Conduct of final year university exams amid COVID-19: SC seeks UGC response

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today issued notice in a batch of petitions challenging the University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines mandating universities across India to conduct their final year exams by September 30 (Praneeth K & Ors v. Union of India).
The matter will be taken up for hearing on July 31, by which date the UGC is required to file its response to the pleas. The three-judge Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah heard the matter.
During today’s hearing, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for one of the petitioners, stated that the decision to hold final year exams amid the COVID-19 pandemic was “unrealistic and remarkable”.
He further pointed out that states have been given no discretion on the issue, despite expressing their objections. At this point, Justice Bhushan asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for UGC, if he required time to seek instructions.
In response, Mehta said, “We are only concerned with final year exams. There are 818 universities in India and out of these, 35 have not reached final year exams. 209 have completed the exams, 394 are in the process of conducting the exams.”
He went on to state that students have been given the option to take the exams online, offline, or a merger of both. He also cited guidelines issued by the Union Home Ministry and the Ministry of Human Resource Development, which state that exams can take place with not more than 10 students in one room, in order to maintain social distancing.
Advocate Alok Alakh Srivastava, appearing for the petitioners, pointed out, “Today 50,000 COVID-19 cases have been registered. There needs to be a stay on these guidelines till the matter is pending.”
SG Mehta ultimately said that the UGC would file a common reply to the batch of the petitions filed in the Supreme Court. The matter will be heard next on July 31.
The lead petition in the case is a plea filed by 31 students from Indian universities across the country. They have challenged the UGC guidelines as being arbitrary, given that it would compel students to appear in exams during the COVID-19 pandemic, posing a risk to their health.