UGC final year exams: Supreme Court upholds UGC decision to hold final year exams by Sep 30 [READ JUDGMENT]

Today in Supreme Court, a Bench comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice R. Shubhash Reddy and Justice M.R. Shah, delivered a very significant Judgment concerning lakhs of students across India. The Judgment came in bunch of Petitions with leading W.P. (Civil) No. 724 of 2020 (Praneeth K and Others vs University Grants Commission)

Categories of Writ Petitions

The first group of writ petitions filed by students, youth organisations and the teachers associations challenged the guidelines issued by University Grants Commission (hereinafter referred to as “UGC”) dated 06.07.2020, O.M. dated 06.07.2020 issued by Ministry of Human Resource Development and letter dated 06.07.2020 issued by Ministry of Home Affairs whereby all the Universities and Colleges across the country had been directed to conduct terminal semester/ final year examinations by 30.09.2020.

 A further relief was sought directing the respondents to declare the results of the students of the final year/terminal semester examinations of all universities/ institutions of the country on the basis of their past performance/internal assessment and to award marksheets and degrees.

The   second   group   of   writ petitions   were   filed   by   the students   challenging   the decision   of   the   State Disaster   Management   Authority   as   well   as   of   the States (State   of   Maharashtra   and   State   of   West Bengal)   for   not   holding   final   term   examination. Further   prayers   were   made   that   State   of Maharashtra   as   well   as   State   of   West   Bengal   be directed   to   comply   with   the   UGC   revised   guidelines dated   06.07.2020   and   O.M.   dated   06.07.2020   of Ministry of Human Resource Development. 

Issues Framed by Court

  1. Whether   the   revised   guidelines   dated 06.07.2020   requiring   the   Universities   to complete   terminal   semester/final   year examination   by   30.09.2020   is   beyond   the domain   of   the   UGC   and   does   not   relate   to “co­ordination   and   determination   of standards   in   institution   of   higher education”? 
  2. Whether   the   revised   guidelines   dated 06.07.2020   issued   by   the   UGC   are   nonstatutory,   advisory   only   and   contrary   to earlier guidelines dated 29.04.2020?
  3. Whether   the   UGC   guidelines   dated 06.07.2020   are   violative   of   Article   14   of the Constitution of India? 
  4. Whether   the   UGC   guidelines   dated 06.07.2020   are   violative   of   Article   21   of the Constitution of India and the guidelines have   been   issued   disregarding   the   pandemic COVID­19? 
  5. Whether the guidelines of the UGC dated 06.07.2020 are liable to be set aside on the ground   of   non­compliance   of   Section   12   of UGC Act, 1956? 
  6. Whether   the   State   and   State’s   Disaster Management  Authority   in   exercise   of jurisdiction   under   Disaster   Management   Act, 2005   can   take   a   decision   not   to   hold examination   by   30.09.2020   disregarding   the direction   in   the   UGC   guidelines   dated 06.07.2020?
  7. Whether   the   State   or   State   Disaster Management   Authority,   in   exercise   of jurisdiction   under   Act,   2005,   can   take   a decision   to   award   degrees   to   final year/final   semester   students   by   promoting them on the basis of criteria of assessment formulated by the State/Universities on the result   of   previous   semesters/exams   and internal   assessment   of   final   year/terminal semester   in   disregard   to   the   guidelines dated   06.07.2020   which   require   holding   of examination   of   final   year/terminal   semester by 30.09.2020?

