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'Delhi University Seems To Have A Special Problem': Delhi HC Poses Questions On Open Book Examination

Radhika Roy
5 Aug 2020 3:35 AM GMT
Delhi University Seems To Have A Special Problem: Delhi HC Poses Questions On Open Book Examination
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"DU seems to have a special problem", said Justice Pratibha M. Singh while hearing a batch of pleas challenging the decision of Delhi University to conduct online Open Book Examinations (OBE) for final-year students before the Delhi High Court on Tuesday(August 4). 

The Petitioners concluded their submissions before a Single-Judge Bench of Justice Pratibha M. Singh today. The Respondents will submit their arguments today. 

Yesterday, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, on behalf of the University Grants Commission, requested the Court to wait till the hearing before the Supreme Court regarding the challenge to the UGC Guidelines was concluded. However, Justice Singh was not inclined to do so as the matter before the SC was listed on the 10th of August, which is the same date as that of the DU exams.

Justice Singh asked the SG about what would happen to the students who are not able to sit for the online OBE, and what was also to be concluded before September 30 as per the UGC Guidelines. The SG stated that these were exceptional circumstances and that the exam could be given post-September.

To this, Justice Singh responded, "Then the semester will never be over, right? The students will be in a state of uncertainty. How many times will DU take the exam? Other Universities have already finished their exams. DU also did not conduct classes properly. These are extraordinary circumstances; UGC should have acknowledged it."

When the SG presented the Reply filed by UGC in the instant matter, Justice Singh noted that even the Reply had a digital signature, "Mr. Mehta, do you see that even your Reply is digitally signed? Why can't DU do this? DU seems to have some special problem."

Advocate Akash Sinha submitted his arguments on behalf of the Intervenors. He stated that the directions for students to go and give their exams in CSCs(Common Service, without any trial runs or mock exams, was a violation of Article 14, 16 and 21 of the Constitution of India. He further submitted that there were many students who did not have access to internet or were stuck in quarantine zones or in flooded areas.

Sinha additionally brought notice to the erratic timetable being put up by DU.

"Exams were postponed to August 10. The reason I bring this up is because dates have been changed numerous times, but nothing was done about OBE. With repeated delays, suddenly changing the time for conducting the exams and declaring results, is violating my right to opportunity. Jamia, Presidency College, they have all declared their results. We are losing out on job opportunities."

Sinha also averred that DU's intention to make students appear for the exams during a deadly pandemic was irresponsible.

"Are we asking students to go out during this deadly pandemic and visit CSCs which could turn out to be hotspots? When right from the Home Minister to Chief Ministers have been affected, how can DU ask the students to go out in this environment and write exams?"

When asked about any safeguards that could be implemented regarded OBE by Justice Singh, Sinha submitted that the timer option was not working. Further, the time limit for uploading papers had to be increased as currently a 100 marks paper was going to be conducted in 2 hours. Justice Singh also acknowledged that the time limit was not sufficient for the exams.

Sinha also contended that he had aided the Counsel for UGC to collate data on the methods employed by all Universities in conducting the exams. He submitted that Universities from NLU Delhi to JNU had given 24-72 hours for writing the examination and the interpretation by DU of the UGC Guidelines was draconian.

Sinha concluded his arguments by bringing to the notice of the Court that students from the Republic of Fiji at BHU had been allowed to pass without any examinations.

"Am I being penalized for being a citizen of this country? Why can't DU do the same? If UGC can allow BHU, then why not DU?"




Advocate Shivankar Sharma then commenced his submissions on behalf of another Intervenor. He submitted that the information provided by DU regarding figures which stated that maximum students of DU were from Delhi itself was false, as DU's own data showed the contrary.

Sharma then addressed the administrative and constitutional aspects of the matter. He contended that the decision to conduct OBE had not been rationally justified by the University.

"This decision to hold OBE was arbitrary, no audience was granted to the teachers, the students; there was no rational application of mind. This was just thrust upon them without any rational basis."

He proceeded to explain to the Court that geographical differences had a major impact on the speed of data, and that students living outside Delhi, specifically in rural areas would be at a geographical disadvantage. This directly stemmed from the timer option, which was discriminatory. Sharma further noted that DU had not provided any option as to how the students were to scan the pages as the most popular application "CamScanner" had been banned.

Sharma referred to the KS Puttuswamy case wherein the Right to Privacy had been propounded and highlighted the privacy issues which arose as a result of a contractor whose credentials had not been verified being engaged.

"What if someone decides to stream the data according to gender? We don't know if the Cloud is in India or outside? Even in terms of proportionality, it is not a great means to an end. There has been no application of mind."

Sharma stated that the decisional autonomy of the students had also been affected as the University had put nothing on record to allay the anxieties of the students as to when the results would be declared.

The Court, after recording the submissions of both the Advocates, proceeded to ask Sr. Adv. Sachin Datta to be prepared with answers to certain questions tomorrow.

"You will have to clarify the follow. 1. How much time will be given to the students before the exam for downloading the email?; 2. Where will the email addresses be published? I want this to be shown to me live.; 3. Have you published the numbers and helplines of faculties and colleges?; 4. What is the decisions that has been taken about the Committee that was to be set up? 5. Can the size of about 5MB be changes as the pages are getting jumbled?"

Accordingly, the matter has been listed tomorrow at 2.30 PM.

In the previous hearing, Justice Singh had recorded that UGC and DU had failed to file their Counter-Affidavits, and had directed the parties to do the same by Monday (i.e. yesterday).





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