Supreme Court hearing on pleas opposing UGC Guidelines

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today will resume hearing the arguments on a batch of pleas challenging the July 6 circular of the University Grants Commission (UGC) mandating to conduct the final term exams by the end of September.

Last week, a bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan had adjourned the matter for hearing on August 18 as the arguments on the pleas, which also seek cancellation of final term examination in view of COVID-19 situation, remain inconclusive.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represent student’s plea, highlighted that the severity of the situation and said India is third in the world in the most number of COVID positive cases, adding that there are almost 900 deaths in a day and 50-60,000 new cases coming daily.

Singhvi said that for five months, the MHA has shut everything. “There is a direct nexus between teaching and taking of exams. How can there be no teaching without exams!” he added.

The senior advocate argued that education is not special here; pandemic here is special. “Pandemic applies to everyone and everything,” he said. Singhvi, while terming the UGC circular as ‘farman’, said the Commission has issued the same to conduct exams by September 30.

Singhvi further contended that even a first-year student will be able to say that this is not federal. “This special situation is extra-ordinary. The pandemic is state-neutral, political colour-neutral, people-neutral,” he said.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for another petitioner, told the bench that the if the lockdown was going on, could UGC have promulgated its guidelines? If it could not do it at that time, it cannot do it now, he said.

“As per the notifications in Maharashtra, it is stated that the number of cases is increasing terribly. There are colleges in some States which have been taken over for quarantine facilities,” Divan added.

He said that Central government’s June 29, 2020 guidelines for phase reopening (Unlock 2) said that schools, colleges and coaching institutions wouldn’t be permitted to open and online distance learning will be encouraged and these restrictions will continue till the end of August.

Divan pointed out that students are a homogenous class and UGC cannot say that the lives of 3rd-year students are less than that of a 1st year or a 2nd-year student.

“Teachers and invigilators are also a homogenous class. Their health and their lives are also important. It doesn’t matter which class or which semester you teach. Many students live with their families. With their grandparents and their parents. The students might not show symptoms, but they will come in contact with their families. Please have some concern for them,” he added.

The UGC had on Thursday filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that the decision of Delhi and Maharashtra government of cancelling the final term examination directly will “directly impact the standards of higher education in the country”.

The affidavit was filed in on a batch of pleas challenging UGC’s July 6 circular and seeking cancellation of final term examination in view of COVID-19 situation.

Earlier, Delhi and Maharashtra governments’ had told the top court that they have cancelled the examination in the Union Territory and State respectively.

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