will need to understand whether they should continue to prepare for final year exams.
According to the last hearing, Advocate General Tushar Mehta said that varsities could seek for the exam deadline to be pushed back but they couldn’t take the decision to hand out degrees without conducting exams.
The Supreme Court hearing closed on August 18, 2020 with the Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan reserving its judgment. Furthermore, the court was asking all counsels to submit their notes within three days.
‘UGC’s decision defies provisions of UGC Act and Regulations’
Senior Advocate Arvind Datar made submissions for State of Maharashtra. He mentioned to the UGC Act and said that while UGC can enact the standards, it couldn’t compel for exams to be held.
The bench noted “Only the authorities can decide what is in their welfare. Students are not competent enough to decide.”
Datar further referred to the 2003 UGC guidelines and said that since final year students had already completed 5 semesters. Moreover, almost they completed the internal assessment of their 6th; not holding the final year exams wouldn’t be something fatal and wouldn’t dilute the UGC standards.
He also said that if the IITs could decide not to hold the exams, then other varsities could as well.
Datar made another submission to SC which noted that the UGC’s direction to universities to hold exams compulsorily by September 30 violated its powers.
He said that since Maharashtra was the worst-affected state in India, treating it equally as others would violate Article 14.
Datar also raised the issues pointed out in the earlier hearing of higher number of cases now than before, and many educational institutes now working as quarantine centers, besides the question of accessibility for underprivileged students if online exams were to go ahead.
Additionaly, another issue he noted was how the UGC is supposed to put out directives “in consultation with Universities and other bodies concerned”. Where the “other bodies” should include the Disaster Management Authority should be consulted as well none of them were consulted while making the July 6 guidelines.
Datar said that the expert committee had stated at the beginning of Covid-19 that students could be evaluated on internal marks basis if the situation didn’t improve.
He submitted that while the April 29 report stated that the states would decide how to proceed, why were they being to conduct exams now?
The AG of Odisha then submitted that his arguments were similar to that of Datar’s. He also noted that it would be her clean task now for hostels to accommodate students and that house owners wouldn’t be willing to take them in.
‘Students’ health is first’
Advocate AlakhAlokSrivastavacontended that the exams would make the health of students at risk. He said that UGC should have conducted proper consultation for the issue, including consultation from public health experts.
He noted that the UGC could stop giving grants to a university not following its guidelines this was the widest scope.
Srivastava said that the nature of the exams needed to be informed to students at the beginning of the semester and that this session had begun in July 2019.
He also brought to notice that there were flood-affected areas that would not be able to conduct the exams.
Advocate KishorLambat, for the Intervenor, highlighted that there were many parents who had lost their jobs and students were facing hardships.
Why are final exams important?
Senior Advocate PS Narasimha then submitted that the final exam was an essential for students going for higher education abroad and said that the final exam was vital in assessing the capability of a student.
He said many students keep their hopes for the last exam and revoking that would risk meritorious students.
He said that “life must go on” and if courts and governments were functioning, one should move forward.
Solicitor General makes submissions
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that there was a “political somersault” behind Maharashtra govt decision to revoke exams. Afterwards, its state committee recommended exams on May 6.
He specified that many varsities had already conducted exams in online, offline or blend mode. He said that the final year exams were significant since the performance brought in scholarship and recognition, and job opportunities.
He said that the Standard Operating Procedure checked by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare ensured that the students’ health would be fine by assigning certain do’s don’ts.
He said the UGC and other Regulators existed for the protection of interests of stakeholders and that students were the main stakeholders. The UGC directions were in the students’ interests only, he said.
He made a point on how the UGC guidelines do have statutory mandatory force.
On the Disaster Management Act, he said the central government did have supremacy over the states to make decisions.
The final submission he made was that the entire country was working. “The students are 21-22-year-olds. Can you really believe that they will not be going out?” he said.
SG noted finally that the varsities could ask to extend the deadline of the examination’s date but couldn’t reject the final year exams.
Supreme Court then reserved its judgment and asked the counsels to submit a note on their submission in three days’ time.
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