The Supreme Court on Friday adjourned the hearing, of the plea against UGC order to hold final year exams, to August 18. The top court was hearing a plea filed by students against the UGC order to conduct final year exams by September 30. A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Subhash Reddy, and MR Shah started the hearing at 10.30 am. The hearing went on till 1 pm.

Thousands of college and university students all over India are waiting for a final word from Supreme Court. They have been repeatedly asked to continue with their exam preparation since no final decision regarding the exams has been taken yet.

Representing the petition by 31 students against the conduct of the exam, Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued that the cases of COVID-19 are increasing exponentially and conduct of exams would affect the health of the students, said the report. Singhvi also argued that the exams are not an end to itself but exams must happen after teaching. He also pointed out the MHA’s stance that all educational institutions must remain closed since the onset of the pandemic.

Senior Counsel Shyam Divan who was representing Yuva Sena also pointed out the MHA guidelines of closing all the educational institutions and said that these guidelines are the minimum standards and states are not allowed to dilute it further. He also said that UGC guidelines are advisory in nature and universities have the option to make their own plans, added the report. Divan also highlighted the UGC guidelines’ lack of mention of health concerns or COVID-19 situation when providing a deadline of September 30. He said that UGC has failed to consider the pandemic situation. He also raised the issue of transportation amid the lockdown in containment zones.

What happened at the last hearing?

At the last hearing on August 10, SC had questioned the Delhi and Maharashtra governments’ decisions to not conduct the exams and had sought clarification on whether the Disaster Management Act can override the UGC’s statutory authority and the guidelines.

While the SC bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan granted time to UGC to file the responses to the affidavits filed by the two-state governments, Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, representing a few of the petitioners, questioned the legality of holding the final year exams in a pandemic.

Advocate Srivastava had said yesterday: “Academic interest of few students can’t outweigh the right to health and life of lakhs of students. MHA/UGC have overlooked an alarming Covid-19 crisis, poor health infrastructure, and deadly flood.”

“Their decision to conduct the final exam is illegal and unconstitutional. SC will set it aside,” he added.

UGC maintained its stance that exams must be conducted for degrees to be given and that state governments couldn’t cancel exams as it went against the authority of the University Grants Commission.

UGC had questioned why it was okay to go ahead with new academic sessions in the two states which had raised objections while final year exams were asked to be canceled. UGC said it would hamper the standards of higher education.

Here’s what happened at the SC hearing today:

Problems to be faced by students: Travelling problems, exams without classes.

Lead Counsel, Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi opened the arguments today by talking about the Right to Life. He pointed out that a large section of students would have to travel long distances to the exam centers which would increase the health risk.

Since there was a disparity in the classes of the students, many would be forced to use public transport, and many had even returned to their hometowns.

He said that it was an irony that the UGC guidelines talked about the rising number of Covid-19 cases.

Singhvi questioned how exams were being conducted after educational institutions had been closed for around five months under orders of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Advocate Shyam Divan said that the UGC guidelines were advisory in nature and many students had already secured admission elsewhere or secured jobs.

Moreover, he said that many hostels had been turned into quarantine centres as educational institutions were required to be closed till July 31 as per the Unlock 2 guidelines. As per Unlock 3, that date was shifted to August 31.

He noted that further restrictions could also be imposed above these.