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UGC vs states — how the battle over final-year exams is playing out in Supreme Court

The UGC has mandated universities to conduct final-year exams by September-end. The states and students are fighting against this. The court reserved its verdict Tuesday.

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New Delhi: As the world grapples with Covid-19, students in India are battling it out in the Supreme Court against the 6 July notification issued by the University Grants Commission (UGC), mandating universities to conduct final-year exams by September end.

The notification has been challenged in the Supreme Court by a batch of petitions, including one by 31 students from universities across the country.

While students have opposed the move citing the health risk, a few state governments have also refused to conduct the exams due to the pandemic. However, UGC has remained adamant, asserting that its guidelines are mandatory in nature, and that degrees cannot be granted without conducting the exams.

As the Supreme Court reserved its verdict in the case Tuesday, here’s how the UGC is relying on the constitution to demand adherence to its notification, and how the state governments resisting the move.

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Guidelines mandatory: UGC

The crux of UGC’s submission is that the universities across the country are bound to follow its guidelines and the state governments, therefore, cannot cancel the final-year exams.

To this end, it has cited Entry 66 of the Union list in the court. This entry mentions ‘Co-ordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education or research and scientific and technical institutions’.

Union list is one of the three lists on the 7th schedule of the Constitution. State list and Concurrent list are the other two.

According to Article 246, the central government has exclusive powers to make laws on the subjects in the Union list, while the state government can make laws on subjects in the State list.

As for the Concurrent list, both central and state governments can enact laws listed under it. But if there is a conflict between the laws, the central law will override the state law.

The enactment of the UGC Act 1956 is traced to Entry 66 of the Union list. Section 26 of this Act allows UGC to make regulations. It accordingly framed the “UGC Guidelines on Examinations and Academic Calendar for the Universities in view of Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown” in April.

Thereafter, in July, these guidelines were revised and the Universities were asked to compulsorily conduct final-year exams.

Relying on various regulations formed by it, UGC has therefore contended that universities across the country are bound to accept its guidelines.

“It is settled law that the regulations made by the UGC are binding on all universities, whether conventional or open, and its powers are very broad,” it has told the Supreme Court.

The UGC has further contended that the decisions taken by State governments to cancel final-year exams will therefore encroach on the Parliament’s power under Entry 66.

During the hearing Tuesday, the UGC also told the court that degrees cannot be granted to the students without examinations, and therefore, while exams can be delayed or postponed, they cannot be cancelled.

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State govts rely on Covid, lack of infrastructure

On its part, the Maharashtra government has informed the Supreme Court that it was the State Disaster Management Authority that took the decision on 13 July to not conduct exams in the state amid the pandemic.

The Delhi government has told the court that on 11 July, the UT’s Deputy Chief Minister directed “all Delhi State Universities to cancel all written online and offline semester examinations including final year exams”, in the wake of Covid-19.

The government has also pointed out the accessibility issues in conducting online classes. It has submitted that “in Delhi’s State universities, best efforts were made to conduct online classes, but the reality of our digital divide is that online classes are not accessible equally by all”.

Due to such issues, it has asserted that “the students did not get the kind of preparation needed to attempt a full-fledged examination”.

During the hearing Tuesday, the West Bengal government also told the court that the state is bound by its constitutional duty to protect the health of the citizens. It pointed out the fact that south Bengal districts were affected by Cyclone Amphan and hence, most people, including students, have been evacuated.

The state has, therefore, submitted that neither physical exams are possible, nor online exams as both, the authorities and the students, lack digital infrastructure.

The Odisha government also relied on the increasing Covid cases to submit that it was not possible to conduct the exams.

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‘States, universities not consulted’

In addition, the state governments have also submitted that the 6 July order was not a statutory document, but an executive order.

Both, Maharashtra and West Bengal government also cited Section 12 of the UGC Act.

Section 12 of the Act makes it the commission’s duty to take steps for promotion of university education, but it says that the UGC should do so “in consultation with the Universities or other bodies concerned”.

The state governments have now contended that neither did UGC consult any state governments nor any health or medical experts to understand the practical ground realities before issuing the order.

The students who have challenged the UGC order have also made a similar submission, asserting that failure to consult the universities or other relevant bodies makes the order illegal.

They have further pointed out that Section 22 of the UGC Act says that the “right of conferring or granting degrees shall be exercised only by a University”. They have therefore refuted UGC’s claim that it would not be able to provide degrees to students who don’t appear in the exams.

SC to consider validity of the order

The Supreme Court will now consider several such legal questions arising in the case.

For instance, in view of the submission made by the Maharashtra government, the court will decide whether the decision of the State Disaster Management Authority of Maharashtra can override UGC guidelines.

It will also look into the nature of the July notification – whether it is mandatory or not – and whether correct procedure was followed before issuing the guidelines.

The court will also examine the contention of the students, who have asserted that the UGC order violates their fundamental rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, in light of the pandemic.

Also read: SC rejects plea seeking further postponement of JEE (Main) & NEET-UG exams amid Covid spurt


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  1. Feel that the whole exercise has to consider the following reality.
    Several deemed(private) universities have conducted heavily truncated final year online exams (only MCQ or assignment etc) and have declared the results (of course with inflated marks and grades). They have also admitted PG students and started courses online as well.
    The sufferers are students of Govt funded universities and their affiliated colleges. The problem with some or several of these poor students is that they cannot take up even online exams due to lack of gadgets and connectivity issues.

  2. Dear sir,
    We r ready for exam but pllzz confirm the exam date or declare exam date sheet don’t confuse us because we r not able to understand that what we do in that situation??

