Colleges and universities cannot award degrees to students without conducting final-year or final-term examinations, the Supreme Court said on Friday, upholding a decision by the University Grants Commission (UGC) that called for completing the evaluation process across the country by September 30.
At the same time, the court made it clear that states were empowered to take decisions under the Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005, to postpone final-year or final-semester exams beyond the September-end deadline. It allowed states to approach UGC for new dates that have to be communicated to them “at the earliest”.
The ruling by a three-judge bench headed by justice Ashok Bhushan is significant because it appears to have established finality as far as holding exams for final-year and final-term students are concerned.
A large section of students protested UGC’s July 6 order mandating the exams — online, offline or by using a combination of both — and states such as Delhi and Maharashtra announced scrapping them in view of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic and the health risks it poses. The court was hearing seven petitions against the UGC’s decision to hold exams and three pleas seeking compliance by states with the UGC move.
“The guidelines dated July 6, 2020, as well as Standard Operating Procedures for conduct of examinations circulated by UGC vide letter dated July 8, 2020, clearly shows deep concern with the health of all stakeholders, i.e., students as well as the exam functionaries. Challenge to the guidelines on the ground of it being violative of (right to life under) Article 21 is repelled,” the court said, referring to safety guidelines advocating social distancing during the conduct of physical exams.
The bench, also comprising justices R Subash Reddy and MR Shah, said decisions by some states under the Disaster Management Act will prevail over the deadline set by UGC since the legislation “empowers states to take measures for prevention and mitigation of disaster”.
The Disaster Management Act has been enforced across the country in the wake of the pandemic. It empowers the Union government and states governments to frames policies, formulate plans, and take measures for prevention and mitigation of disasters, including relaxations and restrictions on businesses and activities.