Praneeth K And Ors. v. University Grants Commission (UGC) And Ors.
Writ Petition (Civil) No.724 of 2020. decided on 28.08.2020.
Bench: Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy, M.R Shah, JJ.
Several writ petitions were filed in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India wherein the petitioners challenged the directions issued by the University Grants Commission (UGC) on 06.07.2020 wherein it was mandated to all the universities and colleges across India to hold final semester examinations by 30.09.2020. Also, the petitioners sought relief to direct the respondents to declare the results of final year students on the basis of their past performance/ internal assessment and to award mark sheets and degrees.
Whether the guidelines issued by UGC dated 06.07.2020 which require the Universities to complete final year examinations by 30.09.2020 are beyond the domain of UGC? And are the guidelines only advisory in nature?
The Supreme Court held that the guidelines issued by UGC are not beyond its domain as they related to “co-ordination and determination of standard in institutions of higher education” which is mentioned in Entry 66 of List I of the Constitution. The UGC Act has been enacted on the basis of this entry.
The court also held that the guidelines issued by UGC are not advisory in nature, they have statutory force and have been issued by invoking the powers given to UGC under Section 12 of the UGC Act. Section 12 of the Act provides that it shall be the general duty of the UGC to take all such steps as it may think fit for the promotion and co-ordination of University education and for the determination and maintenance of standards of teaching, examination and research in Universities. The words “all such steps” are of wide import. These guidelines are therefore binding on all the universities and as per the UGC Regulations, 2003, it is the statutory duty of the Universities to adopt the guidelines issued by the UGC.
Whether the UGC guidelines dates 06.07.2020 are violative of Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India?
The court held that the differentiation made by the guidelines between final year students and other students has a rational basis and there is an intelligible differentia. The final year examination are important because they provide an opportunity to the students to improve upon their overall score/marks which are crucial for academic excellence and employment opportunities. There is no arbitrariness and unreasonableness in the UGC guidelines which require Universities and Colleges to conduct examination of final year students.
The Court also held that it cannot be said that Article 14 has been violated just because the guidelines apply throughout India and one fixed date is given irrespective of the conditions prevailing in the individual States. The UGC has rightly fixed one date for the completion of the Final year examinations throughout the country to maintain uniformity in the academic calendar and for the welfare of students and their career.
The Court also noted that the UGC guidelines and the Standard Operating Procedure formulated by the Ministry of Health shows deep concern for all the stakeholders involved i.e., the students as well as exam functionaries and does not violate the fundamental right to life and health under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Whether the UGC guidelines dated 06.07.2020 are liable to be set aside on the ground of non-compliance of Section 12 of UGC Act, 1956?
The Supreme Court held that term “other bodies” apart from the Universities enumerated in Section 12 of the UGC Act cannot be stretched to include State Disaster Management Authority or health experts. Section 12 does not contemplate any such bodies. Therefore it was held that the guidelines do not violate Section 12 of the UGC Act because no consultation was taken from the State Disaster Management Authority and health experts and are not liable to be set aside.
[Section 12 of the UGC Act deals with powers and functions of the University Grants Commission].
Whether the State and State Disaster Management Authority in the exercise of jurisdiction under Disaster Management Act, 2005 can take a decision to not hold final year examination and can it take decision to award degrees to final year students by promoting them on basis of result of previous semester exams and internal assessments in disregard to the UGC guidelines dated 06.07.2020?
The Supreme Court has held that the States cannot promote final year students without holding exams.
The Court held that the State Disaster Management Authority can postpone exams overriding the UGC guidelines. The directions of State Disaster Management Authority for cancelling exams in that particular state will prevail over the UGC directions by virtue of Section 72 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
However, it cannot direct the Universities to pass final year students based on previous performance and internal assessment as this is beyond the scope of the State Disaster Management Authority and the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The court stated that if any state government or Union Territory cannot conduct exams by 30.09.2020 then they can individually approach the UGC to postpone the exams and seek extension in light of the pandemic.