Final year exams to be conducted by September 30, SC upholds UGC decision

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the UGC directives to Universities and Colleges to hold final year exams by September 30, was well within its domain and said that performance in such examination are reflection of competence of the students.

The top court held that the State and University cannot promote the students in the final year/terminal semester without holding final year/terminal examination.

It said the differentiation made in the revised UGC Guidelines to hold final or terminal semester examination and to give option for earlier years/intermediate semester for not holding the examination has a rational basis and cannot be termed as discrimination between the students.

The apex court held that the State Governments or State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) in exercise of power under Disaster Management Act, 2005 has no jurisdiction to take a decision that the students of final year/terminal students should be promoted on the basis of earlier year assessment and internal assessment.

The top court said the decision taken by the SDMA/State not to hold final year/terminal semester examination by September 30, in exercise of power under Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005 shall prevail over the deadline fixed by the UGC (University Grant Commission).

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R S Reddy and M R Shah said that the final year/terminal semester examination of under Graduate or post-Graduate is an opportunity for student to show his optimum calibre which paves his future career both in academics and employment.

The Final year/terminal semesters examinations are important because the learning process is a dynamic interaction where the only way to figure out what students know is to seek evidence of their knowledge and to evaluate it. Performances in examination especially Final year/terminal semester examination are reflection of competence of the students, it said.

The bench added, if any State/Union Territory in exercise of jurisdiction under DM Act, has taken a decision that it is not possible to conduct the final year/ terminal semester examination by September 30, then we grant liberty to such State/Union Territory to make an application to the UGC for extending deadline of September 30, for that State/ Union Territory which shall be considered by UGC and rescheduled date be communicated to such State/Union Territory at the earliest.

The bench, which dealt with the challenges to the UGC guidelines of July 3, 2020 elaborately in its 160-page verdict, said that the terminal semester/final year examination also provides an opportunity to the students to improve upon their overall score/marks which are very crucial for academic excellence and opportunities of employment.

We do not find any unreasonableness or arbitrariness in the revised guidelines of University Grants Commission (UGC) dated July 6, 2020 which require all Universities/ Collages to conduct at least the final year/terminal semester examinations, the bench said, adding, these guidelines are not beyond the domain of the UGC and they relate to coordination and determination of standards in institutions of higher education.

It said that these July 6, guidelines are in continuation to the earlier Guidelines dated April 29, and are not contrary to the earlier Guidelines.

We have to look into the substance of the Guidelines to find out the intention and object of the Guidelines. The Guidelines were issued with the object that a uniform academic calendar is followed by all the Universities and final /terminal examinations be held, the bench said.

The bench, while disposing of a batch of petitions filed by students, private organisations and Shiv Sena's youth wing Yuva Sena', framed seven issues and said that the July 6 guidelines of the UGC cannot be ignored by terming it as non-statutory or advisory in nature.

Dealing with the question of several states like Maharashtra and Delhi having cancelled the final year exams while exercising powers under the Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005, the bench said that the law empowers the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) as well as the State Government to take measures for prevention and mitigation of a disaster and the action have been given overriding effect to achieve the purpose and object of the Act.

Saving of human life has been given paramount importance under the Act, 2005. Primacy has been given to the actions and measures taken under the Act, 2005 over anything inconsistent in any other law for the time being in force, it said.

It said that, UGC guidelines dated July 6, insofar as it directs the Universities and Colleges to complete the final year/terminal year examination by September 30, shall be overridden by any contrary decision taken by the SDMA or the State Government exercising power under the DM Act, 2005.

The top court said when the SDMA and State Government take a decision that for mitigation or prevention of disaster it is not possible to hold physical examination in the State, the said decision was within the four corners of DM Act, 2005.

The bench noted that the revised guidelines and the standard operating procedure for conduct of examinations dated July 8, clearly showed deep concern with the health of all stakeholders that is students as well as the exam functionaries and hence challenge to the Guidelines on the ground of it being violative of Article 21 is repelled.

Students' arguments 

Host of senior advocates, including Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Shyam Divan, and Arvind Datar argued for the  postponement of examination. They pointed out that many states had decided to cancel exams in the wake of rising cases of COVID-19.

In their plea, the students argued that compelling them to appear for physical examination at the time of rise in COVID-19 cases exposes them to serious health risks and it would affect their right to life. 

They also argued that UGC has not considered the situation prevailing in local areas. “Several areas are containment zone and local lockdown is in prevalence in many regions," they argued.

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