A final year law student has written to the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court raising concerns for the safety of "millions of final year students and their families, invigilators, evaluators, transport authorities, support staff and several other key stakeholders, either directly or indirectly, involved in the examination process."
Anshritha Rai, a final year law student at ILS Law College, Pune, cited the rising number of cases of coronavirus in the country (third highest in the world) as well as the State of Maharashtra, which has the highest number of cases in India. The letter states-
"As per AIIMS data, India could witness a peak in COVID-19 cases as late as in mid-November. Alarmingly, the state of Maharashtra has recorded the highest number of cases in the country. Taking this into due consideration, the Maharashtra government had decided to cancel all final year examinations.
However, the Ministry of Home Affairs thereafter permitted the conduct of examinations by universities and institutions. Accordingly, the Universities Grants Commission issued revised guidelines for final year examinations vide notification dated 06.07.2020."
The earlier guidelines released by UGC in the month of April required final year examinations to be held by July end. After having taken stock of the bleak situation, the revised guidelines have now extended the time period for the conduct of examinations to September end.
"However, there is no certainty that the situation would improve within this short span of three months. If the time period for the conduct of examinations were to be extended once again, graduating students are at risk of losing nearly an entire academic year. Being insistent on the conduct of examinations could further effectively translate into revoked job offers, deferred post-graduate admissions, mass unemployment and sheer chaos for a sizeable percentage of students", the letter argues.
Moreover, Rai states in the letter-
"UGC has provided universities the option to conduct exams in either an offline (pen and paper) or online or blended (offline + online) mode. Online mode of examinations, however, neglects socio-economic diversity and inequality of internet access.
To highlight the grim situation, it would be necessary to state that a large section of students reside either in different parts of India or in other countries. Mandating terminal semester examinations would compel these students to travel inter-state amid the virus, share rooms with other students, and make arrangements for food. More worryingly, students could be potential carriers of the virus thereby posing a serious health hazard to all those that they come in contact with in the process of reaching exam centres."
Also, the letter points out that several exam centres, colleges and hostels have already been converted into quarantine facilities and Covid care centres. Rai cites the example of the recent Karnataka SSLC exam fiasco where 32 students tested positive.
The UGC has issued an SOP for the Conduct of Examinations. After the guidelines were released, the Maharashtra Government reiterated its inability to hold final year examinations in a letter addressed to the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
"It is pertinent to note here that even premier institutions like IITs have waived all examinations. So far, CBSE, ICSE, IGSE and many State Boards have cancelled examinations too. Moreover, UGC itself has cancelled all intermediate examinations. UGC's guidelines, which mandatorily require final year students to appear for examinations by September end, is arbitrary and in blatant disregard of the fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution" the letter states.
Furthermore, it is submitted in the letter that these guidelines exempt students enrolled in intermediate semesters from appearing for examinations and instead provide for their promotion based on previous years' performance. The letter contends-
"So, insisting on the conduct of examinations for final year students is discriminatory. It is highly regretful that an arbitrary distinction is being drawn between intermediate and final year students."
Finally, imploring the Chief Justice ro resolve the issue and bring much needed clarity to the evaluation process, Rai states-
"Conducting pan-India examinations in the midst of the novel pandemic would be equivalent to turning a blind eye to the interests and genuine concerns of the student fraternity."