By Ms. Haripriya. B
Ministry of Home Affairs in its notification dated 06/07/2020 permitted to conduct the exams by universities and institutions and also made it obligatory for the Universities to conduct final year exams as per the University Grant Commission (UGC) guidelines. In the said guidelines issued, it was stated that the universities can conduct exams in online or pen-paper or a blend of these two modes. While states like Maharashtra, Punjab, Meghalaya, West Bengal, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Odisha have raised objections; some states have even cancelled the exams before it. HRD Secretary also quoted that, higher education is a subject under concurrent list where both state and center has power and the center’s power will override. This controversial decision of UGC has created anxieties among students and was criticized as arbitrary and discriminatory.
All these controvert decisions are creating a legal hurdle. A common question arises is that, who has final authority regarding conducting or cancelling the final year university examinations? And still our education system is exam-centric?
The University Grants Commission Act, 1956 a central legislation which was enacted to make provision for coordination and determination of the standards in universities.Under Section 12(d) of the above mentioned Act, University Grants Commission (UGC) may recommend any University to conduct examination in order to fulfill the measures necessary for the improvement of University education and advice the University upon the action to be taken for the purpose of implementing such recommendation. If any University fails within a reasonable time to comply with any recommendation made by the Commission under section 12 or section 13, the Commission, after taking into consideration the cause, if any, shown by the University may withhold from the University the grants proposed to be made out of the Fund of the Commission.
Further, according to Section 26(1) (f) of the Act, the commission may make regulations “defining the minimum standards of instruction for the grant of any degree by any University”. In view of power conferred by this section UGC formulated resolution in the year 2003 of Minimum Standards of Instruction for the Grant of First Degree and Minimum Standards of Instruction for the Grant of the Master Degree.
Moreover the Apex Court in the case of Annamalai University rep. by Registrar v. Secretary to Government, Information and Tourism Department and Others[i], has clearly held that “the provisions of the UGC Act are binding on all universities whether conventional or open, since its powers are very broad. Moreover, when the regulations framed by the UGC in terms of clauses (e), (f), (g) & (h) of sub-section (1) of Section 26 are of wide amplitude, they apply equally to open universities as also to formal conventional universities. Therefore, in the matter of higher education, it is necessary to maintain minimum standards of instructions and such minimum standards of instructions are required to be defined by the UGC and the standards and co-ordination of works or facilities in the universities must be maintained. In view of that, the powers of University Grants Commission under Section 26(1) ((f) & (g) are very broad in nature.”
Education more specifically higher education is listed in concurrent list of the Indian Constitution, i.e. both State and Central has power to legislate. It is always the central legislation that overrides the state laws when dispute arises.
Whereas the Disaster Management Act, 2005 provides for making or amending provisions of any rule, regulation, notification, guideline, instruction, order, scheme or bye-laws, for the purposes of prevention of disasters or the mitigation thereof[ii]. It also gives overriding effect over any other law for the time being[iii].
Even though students are continuously and comprehensively assessed through projects and internal examinations, these guidelines to conduct terminal semester shows that our education system is still examination- centric.We are been educated only to pass exams rather than to understand and apply them in practical situations. This is merely an examination system and not an education system.Although the UGC states that the decision was taken keeping in mind the student’s admission to higher education and employment opportunities, there are growing concerns regarding the mental health of the students, access to study materials and lack of study environment.All students do not have access to smartphones, laptops and books for their preparation.Moreover if the center insists on conducting exams it must make sure that everyone gets equal access to study materials, study environment etc. The unilateral decision of government is discriminatory and totally against the principle enshrined in the Constitution. Students are made to go through unnecessary pressure of examinations. During a historic global crisis, where huge population struggle for even one meal a day, where large number of migrant workers walk barefooted to their natives, this decision of government on examinations may take lives of students.When other basic needs such as food, water, and shelter are taken care of, education has been left unaddressed.The rich are becoming richer with knowledge acquisition. Equal access to education as a fundamental right of an individual has to be protected.
As the country with one of the highest number of positive cases in the world, any move to conduct final year examinations could endanger lives.Moreover if the state governments use their power under the Disaster Management Act to cancel the examinations, legal dispute may arise. Therefore, the Centre should take initiative for resolving the said issue taking into consideration the views of all the states and the mental health of the students. By this uniform decision rights of these students will not be affected but if state governments take diverse decisions based on other legislations giving those powers then the students may face problems. So, uniformity of decision in the nation will neglect any deprivation faced by student and their future.
[i]Annamalai University rep. by Registrar v. Secretary to Government, Information and Tourism Department and Others, (2009) 4 S.C.C. 590 [ii] Section 64,The Disaster Management Act, 2005, No. 53, Acts of Parliament, 2005 (India). [iii] Ibid, Sec. 72 (India).