The Delhi High Court Monday directed Delhi University to commence physical exams for final year undergraduate students from September 14, and to work out modalities for stay and transportation of disabled students who had left the national capital during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The court asked the varsity to verify the number of students belonging to 'persons with disability' (PwD) category who were left out of online Open Book Examination (OBE) and would sit for exams physically.
"You (DU) will have to find out where PwD students are located. Sufficient notice has to be given to them to allow them to travel. Can it be possible to allow them to take examinations where they are? By roping in the universities there?," said a bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad.
Senior advocate Sachin Dutta, representing DU, said specific directions will have to be issued in this regard. Senior advocate S K Rungta, appearing for one of the petitioners National Federation of Blind, said there is an obligation on the state to take responsibility in certain circumstances and PwD students who will have to take examinations physically will face greater difficulties as hostels are still closed and where will they stay on reaching Delhi and even proper transport is not available at the moment.
The court told the varsity that it needs to have specific figures on PwD students and the facilities that are to be provided to them. "The Delhi University is directed to verify the number of PwD students who would sit for physical examination and work out the modalities of their stay and transport etc," the bench said and asked it to file an affidavit in this regard.
The high court was hearing pleas by law student Prateek Sharma and National Federation of Blind seeking to set up effective mechanisms for visually impaired and other students with disabilities so that educational instructions can be given to them properly and teaching material is provided to them through online mode of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. The online OBE for final year undergraduate students commenced from August 10 and will end on August 31.
At the outset, varsity's counsel said it will commence physical exams from September 20; however, the court termed it as "unreasonable" and directed DU to expedite the entire process. When the court suggested the university to commence the examinations from September 8, advocate Mohinder Rupal, also appearing for the varsity, said they needed at least two weeks from August 31.
The court was informed that DU will start declaring results of students who participated in online OBE by September end. Meanwhile, senior advocate B B Gupta, who is one of the members of Grievance Redressal Committee, set up to resolve the issues faced by students during online exams, told the bench that despite court's earlier direction the varsity has shared the password for the e-mail account only on Monday morning.
A single judge had asked DU to share the password with the committee chairperson, a retired high court judge, on August 7 itself. Gupta said till now, no data of grievances of students has been shared with the committee and they don't even know who are the grievance officers nominated by the varsity.
"Instead of DU, we are made to run after them," he said. An annoyed bench asked the varsity as to what was so top secret about the password which was shared with the committee chairperson in a sealed cover Monday morning.
"This is pathetic, what kind of conduct is this. Why are you sending the password physically in a sealed cover. Why can't you share it virtually. These are only students grievances," it said. "Please dispel the impression that DU is trying to stonewall the committee," the court said.
Dutta said there was not more than 1-2 students who have complained about not being able to upload answer sheets. "Why should there be an impression that DU is stalling the working of the committee? Why would the university stonewall? It is unfortunate that such an image is being projected of DU before the court," he contended.
He added if these kinds of accusations are made by the committee, it is unfortunate. To this, the bench shot back and asked the senior counsel to take back his words.
"These are not accusations but grievances put forth by the committee," the bench said and directed DU to all the data related to students grievances by Monday evening through virtual mode. Advocate Manik Dogra, appearing for another petitioner, said the student needs a provisional certificate in the first week of September as he has applied for post graduation in a private university.
Dutta said the University Grants Commission (UGC) itself has given time till September 30 to complete the examination. On being asked by court if the UGC has issued any advisory or directions to the universities to not press for provisional certificates till all the exams are over, the counsel said no such advisory has been issued and sought time to take instructions on the issue.
"Students cannot be left high and dry. Already exams are going on and they must be having butterflies in their stomach… If need arises we will go that extra mile for students, take it from us," the bench said. The court directed the UGC to issue an advisory on it clarifying their stand as the career of several students is at stake.