  3. With all this situation very difficult to travel becz they are asking for the reports and reasons even some students from different states so if they come then where they should stay and wht about food n all. I am also from different states so who taking the responsibility for us so much risk all around. Our mind set also not ready for the travel n go somewhere for exam so much we need to suffer for one exam do u really think our family taking the risk for all this. Please promote the students on their past performance

  4. Don’t you think it would be unfair for students who might not be able to appear for examination. Some of the families have lost their loved ones due to Covid-19, so do you think their families will allow their children to appear for examination. And how will you take the responsibility of safety for millions of students. On 18th August hearing Mehta sir told that don’t you think 21-22 years Students might not be venturing outside. Well Sir when the lockdown started on March untill now it has been 6 months I have only got down trice in this 6 months and only because it was necessary. It’s not like I’m taking the advantage of the situation and running away from examination, I’m a studious student and I know how important studies and examination are but so is my health important to me. I won’t risk my health at any cost.

  5. Don’t you think it would be unfair for students who might not be able to appear for examination. Some of the families have lost their loved ones due to Covid-19, so do you think their families will allow their children to appear for examination. And how will you take the responsibility of safety for millions of students. On 18th August hearing Mehta sir told that don’t you think 21-22 years Students might not be venturing around. Well Sir when the lockdown started on March untill now it has been 6 months I have only got down thrice in this 6 months and only because it was necessary. It’s not like I’m taking the advantage of the situation and running away from examination, I’m a studious student and I know how important studies and examination are but so is my health important to me. I won’t risk my health at any cost.

  6. Dear sir
    Kya carona final year wale students ko nhi hota h.
    final year walo ko doosre years walo ki trha promote kiya jana chahiye .
    Agr kise ek ko bhi hua to uski family m bhi hone ka dar h sorry hum apni family k sath risk nhi le sake .
    Condition bilkul bhi improve nhi h or esme students pr pressure dala ja rha h bhut se student University se alg sher m rhte h or unki pass internet jaise saiva bhi nhi h or mobile se exam diya ja nhi skta
    So please I request ugc and govt. please promote final year students like others

  7. I agree Exams are important but…..I still find it very funny that when cases were hardly a thousand…. the country went into full lockdown. Now when the number of positive cases are rising at an alarming rate and the country is rocked by calamities after another… UGC and the CENTRE IS ADAMANT. Exams has to be conducted. To me it looks like a desperate move to gain some attention before it (UGC) disappears into oblivion. UGC by now should realise that its copy pasting policies of the west is not implementable in a country like India were infrastructure is in a pathetic state. Teachers are forced to achieved a herculian task replacing classroom interaction and learning to teaching through a mobile phone, while students are forced to swallow the little that was thrown at them. Not necessary to remind of cource that not all students own an android phone to access the learing facilities provided to them. Now here we are forcing the students to give their exams hook or by crook and forget all about their challenges. UGC who talks about online classes and exams and ever so persistent on research should itself before making such decision conduct research on the ground realities of education in India. Enough with bossing around orders get down to the ground realities and then talk.

  8. Situation toh dekh lo India ki kitne cases h kitne increase ho rhe h jha khi bhi kuch open Hua h aisa hua hi nhi ki cases increase na Hue ho … or equality kyu nhi all semester students equal …. so injustice

  9. as per unv are now conducting offline exams fr students which are frm different states and cities.if anyone of them got attected during travelling or by staying in pg’s or by some other reason who will b responsible????kya university ya gvt jimedari legi uski

  10. How’s it validating that your entire bachelor’s previous semester are not considerable for your further education but only the last semester is taken as the ultimate proof of bachelor’s degree? How come there is no space for considering the rest semester performance and marking them in last? What about the students who don’t have their college in their city or town?

    • It is right on what basis? It is a known fact that whether the student is applying for a job or higher studies after graduation, their cumulative performance of the semesters is considered. Even if you mandate the exams and a student does get the maximum grades, their average grade won’t go up by much.
      I am a graduate student in the US, and universities here which we can agree are way more prestigious than MU, for instance are either conducting exams online which or cancelling exams and just replacing them with take home assignments. Also it is a very well known fact that neither the universities under the UGC have resources to conduct exams online nor do the students have means to appear for them online.

  11. No problem on giving exam but it is wrong that u r only postponding the dates …it is irritating now ur fight is going on but our future is completely in dark we r not even able to take admission in PG

  12. All semesters have equal importance and weightage. If 2nd and 4th sem students can be promoted without exams, so can the final semester students. This is Right to Equality.

  13. Respective college lecturers can evaluate the student’s grades and sorted out already students lost four months due to covid19 and UGC want pull another couple of months , students from deemed / autonomus universities of 2020 batch have got their three months salary.

  14. Vtu conduct exam in august, that exam post poned in september, and also completed further syllabus, we are not having notes right now please give me the time and recover and we written final exam, i rewuested exam postponed not cancel

  15. UGC and govt failed their duties every single mistake will note the people.In future there is no govt people will vote NOTA(None of the above).2nd and 3rd years syllabus is complete the university’s will released a circular two external end exams will be conducted in one semester including supply’s also students have a lot pressure and they can attempt suicide who are the responsible for their life’s.

  16. Hame ugc se puchana chahiye ki hamare sath anyay kyu kar rahi hai sbhi class ko pramot aur final year ka exam kyu

  17. Irony that I got just one subject to be cleared to secure a degree. Have got very good marks in all semesters. UGC should consider such scenarios and grant certification based on the subjects pending for clearance.

  18. Sad how we have reduced ourselves to ones who are constantly at loggerheads. In all my years I cannot remember relationship between Centre and State and bodies over which each have authority and jurisdiction. Breakthrough is needed otherwise it is breakup that will become inevitable. More than the state’s I think the centre has to understand that. The centre must realise they exist FOR the states and not the other way round.

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