Contention of Students seeking cancellation of Exams

  1. The   petitioners’   case   is   that   the   decision   of   the UGC,   Ministry   of   Human Resource   Development   and Ministry   of   Home   Affairs   to   conduct   the   final term/final   examinations   of   Universities   and institutions   throughout   the   country   amid COVID­19 pandemic   is   extremely   arbitrary,   whimsical   and detrimental to the health and safety of the students as well as violative of fundamental rights of lakhs of students enshrined under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution   of   India   including   those   of   the writ petitioners.
  1. Various States are suffering   gravely   from   pandemic   of   COVID­19   and respective State Governments have imposed/implemented various   levels   of   lockdown   under   the Disaster Management   Act,   2005.     Petitioner   pleads   that   as   a result   of   the lockdown,   Universities,   schools, educational institutions were forced to shut down and to postpone   the   terminal   semester/final   year examinations. 
  2. Cases of COVID­19 are increasing day by day in the State of Maharashtra and many   college   buildings   in   the   State   of   Maharashtra have been requisitioned by the State Government / its bodies   like   Municipal   Corporation   to   be   converted into quarantine centres and for other public purpose in   view   of   present   pandemic   COVID­19,   hence   it   is impractical   to   hold   examinations.  
  3. Students also claimed parity with Judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of CBSE exams rendered in Writ Petition (C) No.   566   of   2020   –   Amit   Bathla   &   Ors.   Vs.   Central Board of Secondary Education & Anr.
  4. The most of the Colleges/Universities/ Institutions have been   converted   into   COVID   Health   Care   Centres. Therefore,  conducting of exams through  offline mode will entail a huge risk of transmission of virus, it will be absolutely unjust to neglect the problems of adopting   uniform   online   mode   of   exams   and   also   the infrastructural   disparities. 
  5. Section   72   of   the   Disaster   Management Act,   2005   provides   that   decisions   taken   and   orders issued thereunder will have an overriding effect. If a decision is taken by the appropriate authority under Act, 2005 regarding non holding of  examination, the same   will   operate   and   hold   the   field   despite   the provisions of the UGC Act.
  6. Section 12 of the UGC Act mandates   that   guidelines   need   to   be   framed   in consultation with the Universities. All Universities were   not   consulted   before   issuing   the   impugned guidelines. 
  7. The   University Grants   Commission   Act   and   the   guidelines   framed thereunder   shall   not   have an overriding   effect   on   the action under the Act, 2005. The Disaster Management Act being a latter and special Act shall operate.
  8. The   order issued   under   the   Disaster   Management   Act   shall override the revised guidelines dated 06.07.2020.
  9. Revised guidelines  have been issued under University  Grants Commission Act, 1956 which is referable to Entry 66 of   List   I   of   the   Seventh   Schedule   of   the Constitution, which is confined to “co­ordination and determination   of   standards”. 
  10. not holding final examination and awarding Degree on the   basis   of   earlier   semester’s   performance   is   not diluting   the   standards   of   education   in   any   manner. 
  11. The directions of UGC to hold examination by 30.09.2020   is   completely   beyond   the   power   of   UGC. Revised guidelines do not take into consideration the different   situations   of   different   States.’

Contention of UGC:

  1. judicial   review   of   the   guidelines   of   the   UGC dated   06.07.2020   is   permissible   only   on   limited grounds. 
  2. If authority has power to do something, the form is not material. 
  3. Ministry   of   Home Affairs   have   already   granted   exemption   for conducting   the   examination   despite   the   closure   of Schools,   Colleges   and   Coaching   Institutions.
  4. University Grants   Act   is   referable   to   Entry   66   List   I   of   7th Schedule   and   no   contrary   decision   of   the   State   can stand   in   its   way.   Referring   to   Regulations,   2003
  5. Closure of the Schools, Colleges and Institutions has nothing to do with the conduct   of   the   examinations   and   normally   final examinations   are   conducted   only   after   teaching   is over   i.e.     after   Colleges   are   closed.

The Court Held:

