The Karnataka High Court on Monday quashed and set aside the decision of the Bar Council of India and subsequent circular issued by the Karnataka State Law University thereby imposing an examination on the intermediate semester law students.
A Single judge bench of Justice R Devdas said:
"Having regard to the grievance raised in the petition and decision of Supreme Court in the case Praneet K, the decision of the Bar Council and University is not being arrived at based on any expert opinion, unlike the guidelines issued by UGC. This court is of the opinion that if not for cancellation of all exams, at least the even semester examination of First to Fourth Year intermediate law students requires cancellation."
The bench accordingly ordered :
"The impugned press released November 1 2020, issued by Bar Council of India and Circular dated November 9, 2020, issued by the University are quashed and set aside, in so far as intermediate semester examination are concerned with respect to first to fourth year of Five year law students only".
It added "The time table announced by KSLU along with notification dated Jan 13 and Jan 29, in so far as first and fourth year students are quashed and set aside."
The bench directed KSLU to announce a fresh timetable with respect for first to fourth year law students of five-year law course, scheduling exams of ODD semester only. In so far as even semester exams are concerned, the same shall be assessed on the basis of internal assessments of the students to an extent of 50 percent and remaining 50 percent marks on the basis of the performance in previous semester only, if available." The marks card shall also be issued in the above terms in respect to 'Even' semesters.
The bench in its order also observed that :
"As held by the Apex court there is a rational basis for decision of UGC in advising the university that in case a situation does not appear normal in view of the COVId-19, in order to maintain social distancing, safety health of students, grading of student on the basis of internal assessment and taking 50 percent of marks awarded in previous semester, marks can be awarded to first year and fourth year students."
The order was passed while hearing a petition filed by Ritvik Balanagraj B, 3rd year law student at St. Joseph College of Law, Bengaluru. Earlier, the student had moved a public interest litigation before the high which was dismissed by a division bench.
The court had then said :"The reliefs they are seeking in this writ petition are not in public interest, in as much as they are seeking relief in their personal interest or private interest. Therefore writ petition cannot be styled as PIL. On this short ground the petition is dismissed, reserving liberty to petitioners to file writ petitions seeking reliefs in personal or private interest, if so advised."
Following that, the student approached the single bench stating that - "The examination will have a disproportionate and adverse impact on the students who were unable to attend classes in online mode for various reasons like accessibility, remote locality, and affordability. They would effectively be compelled to write examinations on subjects which they were never taught and that will have a disparate impact on these students and will impose an extra burden on such individuals who were already marginalized, and violate Article 14."
Further, it is said that because of the sudden shutdown of colleges, the students have lost access to libraries and have come back home without any study material in their hand. The students had a legitimate expectation from the university that they would be taught the subjects, given access to study material and then they would be evaluated. If an examination is conducted bypassing this process that would breach this legitimate expectation.
The petition was filed through advocates Arnav Bagalwadi, Shathabish Shivanna, Abhishek Janardhan and H.C. Prateek states that the circular issued by BCI and KSLU are inconsistent with UGC guideline of April 2019, UGC Revised Guidelines dated 6.07.2020 and the government of Karnataka order dated 10.07.2020, which mandated all the universities in the state of Karnataka to evaluate its intermediate semester students under an evaluation formula, where 50% weightage would be in internal evaluation and 50 % weightage would be in marks scored in previous semester. The law students of KSLU are equally affected by the pandemic and they are also similarly circumstanced.
The petition prays for quashing the circular dated 09.11.2020 and Press Release dated 01.11.2020 as being illegal and void to the extent that they deviate from the guidelines issued by the Universities Grants Commission and impose an examination on Intermediate semester Law Students of all Law Universities across India, including the Law Universities that are affiliated with KSLU, for the semester of 2019-2020 academic year.
Further, the plea seeks a prayer to quash the Guidelines dated 27.05.2020 and Press Release dated 09.06.2020 issued by Respondent No.1(Bar Council of India) as being illegal and void and to direct Karnataka State Law University to give effect to the government of Karnataka order dated 10.07.2020 which is in line with the UGC Guidelines on Examinations and Academic Calendar for the Universities in view of Covid-19 Pandemic and Subsequent Lockdown.