The University Grants Commission (UGC) has rebutted the stance of Maharashtra and Delhi Governments to not conduct final year exams this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The University Grants Commission’s Reply
The Commission as the regulatory body stated in its reply that the State government is taking contradictory stands with regard to starting the academic session and conduct of the final year exams.
Before the Supreme Court Dr Nikhil Kumar, Education Officer on behalf of UGC replied that the Maharashtra government’s decision is contradictory to its own claim that the prevailing circumstances are such that universities cannot function even to hold final year examinations.
“Needless to say, those alleged circumstances should then prevent even the commencement of the next academic session. That apart, the State Govt. avers that the next academic session must begin in the interest of students, while, at the same time, contending that the final examinations should be cancelled and degrees can be awarded without such examinations even though such a step would irreparably damage the future of students. Such contentions by the State Govt. are clearly therefore meritless.”The Reply
The Supreme Court on August 7 was informed by the Maharashtra government that the State Disaster Management Authority had resolved to not conduct examinations in the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic on July 13.
A majority of University Vice-Chancellors from across the state voted against conducting exams and took a decision in view of the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
The Supreme Court was informed by the Delhi Govt that exams have been cancelled in Delhi State Universities.
Directions in a latest decision were given by the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi that “all Delhi State Universities to cancel all written online and offline semester examinations including final year exams.”
Though, it expressed that the State government is “entirely wrong” to say that the UGC’s revised guidelines of July 6 are “not binding on the State Government and its Universities” and “void-ab initio”.
Till the end of September 2020, the UGC maintains its guidelines after following the prescribed protocols and procedures to guard against the spread of COVID-19 and providing sufficient time to conduct the final year/terminal semester examinations.
The reply connotes that sufficient flexibility to universities/institutions to conduct such examinations in online, offline (pen and paper) or blended (online + offline) mode has been given in the guidelines.
The guidelines further through “special chance” provide for an examination for students who for whatsoever the reason(s) may be are unable to appear for the examinations.
The Supreme Court order had sought to know the decision of the “State Disaster Management Committee.” Where it was the State Disaster Management Authority that was functioning and such a body was not set up in Maharashtra.
The affidavit on this aspect reads,
“Disaster Management Act 2005 does not contemplate the constitution of the ‘State Disaster Management Committee.’ Section 17 contemplates the constitution of an advisory committee by the authority and section 20 contemplates the constitution of the state executive committee. Section 14 thereof contemplates the constitution of the state disaster management authority. Thus there is no decision of June 19 order of state disaster management committee as such a body does not exist in Maharashtra.”
Further UGC stated that the Maharashtra government had accepted the UGC recommendation made last May by an expert committee for the conduct of final year examinations in the State Universities.
The Reply on following Guidelines
“It transpires that the said expert committee had in fact recommended that final examinations can be conducted in the State from 01.07.2020 to 31.07.2020. However, this decision was later reversed by the State Authority and the State Govt. in contravention of the UGC’s Guidelines. Therefore, it is wrong to claim that it will not be possible to conduct the final examinations in terms of the UGC’s Guidelines.”
With the Supreme Court’s direction, the reply has been filed.
Before the Supreme Court, rebutting the Delhi government’s reply UGC in its reply has stated that government of the national capital has “unilaterally chosen to cancel the final year exams and graduate students using alternative assessment measures in contravention of the UGC’s guidelines even though it was required to hold such examinations in the interest of students.” “Decision taken by Delhi government will impact the standard of higher education in the country which the UGC is mandated to maintain.”
The UGC was asked by a Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan to submit its reply to Mumbai and Delhi’s stand of not conducting the final year exams and seek clarification on whether the Disaster Management Act notifications can override the UGC guidelines.
The education regulator substantiating the aspect of how universities are bound by the UGC guidelines mentioned that “July 6 guidelines of the UGC which now mandate the exams to be conducted by September 30 have to be adopted and applied by all universities including state universities.”
All universities are bound to follow the UGC guidelines related to provisions of the UGC (Minimum Standards of Instructions for the Grant of First Degree Through Formal Education) Regulations, 2003, UGC (Minimum Standards of Instructions for the Grant of Masters Degree Through Formal Education) Regulations, 2003, and the UGC (Open and Distannce Learning) Regulations, 2017.
The reply of UGC to the Delhi Government Affidavit
“UGC is the apex body for maintaining standards of higher education in the country including the standards of examinations because UGC Act is traced to Entry 66 if List I Schedule VII of the Constitution.”
The reply has come in the response to an intervention application supporting the July 13 decision by Maharashtra’s State Disaster Management Authority filed by the Maharashtra Students Union in the Supreme Court to cancel final year University exams in the State this year, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.