  1. The Revised Guidelines dated 06.07.2020 issued by the UGC are not beyond the domain of the UGC and they relate to coordination and determination of standards in institutions of higher education. 
  2. The   Guidelines   dated   06.07.2020   are   in continuation   to   the   earlier   Guidelines   dated 29.04.2020   and   are   not   contrary   to   the   earlier Guidelines.   We have to look into the substance of the Guidelines to find out the intention and object of the Guidelines.   The Guidelines were issued with the   object   that   a   uniform   academic   calendar   be followed by all the Universities and final /terminal examinations be held. 
  3. The Guidelines dated 06.07.2020 has to be treated to   have   been   issued   in   exercise   of   the   statutory powers vested in the Commission under Section 12.  As per   the   Statutory   Regulations,   2003,   it   is   the statutory   duty   of   the   Universities   to   adopt   the Guidelines issued by the UGC.   The Guidelines dated 06.07.2020   cannot   be   ignored   by   terming   it   as   nonstatutory or advisory. 
  4. The   differentiation   made   in   the   Revised Guidelines   to   hold   final   or   terminal   semester examination   and   to   give   option   for   earlier years/ intermediate   semester   for   not   holding   the examination   has   a   rational   basis. The differentiation   has   nexus   with   the   object   to   be achieved. We,   thus, reject   the   challenge   to   the revised   Guidelines   on   the   ground   that   there   is   any discrimination   between   the   students   of   final year/terminal semester and those of intermediate and first year. 
  5. The revised Guidelines also cannot be termed to violate Article 14 of the Constitution on the ground that   one   date,   i.e.,   30.09.2020   has   been   fixed irrespective   of   the   conditions   prevailing   in individual States.   The   date   for   completion   of examination   was   fixed   throughout   the   country   to maintain uniformity in the academic calendar. 
  6. The Revised Guidelines dated 06.07.2020 as well as Standard   Operating   Procedures   for   conduct   of examinations circulated vide letter dated 08.07.2020 of   UGC   as   well   as   O.M.   dated   06.07.2020   issued   by MHRD   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   Article   21   is repelled. 
  7. The   expression   “other   bodies”   used   in the opening part of the Section 12  of the UGC Act,  1956 is in reference to other bodies apart from Universities as enumerated   under   Section   12.   The   submission   that other   bodies   as   occurring   in   Section 12 should include State Disaster Management Authority or health experts   is   misconceived.   Section   12   never  contemplated   any   such   expression.   The   revised guidelines   dated   06.07.2020   are   not   in   breach   of Section 12 of 1956 Act. 
  8. The   Disaster   Management   Act,   2005   empowers   the State   Disaster   Management   Authority   as   well   as   the State Government to take measures for prevention and mitigation of a disaster and the action taken by the authorities   under   the   Disaster   Management   Act   have been given overriding effect to achieve the purpose and object of the Act, 2005.   Saving of human life has   been   given   paramount   importance   under   the   Act, 2005.   Primacy   have   been   given   to   the   actions   and measures   taken   under   the   Act,   2005   over   anything inconsistent in any other law for the time being in force. 
  9. The direction of the University Grants Commission in Revised Guidelines dated 06.07.2020 insofar as it directs the Universities and Colleges to complete the final   year/terminal   year   examination   by   30.09.2020 shall be overridden by any contrary decision taken by the State Disaster Management Authority or the State Government   exercising   power   under   the   Disaster Management Act, 2005. 
  10. The   State   Governments   or   State   Disaster Management   Authority   in   exercise   of   power   under Disaster Management Act, 2005 has no jurisdiction to take   a   decision   that   the   students   of   final year/terminal   students   should   be   promoted   on   the basis   of   earlier   year   assessment   and   internal assessment,   which   decision   being   contrary   to   UGC Guidelines   dated   06.07.2020   has   to   give   way   to   the UGC Guidelines.  The UGC Guidelines dated 06.07.2020 specifically   directed   to   conduct   the   final   year/ terminal   semester   examination   which   shall   override such   contrary   decision   of   the   State   Government   or SDMA.

Directions issued:

  1. The   prayer   to   quash   the   revised   guidelines dated 06.07.2020 issued by the University Grants Commission and OM dated 06.07.2020 issued by the Ministry of Human Resource Development and letter dated 06.07.2020 issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs is refused. 
  2. The   decision   taken   by   the   State   Disaster Management   Authority/State   not   to   hold   final year/terminal semester examination by 30.09.2020 in   exercise   of   power   under   Disaster   Management Act,   2005   shall   prevail   over   deadline   fixed   by the University Grants Commission i.e. 30.09.2020 in respect to the concerned State. 
  3. The   decision   of   the   State/State   Disaster Management Authority to promote the students in the final year/terminal semester on the basis of previous   performance   and   internal   assessment being   beyond   the   jurisdiction   of   Disaster Management   Act,   2005   has   to   give   way   to   the guidelines of UGC dated 06.07.2020 directing to hold examination of final year/terminal semester. The   State   and   University   cannot   promote   the students   in   the   final   year/terminal   semester without holding final year/terminal examination.  
  4. If any State/Union Territory in exercise of jurisdiction under Disaster Management Act, 2005 has taken a decision that it is not possible to conduct   the   final   year/terminal   semester examination   by   30.09.2020,   we   grant   liberty   to such State/Union Territory to make an application to the University Grants Commission for extending deadline   of   30.09.2020   for   that   State/Union 160 Territory   which   shall   be   considered   by   UGC   and rescheduled   date   be   communicated   to   such State/Union Territory at the earliest. 

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