The Delhi High Court on Friday passed a slew of directions relating to online Open Book Examination (OBE), which will be conducted by the Delhi University for final year undergraduate courses from August 10, to ensure fair opportunity for students keeping in view the technical problems.
The court said it is mindful that enormous preparations have been undertaken by students for giving the online OBE and now it is concerned about the manner in which the process can be further streamlined.
Justice Prathiba M Singh said it has not gone into the legal arguments raised by petitioner students as to how the online OBE is arbitrary and discriminatory in nature owing to the directions passed by the division bench permitting DU to proceed with the online OBE.
The court passed the verdict on a plea by Anupam and others challenging the university’s decision to hold online OBE, as per the UGC guidelines, for final year undergraduate courses which will be in long-form exams.
DU is scheduled to hold the exams from August 10-31 and the students who will be left out of online OBE will be given an opportunity to appear in physical examinations, to be held sometime in September.
The court passed various directions to streamline the process, noting that there are various technological challenges and the evaluation is of 70-100 marks for each paper.
It directed that the question papers shall be made accessible for students on the university website and be sent on their email IDs.
It said regular students and those under the persons with disability (PWD) category be given three hours and five hours respectively to answer the question papers and one additional hour for scanning the answer sheets and uploading or emailing them.
The university was directed to send an auto-generated email informing the students that their answer sheets have been received.
“The central email id for uploading of answer sheets, that is, email@example.com, shall be publicised adequately,” Justice Singh said in the 45-page judgment.
Common Service Centres (CSC) Academy, which runs the CSCs set up to provide services to students who do not have infrastructure to give OBE, shall notify all its centres the schedule of the exams by the end of the day so that they can provide assistance to students to the best extent possible, it said.
The court said students can send their grievances at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, and the emails will be addressed and resolved by DU’s grievance officers within 48 hours.
It also reconstituted the five-member grievance redressal committee under the aegis of retired Justice Prathiba Rani for dealing with all the grievances of students and said that the panel will function till OBE continues and the students’ complaints need to be addressed within five days.
At the end of the OBE, a comprehensive report on the conduct of examinations shall be submitted by DU within four weeks, the court said, and also asked the committee to place on record its report after the conclusion of exams.
The uploaded answer sheets of students shall also be simultaneously sent for evaluation to the respective teachers to ensure that declaration of results is not delayed in any manner, the court said.
The single-judge bench noted that in the last over one month, several lacunae have been pointed out in the online OBE process and various orders have been passed by it and the division bench on improvements. However, repeatedly, DU has taken the stand that it is fully prepared to conduct the examinations.
The challenges for students in the last six months have been of an extreme nature. Several students have been confronted with personal tragedies, including suffering from COVID-19 or their family members suffering from it. Several students had obtained jobs where they were to join after graduating, the court noted.
A large number of media reports have also appeared wherein it is reported that students who had pre-placement offers have been unable to join due to non-conduct of the examinations, it said.
It noted some of the students who have come before this court had obtained admissions in foreign universities for the academic year 2020-21 but have been forced to forfeit their admissions or miss their deadlines and seek extensions.
The court said it’s a fact that due to the lockdown imposed in March, very few classes were held during the entire semester and students had no access to hard copies of reading material and some have been able to avail the online material.
It is under these extreme and extraordinary circumstances that the final semester students are giving their online OBE, it said.
DU relies on a Supreme Court judgment on AICTE which deals with the scope of interference by courts in education matters to argue that no interference is called for in the OBE examinations. The case dealt with dilution of eligibility conditions for pursuing engineering courses.
The court rejected the contention saying the question of eligibility and the challenge to the online OBE as raised herein are completely different issues and here it is wrestling with circumstances which are unprecedented.
“The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the non-availability of guidance of teachers for the students, lack of any exchange of views amongst peers due to absence from campuses, absence of classroom teaching in the entire semester, non-availability of hard copies of study material etc. are situations which were not contemplated in AICTE (supra),” it said.
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