The Supreme Court on Wednesday paved the way for Class 10 SSLC Board examinations to be conducted in Karnataka as scheduled, from June 25 to July 4.
A Bench comprising of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Krishna Murari and S Ravindra Bhat dismissed a plea challenging a Karnataka High Court Order, which had refused to intervene in the State Government's decision.
Appearing for the petitioner, Senior Advocate Jayna Kothari apprised the Court that around 8.48 lakh students would be taking the exam. The High Court, it was submitted, had failed to appreciate the high risk and impact to the health and lives of minor students, by allowing the same to be conducted.
Though the government had come up with guidelines and a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), the petitioner argued that in light of COVID-19 pandemic, the decision is in violation of minors' right to life. Elaborating on their concerns, it was pointed out that there would be around 25-30 lakh people on the streets, including students, parents/guardians, staff etc., while making it to over 3000 examination centres across the State. Thus, the petitioner urged for the examination to be cancelled and advocated for results to be declared on the basis of internal assessment.
On May 27 the Karnataka High Court had given a go ahead to the decision of the State to conduct examinations from June 25, and opined that adequate measures must be in place to ensure the safety of students appearing for the same. It was satisfied with the government notified guidelines and SOP to that effect.
Challenging this, the petitioner claimed that the "Court on the one hand held that it is the duty of the Respondents to ensure that the children who are going to appear for the Class 10 SSLC Board examination are not exposed to any danger, it failed to appreciate that by allowing the examinations to go on and asking children to appear for the exams, it would amount to directly exposing them to danger and risk to their health and lives and would amount to a violation of Article 21 which guarantees the right to life and health."
The High Court had reasoned that there ought to be minimum interference of Courts in academic issues while declining to entertain the plea. Challenging this ground for rejection, the petitioner argued that the matter was one of violation of fundamental rights of minors, whose lives are being risked through the decision. This, it was urged, warranted the Court's intervention.
"High Court erred in reaching a conclusion that a writ court should be slow to interfere in academic matters, and failing to consider that the Respondent State government had taken the decision to hold the Class 10 board exams which would pose the biggest risk to the lives and health of more than 8.48 lakhs children due to the high risk of COVID-19 infections. The interference of constitutional courts in academic matters is warranted in the face of a violation of the constitutional rights of minor students who would be made to travel in impossible conditions, and participate in the Board exams with hundreds of people at a single centre and no facilities of testing for COVID-19. Even when students show symptoms of the illness, they would be made to write the exams in a separate room, and such guidelines would be a clear violation of the right to life and health of students which would warrant interference in academic matters."
However the Apex Court upheld the Karnataka High Court's stand of being slow in interfering with academic matters. While dismissing the plea, it was observed that a constitutional court must try not to interfere in academic matters.
The other contention brought forth by the petitioner was regarding the Government's decision to grant migrant children and those living in containment zones the option of appearing for Board examinations after a period of two months. This, it was argued, would render the examinations from June 25 as infructuous. The High Court, added the petitioner, had failed to consider that others would also not be mentally prepared to take these examinations.
"The Court failed to appreciate that the action of the Respondent State Government to give the option of doing the Board exams after two months to migrant children who cannot return to Karnataka for the exams and to children in containment zones, makes the entire process of conducting the Board exams on June 25th infructuous and redundant as it would lead to a majority of students who may not be migrant or not living in containment zones to also take that option, as they may not be mentally prepared to give the exams due to the lockdown and health pandemic", it was submitted.
The Court noted that there is the option of appearing on a later date. This, the Top Court was of the view, would allow examinations to be conducted after two months, if it was not possible for students to appear from June 25, on account of the petitioner's concerns.