NEW DELHI: The government will take a final decision within the next two days on whether to conduct class 12 board exams amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court was informed on Monday.
Attorney General KK Venugopal told this to a bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari which said if the Centre decides to depart from the last year's policy, wherein the remaining board exams were cancelled due to the pandemic, then it must give "tangible reasons" for it.
"No issue. You take the decision. You are entitled to it. If you are departing from the policy of last year, then you must give tangible reasons for it," the bench told Venugopal. Observing that the last year's decision was taken after deliberations, the apex court said, "If you are departing from that policy, please give us good reasons so that we can examine it."
The bench was hearing a plea seeking directions to cancel the class 12 exams of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE) amid the pandemic situation.
The apex court on June 26, 2020 had approved the schemes of the CBSE and CISCE for cancellations of remaining board examinations scheduled from July 1 to 15 last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and also approved their formula for assessment of examinees.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing on Monday, the Attorney General told the bench, "The government will take a final decision within the next two days. We are hoping that your lordships will give us time till Thursday (June 3) so that we can come back with the final decision."
Venugopal said that last year, board exams for some papers were over before the COVID-19 induced national lockdown was imposed in March 2020.
"We don't want to go into the nitty-gritty at this stage. You take the decision. Hope has been expressed by the petitioner that policy adopted last year can be adopted this year too. If you are departing from that, you must have tangible reasons for it," the bench observed.
To this, Venugopal said, "We will keep this in mind what you (bench) have said." The bench said, "We have no difficulty. You take the decision on what should be appropriate given the situation we are in."
During the hearing, petitioner Mamta Sharma raised the issue of difficulty which students, who wish to study abroad after class 12, might face in case the results are delayed. "Let them take the decision. Depending on that, we will see. We will consider this on Thursday when the in-principle decision is placed before us," the bench said.
"List on Thursday (June 3) as requested by the attorney general as the competent authority is examining all the aspects of the matter and is likely to take in-principle decision which will be placed before the court," the bench said.
On May 28, the apex court had said it would hear on May 31 the petition which has also sought directions to devise an "objective methodology" to declare the result of class 12 within a specific time frame.
The top court had permitted the petitioner to serve advance copy of the plea on the standing counsel for the respondents -- central agency, CBSE, ICSE -- and also on the office of the Attorney General. The petition has arrayed the Centre, the CBSE and the CISCE as respondents in the matter.
The CBSE had on April 14 announced cancellation of class 10 exams and postponement of class 12 exams in view of the surge in coronavirus cases. The Ministry of Education had recently sought detailed suggestions from the states and Union Territories till May 25 on the proposals discussed in a high-level meeting held on the issue.
The CBSE had proposed conducting the exams between July 15-August 26 and the result to be declared in September. The board had also proposed two options: conducting regular exams for 19 major subjects at notified centres or conducting shorter duration exams at respective schools where students are enrolled.
The plea filed in the apex court has contended that due to the unprecedented health emergency and surge in COVID-19 cases in the country, it is not possible to conduct the examination and any further delay would cause irreparable loss to the future of students.
"In view of the unprecedented health emergency and rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country, the conduct of examination (either offline/online/blended) in upcoming weeks is not possible and delay in examination will cause irreparable loss to the students as time is the essence in taking admission in higher education courses in foreign universities," the plea said.
It has also sought setting aside of the notifications, issued last months by the CBSE and the CISCE, only in respect of the clauses dealing with postponement of class 12 examinations. The petition said it is the utmost duty of the state to take care of the health and safety of students and at the same time, not to hamper their higher education and career prospects.
It said the COVID-19 situation is more severe in comparison to last year and the respondents should adopt the same criteria of assessing the grading/marks of class 12 students as done last year.
It said that the apex court may exercise its plenary power under Article 142 of the Constitution to direct the respondents to implement the same methodology as being adopted for class 10 to declare the result and cancel the class 12 exam.