While listening to a bunch of pleas challenging the decision of Delhi University to conduct e- open book exam (OBE) for final year students on 4th August 2020; Justice Pratibha M. Singh iterated that “DU seems to have a special problem”.
The solicitor-general, Tushar Mehta, on behalf of the UGC (University Grants Commission), urged the court to adjourn the hearing of the present case until the hearing before the Supreme Court with regards to challenges against the UGC guidelines is not decided. To this, Justice Singh objected stating that the date of hearing before Supreme Court, i.e. 10th August 2020, coincides with the exam date of DU.
Apart from that, Justice Singh posed certain questions to the solicitor general to be answered before proceeding ahead. The queries were about the status of students who are unable to attend the online open book exam due to some discrepancies. And what was to be concluded before 30th September 2020 as per the guidelines by UGC.
To this, the solicitor general replied that, these are exceptional situations and that in certain extraordinary cases the exam can be conducted post-September as well.
After hearing this reply, Justice Singh got infuriated and said, “Then the semester will never be over, right? The students will be in a state of uncertainty. How many times will DU conduct examinations? Other universities have already concluded their exams and results. DU also did not conduct classes properly. These are extraordinary circumstances; UGC should have acknowledged that.”
Subsequently, as a reply was filed by UGC in the present matter, Justice Singh pointed out that even the reply had digital signatures, and said “Mr. Mehta, do you see that even your reply is signed digitally, why can’t DU do it? DU seems to have some special problem.”
Arguments submitted by Adv. Akash Sinha, on behalf of intervenors, cited the irresponsible behavior of DU in directing the students to step out and give exam in CSCs (COMMON SERVICE, without any kinds of prior mocks or trials) while highlighting that these guidelines by the DU, are violations of Articles 14, 16, and 21 of the Indian constitution. He further drew attention to the fact that there were students who lacked proper internet connection or interrupted access to the internet or were stuck up in flooded areas leaving students with low or no connectivity at all. Adv. Sinha, also submitted that the timetable released by the university was unreasonable and erratic.
Further, while alleging DU to be highly irresponsible and unjustified in its approach, Adv. Sinha added that “Exams were postponed to August 10, 2020. The reason I bring this up is that dates have been changed numerous times, but nothing was done about OBE. With repeated delays, suddenly changing the time for conducting exams and declaring results, is violating my right to opportunity. Jamia, Presidency colleges, they have all declared their results. We are losing out on job opportunities.”
It was also iterated that, the act of asking students to step out of their houses to give exam at CSCs, which could turn into hotspots, when the Home Minister and Chief Minister have been affected, is highly erroneous and unfair to students.
Justice Singh, then inquired, Adv. Sinha about the safeguards that could be implemented regarding the OBE; to which Adv. Sinha replied that the Timer option was not functional. Also, it was pertinent to note that the time limit specified for uploading exam sheets had to be increased, as presently, a 100 marks paper was going to be conducted in a short period of 2 hours. Justice Singh was convinced of the submissions.
Adv. Sinha also contended that he had asked the Counsel for UGC to go through data on the ways employed by various other universities while organizing online exams, and highlighted that universities like NLU Delhi, JNU and many others had allowed 24-72 hours for writing exams and the comprehension of the UGC guideline was done in a draconian manner by the DU. He then concluded his submissions, while citing that the students from the Republic of Fiji at BHU have been passed without any formal examinations.
Proceeding further, Adv. Shivankar Sharma, present on behalf of another intervenor, then started with his submissions. He said that the information provided by DU on figures stating about a large number of students belonging to Delhi was absolutely false, as their own data displayed the contrary. He further pointed out the constitutional and administrative aspects of the present matter. He highlighted that the decision of DU to conduct OBE is highly unjust and irrational. The views of students and teachers are completely ignored and the decision by the University is ironic.
He further stated that geographical barriers pose a great threat to the smooth conduction of the online OBE, as it severely impacts the data speed and connectivity. This inconsiderate behavior of the University adversely affects the lives of students, especially those residing in rural areas with poor access to internet facilities. It was also addressed that the student’s queries with regards to scanning options were also ignored by the University.
Taking reference from KS Puttuswamy case, Adv. Sharma referred to the observations wherein the Right to Privacy had been propounded and stated that privacy issues are bound to arise by the involvement of contractors whose credentials had not been verified. It was further submitted that the interest of students has been undermined as the University fails to recognize the anxieties and issues of students with regards to the procedure of conducting exams and declaration of results.
The court acknowledged the issues raised by both the advocates and directed Sr. Adv. Sachin Datta, to be ready with answers to the questions put forth. The questions are as follows:
- Downloading on E-Mail (time duration before the actual OBE)
- Publishing of the E-Mail to be used for conduction of exam
- Whether helpline numbers have been released or prepared to be released
- Decision of the committee that was set up
- Size of the file to be uploaded and changes if pages get jumbled while uploading the same
It was also stated that, in the previous hearing UGC and DU had failed to file their counter-affidavits, and had been directed to do the same by 3rd August 2020, as directed by Justice Singh. The matter is now listed for today i.e. 6th August, 2020 for further hearing.
This news has been written and submitted by Ms. Mansi Batra during her course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Ms. Mansi is a third-year law student at the Fairfield Institute of Management and Technology, Kapashera, New Delhi.