New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday refused to pass any interim order on a batch of petitions seeking cancellation of final year/semester examinations in September amid the COVID-19 pandemic and asked the Centre to clear the stand of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on the issue.
The UGC told the top court that nobody should remain under the impression that since the Supreme Court is examining this issue, the final year /semester examination will be stayed.
A bench head by Justice Ashok Bhushan, which conducted the hearing through video conferencing, said that it is not passing any orders on the issue and posted the matters for further hearing August 10.
The bench, also comprising Justices R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah, was informed by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the UGC, that he would apprise the court about MHA’s stand on the issue.
Mehta said they are only concerned with final year exams and out of over 800 universities in the country, 209 have completed the examinations.
He said that around 390 universities are in the process of conducting the examinations.
“Let nobody remain under the impression that since this court is examining this, it will be stayed. Let students continue with their studies,” Mehta said.
To this, the bench said, “We are not passing any such order.”
The bench also asked counsel for Maharashtra to place before it the June 19 order of the state disaster management committee passed in this regard.
“Let the decision (of state disaster management committee of Maharashtra) be brought on record,” the bench said.
The top court said all the affidavits be filed by August 7.
At the fag end of the hearing, advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, appearing for some of the petitioners, raised the issue of plight of students in the flood affected areas of Assam and Bihar.
“This is not a case for interim order today,” the bench said. “On August 10, we will hear it”.
Thursday, the UGC justified its decision directing all universities and institutions to hold final year/semester examinations in September saying it was done to protect the academic future of students across the country.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) had filed a 50-page affidavit on a batch of petitions, including the one filed by Shiv Sena’s youth wing ‘Yuva Sena’, which have challenged its guidelines issued on July 6 for holding the exams in September amidst the persisting coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
It said that in June this year, considering the evolving situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, it requested the expert committee to revisit the April 29 guidelines, by which it had asked the Universities and Institutions to hold final year examinations in July 2020.
The expert committee submitted a report recommending that terminal semester/final year examinations should be conducted by universities/ institutions by the end of September, 2020 in offline (pen & paper)/ online/ blended (online + offline) mode, the UGC said.
It added that this report of the expert committee was deliberated and approved by the UGC in its emergent meeting held on July 6, since the conduct of the final year/terminal examination is a time-sensitive issue.
The UGC said it has issued such guidelines to “protect the academic future of students across the country which will be irreparably damaged if their final year/terminal semester examinations are not held, while also keeping in mind their health and safety”.
Assailing the decisions of some states like Maharashtra and Delhi of cancelling the final year examinations, the commission said that such decisions directly affect the standards of higher education and will be an encroachment on the legislative field of coordinating and determining the standards of higher education that is exclusively reserved for Parliament under Schedule VII of the Constitution.
“Therefore, the decisions of certain State Governments (Maharashtra and Delhi) to either cancel the terminal semester/final year examinations for UG/PG students, and/or to graduate such students and confer degrees without appearing for the final year/terminal semester examinations is plainly contrary to the UGC’s guidelines,” it said.
The UGC justified the revised guidelines issued July 6 and said that it adequately takes into account the evolving situation of the COVID-19 pandemic because it provide sufficient time till the end of September 2020 to conduct the final year/terminal semester examinations after following the prescribed protocols and procedures relating to COVID-19.
“It gives sufficient flexibility to universities/ institutions to conduct such examinations online, offline (pen and paper) or blended (online + offline) mode and provide for an examination through special chance for students who “for whatsoever the reason(s) may be” are unable to appear for the examination conducted by a university/institution by end of September, 2020”, the UGC said.
It said that the Universities/Institutions may conduct such special examinations as and when feasible so that the students concerned are not put to any inconvenience or disadvantage.
July 27, the top court had asked the UGC to file a consolidated reply to the batch of petitions challenging its revised guidelines to conduct final year examinations by September 30 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.