An intervention application has been filed in UGC case by the Maharashtra Students Union in the Supreme Court in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and supporting the July 13 decision of the State Disaster Management Authority to cancel final year University exams in the State this year.
The Maharashtra Student Union’s plea expresses that for the conduct of exams by September 30 the UGC guidelines are “neither mandatory nor binding on the State Authority set up under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.”
Soon after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had informed the Apex Court that decisions by State governments to cancel exams were not legal since they override the UGC mandate to conduct exams by September 30 (as per its July 6 guidelines), the intervention application was submitted.
Submissions were made by Mehta that the UGC takes a call on these matters and that the regulatory body confers the University degrees.
The Intervention Application
The Supreme Court sought to know whether the provisions of the Disaster Management Act would override the UGC guidelines, while hearing the plea seeking to quash the UGC’s July 6 guidelines filed by 31 students all across India.
Advocate on Record Mohini Priya on behalf of Maharashtra Students Union files the intervention application and states that the UGC guidelines are “neither mandatory nor binding on the State Authority set up under Section 14 of the Disaster Management Act,2005“
“In case of a conflict between laws made either by the Parliament and/or State Legislature and the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the latter shall prevail in accordance with the provisions of Section 72 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.”
The plea states that it would be clear if the Universities Grants Commissions Act, 1956, Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016 and the Disaster Management Act, 2005 are examined:
“… not only the State Government, but even the State Disaster Management Authority constituted under section 14 and/or the State Executive Committee constituted under Section 20 of the Act of 2005 are legally competent to take a decision in this behalf.”
On July 13, the State Authority of Maharashtra had convened its last meeting.
The Authority had decided that it is not possible to conduct examinations in Maharashtra, after considering the prevailing COVID-19 situation in the State of Maharashtra, as well as the views put forth by the majority of Vice-Chancellors of Universities in the State.
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Therefore, the State Government’s Resolution on June 19 reiterated and confirmed its earlier decision to not hold exams during the pandemic.
The Maharashtra Student Union’s plea contends that the power remains with the respective State Universities to take such decisions regarding the conduct of examinations and conferment of degrees.
When the State Governments and Vice-Chancellors of Universities have, after considering all the exigencies of the current situation, made a unanimous decision to confer degrees without holding the final year examinations then the UGC does not have the authority to grant/ withhold the degrees of students.
The Intervention Application Explained
“While UGC is concerned with the standards of education, the decision of the State Government regarding non-conduct of final exams in a situation of a national health crisis like the present COVID-19 pandemic cannot … be considered as an impediment on the powers of UGC to maintain standards of education.”
The intervention application explains that the normal course of the holding of physical examinations continues for a period of 15-20 days posing a problem of accommodation of students, staff and invigilators for the duration of the examination.
It was put forth it would be difficult for lakhs of students who have gone back to their hometowns to make travel arrangements, given the lack of public transport.
“Since COVID-19 situation is varying from one State to another, it is trite that the decision whether or not to hold the final year examinations should be left to the respective State Governments as they are best equipped to handle a crisis of this enormity under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005”The Plea