New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the University Grants Commission (UGC) if the latter could override a state government decision in certain situations and take a position on the conduct of examinations.
A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah put this question while hearing whether final-year degree examinations in universities be held before September 30 in accordance with UGC guidelines. The court has reserved its judgment on the matter.
During the marathon hearing that lasted close to four hours, the apex court heard arguments from a battery of Senior Advocates appearing for various stakeholders — Arvind P Datar (for Maharashtra government), Jaideep Gupta (for teachers from West Bengal), KV Viswanathan (Delhi government) and Advocate Generals of Odisha and West Bengal. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for the UGC.
The court was hearing a batch of PILs, along with those from the states of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Odisha, and Delhi, that questioned the UGC directions to universities to conduct final-year exams before September 30.
The state governments have argued that they have the power to promote students without exams due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The bench asked Mehta: “Can the UGC override a state government’s decision, where a certain situation like Covid-19 exists?”
In response, Mehta submitted that Covid-19 pandemic is a ‘national disaster’ and it is for the Centre to decide, and that the “state authorities cannot override the UGC”.
The bench said that this exactly is the question, as the disaster management authority of the state has authority in healthcare. But can the UGC override the state and ask it to conduct exams? “Maybe the UGC can say no degree without an exam. But can they say hold an exam on this date?”
Mehta contended that the deadline was given for the benefit of the students.
“It is not a diktat. All universities must start admissions to postgraduate courses. The country is working,” Mehta submitted.
Advocate Alok Srivastava, appearing for a group of students, contended that the July 6 guidelines making it mandatory to hold exams by September 30 cannot be implemented across the country, as there was no proper consultation.
Mehta contended that the universities can seek an extension in the deadline under the UGC guidelines, but they cannot take a decision to confer degree without holding exams.
The Solicitor General also cited ‘Maharashtra’s political somersault’, wherein it first decided to conduct the exams but later opposed it.
Mehta insisted that the UGC and other regulators exist for the protection of the interests of stakeholders. “Here, the students are the main stakeholders,” he added.
Reserving the judgment, the top court asked all the parties to submit their written submissions.