PIL challenges cancellation of exams by Maharashtra govt due to COVID-19, HC asks UGC to be made party

A division bench of the Bombay High Court has called for the University Grants Commission (UGC) to be made a party to a public interest litigation (PIL) that has challenged a Maharashtra government resolution of June19 which decided to not conduct exams for professional and non-professional courses due to the situation caused by novel coronavirus pandemic. The bench also asked Maharashtra state to respond to the petition.

The PIL filed by Dhananjay Kulkarni, a retired teacher from Pune, has stated that because UGC was the regulation authority, Maharashtra state was not empowered to decide and announce the mode of assessment for final year students, and has sought to set aside and quash the government resolution.

The division bench of Justice AA Sayed and Justice MS Karnik was informed by Kulkarni’s advocate Uday Warunjikar that the decision of the higher and technical education ministry to not conduct exams for professional and non-professional courses was not valid.

The government resolution had stated that students of non-professional courses, who have cleared all previous semesters and do not want to appear for last semester exams of their final year should give in writing that they do not want to appear for final exams to their respective universities. These students will be awarded a score based on the average of their aggregate marks of previous semesters and provided with results, and had given an exception for those students who were not satisfied with their score and wished to fare better to given a written undertaking to the effect which would enable them to take an optional exam later.

But the government resolution had stated that it will not be able to conduct final semester exams of professional courses like engineering, pharmacy, hotel management, architecture, planning, management studies, computer studies, law, physical education and pedagogy, but had given students to take the optional exam for better scores later.

The plea stated, “There is an artificial classification made by the state among students who are admitted to professional and non-professional courses. If the state government is not going to conduct examinations for non-professional courses because of the coronavirus outbreak, there is no reason to conduct exams for professional courses either. There is no logic behind the decision and it is arbitrary and unreasonable and therefore court’s intervention is required.”

Warunjikar further submitted that the dual assessment method offered to the students in the GR was also without logic and such methods cannot be adopted while granting degrees. Students are given the option to appear for exams or accept average marks based on past performance.

“Such exercise is unknown to the educational field and therefore there is non-application of mind on the part of the state,” said Warunjikar and submitted that even the Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016 did not permit the state government to take such a decision and only the UGC could take such decisions, hence the decision was beyond the purview of the provisions of UGC Act as well.

The plea stated, “The hanging sword of uncertainty is faced by final year students and GR is not clear as to when the exams will be conducted and the academic year will get over. “Fate of a large number of students who wish to take admission for the post-graduation courses is kept in a hanging situation.”

Stating this, the petitioner sought from the Court to quash and set aside the GR and pending hearing, sought a stay on the same. After hearing the submissions the court directed that UGC should also be made party to the PIL and directed the state to file response to the plea within a week, the Court posted further hearing on July 17.