Supreme Court hearing begins on pleas opposing UGC final term exam guidelines
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today resumed hearing the arguments on a batch of pleas challenging the July 6 circular of the University Grants Commission (UGC) mandating to conduct the final term exams by the end of September.
Supreme Court hearing on pleas to cancel final term exam: Latest Updates
12.54 pm: Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava begins his submission.
12. 50 pm: Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora representing one of the petitioners begins her submissions. “Some students can give exams now, some can’t. The leftover students will lose out on opportunities and jobs later on,” argues Arora.
12.38 pm: “The most hard-hit will be the poor, the downtrodden, and those without any access to technology. Unless you decide to give them all Tablets,” says Vishwanathan.
12.35 pm: “The strongest argument for the SG here is that the past few circulars are Guidelines. But, they cannot be mandatory,” Vishwanathan says.
12.30 pm: Senior Advocate KV Vishwanathan who is representing Delhi Govt begins his submissions. He says that not all of the students have access to books and study material. Even online has its handicap.
12.29 pm: “UGC guidelines say that all the health-related guidelines have to be followed..you cannot say that they have not considered the public health, the guidelines mention it,” says Justice Bhushan.
12.26 pm: Making his submission, Advocate General Kishore Datta who is representing the state of West Bengal, says that UGC has not taken into account of the extraordinary situation in view of Covid-19 and has has taken decisions as if this is 2019 or 2018. “They (UGC) are not concerned with public health, claims Datta.
12.20 pm: “UGC did not hold “effective consultation” as was required,” says Gupta. “If they had consulted even 1 person per state, they would have understood the difficulty,” he added.
12.17 pm: “We have said it earlier also, if it is permissible, then all the Universities can evolve their own modalities,” says Justice Bhushan.
12.14 pm: Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta who is representing an Organization of Teachers from West Bengal begins his submissions. “My submission is that the UGC guidelines of 6 July is not a statutory document. Mandating the exams to be held by September 30 is unreasonable,” says Gupta.
12.11 pm: “Covid-19 cases in Odisha is at its peak ! In the present circumstances, it would be completely impossible for the State to hold the exams as mandated by UGC, says AG of Odisha.
12.08 pm: The Advocate General for Odisha begins his submissions stating that his arguments are along the lines of Datar’s. “Under the prevailing situation of COVID-19, it is not possible to hold a conventional examination. With this background, it is our submission that the exam is a culmination of 6 semesters,” he said.
12.03 pm: Advocate Datar concludes his submissions by placing on record the Maharashtra Examination Act to put forth the legal proposition. “One is a delegated legislation and one is a State legislation. It states that a State has complete autonomy. A statutory provision will overrule the Guidelines. There is no repugnancy,” he adds.
11.55 am: Referring to the April circular of UGC, Datar says that when we could not hold exams when the cases were at 15,000 how can we hold exams now? “When the UGC back then, said chart your own course, how can they now make it mandatory,” Datar says.
11.40 am: Justice Bhushan states that if there are different dates for different States, then the argument would be raised that UGC is being discriminatory.
11.39 am: Datar says, “How can UGC say that Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha must hold final term exams by September 30 ? It is completely violative of Article 14.”
11.34 am: “My second submission is that direction of UGC to all Universities to hold it at any cost by September 30 is completely violation of its powers,” Datar says. “The UGC’s July 6 Guidelines is liable to be struck down,” he adds.
11.33 am: “My first submission is that there is nothing arbitrary in a University taking a decision against UGC. If IIT can do that, others can too,”says Datar.
11.15 am: “We are not concerned with IIT,” says Justice Bhushan.
11.13 am: “If a central institute of international repute like IIT can issue degrees without conducting the final exams, why can’t we,” argues Datar.
11.10 am: “Won’t not conducting the exams lead to dilution of the standards only?” Justice BR Gavai asks.
11.09 am: Justice Shah asks, “But UGC is not conducting the exams here. That is up to the Universities. You can’t say that UGC says conduct exams.”
11.03 am: Datar says, “UGC can lay down standards, but it can’t compel exams to be held.”
10.58 am: I will come to the practical difficulties which exists in holding the exams. Please come to the Counter filed by UGC dated July 30. I will refer to the common compilation and my written submissions, says Datar. The Bench is perusing the submissions.
10.53 am: Senior Advocate Arvind Datar begins making submissions for State of Maharashtra. He states that the State is the worst affected (due to Covid-19 pandemic).
All you need to know about the matter
Last week, a bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan had adjourned the hearing on the matter as the arguments on the pleas, which also seek cancellation of final term examination in view of COVID-19 situation, remain inconclusive.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represent student’s plea, highlighted that the severity of the situation and said India is third in the world in the most number of COVID positive cases, adding that there are almost 900 deaths in a day and 50-60,000 new cases coming daily.
Singhvi said that for five months, the MHA has shut everything. “There is a direct nexus between teaching and taking of exams. How can there be no teaching without exams!” he added.
The senior advocate argued that education is not special here; pandemic here is special. “Pandemic applies to everyone and everything,” he said. Singhvi, while terming the UGC circular as ‘farman’, said the Commission has issued the same to conduct exams by September 30.
Singhvi further contended that even a first-year student will be able to say that this is not federal. “This special situation is extra-ordinary. The pandemic is state-neutral, political colour-neutral, people-neutral,” he said.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for another petitioner, told the bench that the if the lockdown was going on, could UGC have promulgated its guidelines? If it could not do it at that time, it cannot do it now, he said.
“As per the notifications in Maharashtra, it is stated that the number of cases is increasing terribly. There are colleges in some States which have been taken over for quarantine facilities,” Divan added.
He said that Central government’s June 29, 2020 guidelines for phase reopening (Unlock 2) said that schools, colleges and coaching institutions wouldn’t be permitted to open and online distance learning will be encouraged and these restrictions will continue till the end of August.
Divan pointed out that students are a homogenous class and UGC cannot say that the lives of 3rd-year students are less than that of a 1st year or a 2nd-year student.
“Teachers and invigilators are also a homogenous class. Their health and their lives are also important. It doesn’t matter which class or which semester you teach. Many students live with their families. With their grandparents and their parents. The students might not show symptoms, but they will come in contact with their families. Please have some concern for them,” he added. The UGC had on Thursday filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that the decision of Delhi and Maharashtra government of cancelling the final term examination directly will “directly impact the standards of higher education in the country”. The affidavit was filed in on a batch of pleas challenging UGC’s July 6 circular and seeking cancellation of final term examination in view of COVID-19 situation. Earlier, Delhi and Maharashtra governments’ had told the top court that they have cancelled the examination in the Union Territory and State respectively.