Not Holding Final-Year Exams ‘Not Fatal’, Argue Lawyers as SC Reserves Order on UGC Circular

On Tuesday, July 18, the Supreme Court reserved its order on the petitions filed against the directive issued by the University Grants Commission (UGC) on July 6, which stated that the final-year examinations shall be conducted before September 30 at any cost.

A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and M.R. Shah heard the parties over a video conferencing which lasted for over four hours. The connectivity briefly went off in the middle of the hearing.

The bench heard senior advocate Arvind P. Datar for the state of Maharashtra, senior advocate Jaideep Gupta for teachers from West Bengal, senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan for government of Delhi and so on.

The court also heard solicitor general Tushar Mehta, representing the UGC, who, in his final submission, said that the commission had the power to issue the guidelines under the UGC Act. While the universities, he said, can seek for the deadline extension, they cannot confer degrees to the final-year students without conducting exams.

The bench, reserving its final verdict, asked Mehta, “If there is a certain situation in a State, can the UGC override the State and mandate for the exams to still be held? How can that happen?”

The date for the next hearing is yet to be disclosed.

In defense of the UGC guidelines

“The conduction of final year exam is a must. One cannot say that the holding of it is arbitrary,” Mehta said, adding that a lot of universities have recently conducted exams in online, offline and even in the “hybrid mode” (a combination of both online and offline) and therefore they cannot do away with the exams.

Similarly, senior advocate P.V. Narsimha stressed upon the importance of final exams for the benefits of the students who would be seeking higher education or would be on the look out for jobs after graduation.”I don’t think the guidelines given by UGC contravenes the issue of health…We must move forward,” he added.

In the same vein, senior advocate Vinay Navare said that the UGC’s guidelines are well within the boundaries.

During the hearing, Justice Bhushan also said that the students are not “competent enough” to decide for themselves.

Public health, digital divide

The advocates representing other petitioners spoke about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country, job losses, poor internet connectivity in some areas, health risks involved in writing exams in the offline mode, and the unnecessary focus on final-semester examinations.

“Some students can give exams now, some can’t. The leftover students will lose out on opportunities and jobs later on,” argued senior advocate Meenakshi Arora.

Along the similar lines, senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan, representing the Delhi government, said that all students don’t have access to books and the required study materials.

While the UGC, in its guidelines, talks about health-related precautions that need to be taken, advocates representing state governments and teachers, said that those were not sufficient in view of the COVID-19 situation in the country.

“UGC didn’t hold ‘effective consultation’ as was required. If they had consulted even one person per state, they would have understood the difficulty,” said senior advocate Jaideep Gupta representing an organisation of teachers in West Bengal.

‘If IITs can, why can’t we?’

Referring to the case of Indian Institute of Technologies, which conferred degrees to its final-year students by considering average score of the previous semesters, Datar said that not holding the final exams is neither “fatal” as it is made out to be, nor is it “violative of the UGC Act”.

Datar said that the UGC can only “lay down standards” for conducting examinations but cannot enforce the same.

Justice Bhushan retorted, saying that they are “not concerned with the IIT”, adding that not all colleges follow a uniform semester system.

While reserving the judgment, the bench asked the parties to submit their written submissions within three days.

Featured image credit: PTI