With the rise in COVID-19, the Petitioner here seeks the cancellation of exams starting on 8th May 2021 for the viva and 20th May 2021 for the written examination on considering the current coronavirus pandemic situation. The petition is filed before the Gujarat High Court under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India.
The surge in COVID-19 cases began mid-March around this year leading to a new rise of more than 400,000 cases recorded per day on 30th April. Through a series of crest and trough, the second wave of coronavirus in India is only worsening day by day. Not only has the testing of patients been difficult but has proved to be highly variable from region to region. Universities and colleges that opened earlier this year in January have been trying to contain the spread of the virus through adopting the virtual class system, however, India being the worst-hit country worldwide by COVID-19 is causing its students to face new and immediate challenges affecting both their physical and mental health.
One such recent case is of Razaiwala Mohammed Hammad Hussain vs Nirma University, Gandhinagar & The State of Gujarat. Razaiwala Mohammed Hammad Hussain (hereinafter the Petitioner), student of the respondent university- Institute of Law, Nirma University (hereinafter ILNU) filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court stating the grievances of the students in an elaborate petition. The Petitioner seeks an interference in the exhaustive pedagogy adopted by the university and the cancellation of exams. Libertatem Magazine has a copy of the petition.
On 11th January 2021, the semester commenced for the respective batches of 2nd Year (4th Semester), 3rd Year (6th Semester), and 4th Year (8th Semester). The thoroughgoing schedule of students involved virtual components such as MCQs on various dates, research paper submissions, presentations etc., whereby students attended the semester through online classes beginning at 9 AM to 3- 4 PM. Overburdened with a rigorous timetable, the students also attended the lectures of International Teaching Month (ITM) and also look forward to compulsory internships in the month of June-July. Experiencing hardships in coping with the demanding schedule the students communicated their grievances to the authorities of ILNU, upon which a survey was taken giving options for vivas or multiple-choice questions (MCQs). A copy of the survey is with Libertatem Magazine. Around 70% of students opted for MCQs, however disregarding the figure, ILNU took the decision to conduct a Viva Voce instead. Currently, all the above mentioned semesters have their viva scheduled on 8th May, 10th May, and 18th May for 2nd year, 3rd year, and 4th-year students respectively. While the written examination will begin on 20th May 2021.
On 2nd May 2021, students communicated with ILNU through email regarding the cancellation of exams, relaxation in NT/IF fees etc., considering the catastrophic second wave of the pandemic in India that have personally affected a lot of students. A copy of the email is with Libertatem Magazine. But still, the same was rejected, leaving students without any satisfactory relief. Following the communication, the students of ILNU conducted a survey finding out that 274 students either themselves or their family members have tested positive for the coronavirus. We have a copy of this survey. The Petitioner submitted that other National Law Universities (NLU) have given relief to the students, and students of ILNU should be given the same relief on humanitarian grounds. The Petitioner also pointed out that it will be difficult for the students to appear in the examination, and the same will force them to pay the penalty of Rs 9,000 per subject if they did appear and fail in the exam. Such a penalty could cost them up to Rs. 81,000 to pass the respective examination. Struggling from various financial, medical and mental crunch there is a looming apprehension that a student may take a wrongful step against his/her life such as suicide.
The Petitioner stated, “Since the commencement of the semester, the students have to continuously submit multiple assignments and projects, and the method of conducting the projects and exams are only becoming stricter. Additional lectures such as the ITM rendered further pressure on the students who already facing the brunt of the second wave of COVID-19. We urged for an alternate evaluation in components such as MCQs in place of Viva Voce, unfortunately, the authorities chose to go ahead with the Viva Voce despite a 70% majority in favour of MCQs.”
The Petitioner further added that “Students are genuinely not in the position to give multiple exams including myself. Must we not consider how India and all the families of its people are fighting for oxygen including our families? The authorities have bluntly asked us during our meeting with them to “ADAPT to the situation”, but adapt how and to what? We are all struggling with physical, mental and financial crunch.” He further added, “for us, this is a humanitarian cause since it is not only the students of ILNU but students all over the country facing this issue. I have had friends who despite being COVID-19 positive are struggling to get oxygen cylinders for their family members also testing positive for the coronavirus. The situation of students is such that it is leading to major depression and anxiety amongst them, I only fear that no one takes their lives during these tough times. We hope we get justice.”
Libertatem Magazine contacted the said authority, the Dean of ILNU, Dr. Purvi Pokhariyal. Dr. Pokhariyal said,
“The Institute has had meetings with students at different levels, we have tried to resolve their doubts and have assured them in a meeting and through email communication that those facing any kind of problem (physical or mental) may take exemption from examination, and the Institute can rearrange the exams at a later date as per their convenience.”
Ground of Challenge
The petition is filed under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India. Article 226 empowers the high courts to issue orders or writs, including writs like habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto, certiorari, or any of them. Article 227 states that every High Court shall have superintendence over all courts and tribunals throughout the territories to which it exercises jurisdiction.
The students of ILNU seek to cancel the Viva and Semester End Examinations through a direction to the authorities to consider evaluating students based on their overall performance throughout the semester. The grounds of challenge mention that ILNU is abrogating the fundamental rights of the students already suffering from physical and mental agony due to the current ongoing pandemic. That despite the time frame given to students to appear for Viva till 19th May 2021 it is not practically reasonable as students are not likely to recover by that time. Furthermore, there is an apprehension that a student may take desperate measures such as suicide considering the deteriorating mental health of all the students.
The Petitioner currently prays to cancel the Viva and the End Semester Examination and evaluate the Petitioner student on the basis of ongoing submissions throughout the semester; to order the Respondent University to cancel NT/IF Fees if any of the students fail in the exam and prevent the occurrence of detention.
The petition will be heard on Monday, 10th May, 2021.
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