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States cannot decide to confer degrees without exams: UGC to SC

New Delhi: The UGC told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that its July 6 directive, asking universities and colleges to conduct final year exams by September 30 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is "not a diktat" but states cannot take decision to confer degrees without holding the examinations.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the University Grants Commission (UGC), told a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan that the directive is for the "benefit of students" as the universities have to start admissions to postgraduate courses and state authorities cannot override the UGC's guideline.

The bench, also comprising Justices R S Reddy and M R Shah, observed that the issue is if the state disaster management authority has decided that situation is not conducive for holding exams, can they overrule the UGC.

The bench, which reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions questioning the validity of the UGC's July 6 directive, said that another issue is whether the commission can override state authorities and ask the universities to hold examinations on given dates. During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, Mehta told the bench that states might seek extension of the deadline but they cannot take the decision to confer degrees without holding the exams.

"The deadline was given for benefit of the students. It is not a diktat," Mehta told the bench, adding that "all universities have to start admissions of postgraduate courses. The country is working".

He argued that COVID-19 is a national disaster and the state authorities cannot override the UGC.

The bench observed that it has to be kept in mind that welfare of students is not for the students to decide and it is for the statutory body to take decision in this regard.

It observed that another issue was whether the state can take decision under the Disaster Management Act and say that they would not hold examinations and declare results based on past performances of a student.

Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, appearing for some of the petitioners, told the bench that UGC's July 6 guideline makes it mandatory for the universities to hold exams by September 30 and the decision was taken without proper consultation.

The counsel appearing for one of the states argued that not holding final year exam does not lead to dilution of standards and even premier institutes like the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) has said that they would give degree without holding exams.

One of the lawyers raised the issue of problems faced by students during the recent online exams conducted by the Delhi University.

One of the advocates referred to the decision taken by Maharashtra and alleged that the issue has been politicised. The bench, which reserved its verdict, asked the parties to file short written notes within three days.

"Heard counsel for the parties. The intervention applications are not entertained. Judgment reserved," the bench said in its order.

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