‘In a state of despair, anguish and helplessness’ DU law student writes to HC Chief Justice against online exams

Aastha Khanna, a law student from the Delhi University wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice DN Patel, highlighting the plight of students in view of the Government ordered directing Universities to compulsorily conduct examination of final year students amid pandemic.

“The academic evaluation and examination system shall not outweigh the lives of students,” she wrote.

Khanna said in the letter that the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD)’s suggestion of online Open Book Examination (‘OBE’), has lost sight of the socio-economic barriers which many students not only from remote areas but also from the cavernous depths of metro cities face.

” As a student and former Joint Secretary, Law Centre-1 Students’ Union, University of Delhi, I urge and implore you to take steps to serve the interests of all the stakeholders regardless of their social or economic disabilities, by adopting an alternative model of examination and prevent the situation from culminating into an implicit acceptance of social injustice and upheld the values enshrined in the ever so reverential Constitution of India,” she urged.

Read the unedited text of her letter:

To

The Hon’ble Chief Justice

High Court of Delhi

08.07.2020

Respected Lordship,

The Courts, with their admirable wit, brevity and sophistication, have always stood to safeguard the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India. They have, regardless of any social status, abided by the values of social justice- the signature tune of the Constitution. However, with the recent turn of events, I, as a student, find myself, like a myriad of other students, in a state of despair, anguish and helplessness.

I write this letter to appeal, through this Hon’ble Court, to the humanity and moral sense of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (‘MHRD’), University Grants Commission (‘UGC’) and other academic bodies adamant to conduct the examination of students when the Coronavirus has taken over the world and totally changed our lives. Although MHRD has suggested an alternative model for conducting examination such as online Open Book Examination (‘OBE’), it has lost sight of the socio-economic barriers which many students not only from remote areas but also from the cavernous depths of metro cities face.

Ministry of Home Affairs (‘MHA’) vide notification dated 06.07.2020 permitted the conduct of exams by Universities and Institutions and ordered the Universities to compulsorily conduct examination of final year students as per UGC guidelines and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) approved by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

In furtherance of the aforementioned notification, UGC vide notification dated 06.07.2020 issued revised guidelines for University examination for terminal semester students whereby it instructed Universities to conduct exams in offline (pen & paper)/online/blended (offline + online) mode.

These guidelines for compulsory examination of final year/terminal semester students are in flagrant violation of the fundamental rights and moral values as they fail to take into consideration the infrastructural disparities and insurmountable torment faced by students from economically backward class due to lack of facilities. Such hardships even led to some unfortunate incidents in the last few months. One such heart-wrenching incident occurred in Howrah district of West Bengal where a sixteen-year-old student committed suicide after failing to attend online classes in the absence of smartphone and computer.

In another incident, a fourteen-year-old girl, daughter of a daily wager, set herself ablaze after missing her online classes due to lack of television and smartphone.

This is not how an education system should be. The academic evaluation and examination system shall not outweigh the lives of students.

In fact, when the idea of the online evaluation was initiated, many universities and colleges refused to conduct exams citing lack of infrastructure and provided relaxation to students. States viz. Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, inter alia, cancelled exams for students from all semesters owing to the increasing cases of Coronavirus. However, the revised order implies that these States will now be forced to change their stand. Recently, the University of Delhi also failed to properly conduct the mock OBE for final year students due to technical glitches among other issues. Moreover, whilst it is unlikely that the number of COVID-19 cases will significantly decline by the end of September 2020, it would be perilous to conduct examination through offline mode despite social distancing norms. Considering all these factors, the online, as well as the offline exam system, seems unfeasible at the moment.

Additionally, the recommendation by UGC regarding the provision of examination through special chance (Point no. 2 of UGC Guidelines dt. 06.07.2020) is in abject contravention to student welfare since, by the time these examinations through special chance will be conducted (most likely by the beginning of next year), most of the Universities would have closed their admission application for postgraduate courses. Besides, it would also be detrimental for students who have already been placed/ received pre-placement offers.

In a country like ours, where more than half of the population struggles to arrange two square meals for themselves, where the migrant workers had to starve and walk barefoot to their hometowns, where people do not have a proper electricity supply, where people in some parts of the country do not have access to internet service with reasonable speed and quality, how can the government issue guidelines based on its blatant assumption that all students have access to smartphones, laptops, personal computers, books etc? Are we just a land of affluent urban class people having unlimited access to all the facilities required to ‘graduate’?

To further startle your lordship’s conscience, the agony surpasses all description when such guidelines are forcefully imposed on students with special needs. Anxiety and trepidation have enveloped us all equally and under such circumstances, no student should be made to go through the unnecessary pressure of examination and evaluation.

Furthermore, the premier universities in India also cater to the academic demands of students from across the border, which poses another issue of difference in time-zone for conducting online exams. Students, irrespective of their nationality, should not be troubled and dismayed due to an issue wholly out of their control. An education system should work in the best interest of the students and not against them.

Your lordship, more than anything else, the students crave for their fundamental rights and human rights to be protected. As a student and former Joint Secretary, Law Centre-1 Students’ Union, University of Delhi, I urge and implore you to take steps to serve the interests of all the stakeholders regardless of their social or economic disabilities, by adopting an alternative model of examination and prevent the situation from culminating into an implicit acceptance of social injustice and upheld the values enshrined in the ever so reverential Constitution of India.

I am sure you will do your best to safeguard the interests of the student community.

Yours faithfully

AASTHA KHANNA

LL.B. student & Former Joint Secretary Law Centre-1, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.