The Supreme Court Friday ruled that universities and other institutions of higher education will have to conduct the final-year exams and “cannot” promote students on the basis of internal assessment or other criteria.
However, the court allowed states and Union Territories, which may have postponed the exams in view of the Covid outbreak, to approach the University Grants Commission (UGC) for extension of the September 30 deadline.
Maharashtra and Delhi had earlier decided to cancel the exams and promote students on the basis of other parameters.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah “refused” to quash the July 6 UGC guidelines asking universities/institutions to hold the final-year exams by September 30.
But taking into account the Covid situation, the court said “the decision taken by the State Disaster Management Authority/State not to hold final year/ terminal semester examination by 30.09.2020 in exercise of power under Disaster Management Act, 2005 shall prevail over deadline” fixed by the UGC “in respect to the concerned State”.
The court was clear that the “decision of the State/State Disaster Management Authority to promote the students in the final year/terminal semester on the basis of previous performance and internal assessment” is “beyond the jurisdiction of Disaster Management Act, 2005” and “has to give way to” the UGC guidelines.
“The State and University cannot promote the students in the final year/ terminal semester without holding final year/ terminal examination,” the bench ruled.
If any state or UT seeks to postpone the exam, the request “shall be considered by UGC and rescheduled date be communicated to such State/ Union Territory at the earliest”, the court ordered.
The ruling came on a batch of petitions against the direction to hold exams as per the UGC guidelines.
The bench went into the legal validity of the July guidelines, and said that they “are not beyond the domain of the UGC” and “relate to coordination and determination of standards in institutions of higher education”.
Some of the petitioners contended that the UGC had issued a set of guidelines initially on April 29, which were only “advisory”, and that the ones issued in June were contrary in nature.
The court, however, disagreed. It said the April guidelines were “issued for a purpose and object with latitude to the Universities to chart their own plan/ course but the argument cannot be accepted that Universities were not to follow the Guidelines on the pretext that it uses the expression “advisory”.”
The April guidelines were superseded by the July norms, which were drawn up by an expert committee following the Covid situation.
The court said the July directions were “in continuation to the earlier” set. They “were issued with the object that a uniform academic calendar be followed by all the Universities and final terminal semester/ final year examinations be held” and were not contrary to the April norms.
The bench said “it is the statutory obligation of the Universities to adopt the Guidelines”, which “cannot be ignored by terming it as non-statutory or advisory”.
The petitioners also contended that the revised guidelines violate Article 14 on two counts — by fixing a date for the completion of exams for the entire country irrespective of the situation in different parts, and discriminating between final and first/second year students.
But the court rejected this contention, too.
On the charge of discrimination, the order said “the differentiation made by revised guidelines to hold Final year/ Terminal semester examination has a rational basis and there is an intelligible differentia between the student of Final year/Terminal semester and other students”.
It refused to accept the argument on the cut-off date, saying that “when the academic calendar is set, fixed dates are always given for uniformity. The UGC had rightly fixed a date for completion of the Terminal semester/Final year examination throughout the country to maintain uniformity in the academic calendar”.
“The students who look forward for admission in higher classes or take employment require final degree for their career prospect and to maintain uniformity in dates by which final examinations are over is with the object of students welfare and for their career,” the bench pointed out.
The court also rejected criticism that the guidelines did not take the Covid situation into account, and refused to accept the argument that compelling attendance by holding physical examination is a violation of the ‘Right to Life’ under Article 21.
It pointed out that the revised guidelines “were issued taking into consideration the fact that the number of Covid cases are still rising and likely to increase further which fact has been categorically mentioned in the beginning of the revised guidelines itself”.
It noted that the July 31 deadline set by the initial guidelines was advanced to September 30 “only due to the reason that due to Pandemic, Universities/ Colleges may not have been able to hold the examination”.
The order also referred to “specific provisions in the guidelines that all institutions have to follow necessary protocols, guidelines, directions, advisories issued as measures to contain Covid-19” which, it said, makes clear the intent to protect students, teachers, non-teaching staff.
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