The University Grants Commission in an affidavit before the Bombay High Court submitted that the State of Maharashtra's decision to defer final year examinations or to 'graduate' students without holding examinations is directly affecting standards of higher education in the country and encroaches upon the legislative field of coordinating and determining the standards of higher education which is exclusively reserved for Parliament.
Previously, the bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Anuja Prabhudessai had directed UGC to file its reply in a PIL filed by a fourth year law student from GLC, Mumbai. The same bench also heard a writ petition filed by fifth year law students Avirup Mandal, Onkar Wable, Swapnil Dhage, Tejas Mane and Surbhi Agarwal seeking cancellation of final year examinations and urgent declaration of results.
Additionally, an Intervention Application was filed by the same students in support of the Maharashtra Government's GR dated June 19, 2020 wherein the State Disaster Management Authority had decided to cancel final year exams for those not willing to appear for the same amidst the pandemic.
The affidavit filed on behalf of UGC by Dr. Nikhil Kumar, Education Officer, UGC, Head Office, New Delhi states that the Guidelines notified initially dated April 29, 2020 laid down that all higher education institutions must conduct final year/ terminal semester examinations (in July 2020) so as to protect the academic and career interests of students while, at the same time, safeguarding their health.
In June 2020, considering the evolving situation of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UGC requested the expert committee headed by Prof. RC Kuhad to revisit the 'UGC Guidelines on Examinations and Academic Calendar for the Universities in View of COVID-19 Pandemic and Subsequent Lockdown'.
Accordingly, the expert committee (which also included Vice-Chancellors of technical universities and a representative of industry) did so, and submitted a report recommending that terminal semester /final year examinations should be conducted by universities/ institutions by the end of September, 2020 in offline (pen & paper)/ online/ blended (online + offline) mode.
The affidavit states-
"Needless to say, the expert committee and consequently the Respondent No.6 have emphasized the need to conduct terminal/ final examinations which is a crucial step in the academic career of a student, be it in the form of course-ending terminal semester examination or final annual examination. The structure of the course (whether semester or annual format) of course differs from one Higher Education Institution to another and is not relevant for the determination of the present petition."
Furthermore, the affidavit states that all universities/ institutions in the country are obligated to conduct terminal semester/final year examination by the end of September, 2020. However, the Revised Guidelines also stipulate that in case a student of terminal semester/final year is unable to appear in the examination conducted by the University for whatsoever the reason may be, he/she may be given opportunity to appear in special examinations for such courses/paper which may be conducted by the university as and when feasible, so that the student is not put to any inconvenience/ disadvantage.
In the previous hearing, Advocate General AA Kumbhakoni had submitted that no exams, whether it be professional courses or non-professional courses, will be held in Maharashtra during the present situation.
Opposing the state government's decision to either defer the results, the UGC has contended-
"Such a decision will also be an encroachment on the legislative field of coordinating and determining the standards of higher education which is exclusively reserved for Parliament under Entry 66 of List I of Schedule VII of the Constitution.
That, moreover, the State Government's decision to defer the final year/ terminal semester examinations or to graduate students without holding examinations is a matter directly affecting the standards of higher education in the country. It is settled law that provisions which give an overriding effect to an Act,must be given a restricted meaning so as to be kept confined to the legislative policy, intent, object, scheme and purpose of such an Act. Such provisions cannot be invoked to render the statutory provisions of another special act such as The University Grants Commission Act, 1956, nugatory."