DU holding online OBE to prevent students from assembling together during COVID-19: HC told

The Delhi High Court was informed by the Delhi University on Wednesday that the idea behind holding online Open Book Examination (OBE) was to prevent students from assembling in one hall where it would be difficult to maintain social distancing in the times of COVID-19 pandemic.

The university’s counsel told Justice Prathiba M Singh that the challenge in the petition to withdraw the notification on OBE does not survive in view of the matter being heard by the division bench of this court on allowing OBE to commence.

“The argument seems to be that there should be no OBE… The idea behind OBE was to prevent students from assembling in one hall as it would be difficult to maintain social distancing during the pandemic situation. There were detailed deliberations,” senior advocate Sachin Dutta, representing the DU, said.

Justice Singh after hearing the arguments of counsel for DU, UGC, petitioner students and intervenor, reserved its judgement on a plea challenging the varsity’s decision to hold online OBE, as per the UGC guidelines, for final year undergraduate courses which will be in long form exams.

Dutta submitted that a student does not need very high technology to sit for online OBE as having an email will be sufficient and that connectivity issues will be far more in other modes.

Advocate Mohinder Rupal, also appearing for DU, said the authorities had invited comments from stakeholders before arriving at the decision.

Dutta contended that the University Grants Commission guidelines, which mandates conducting exams for final year students, have foreclosed what is being sought by petitioners and they have to be subjected to examination.

“Nothing survives in the petition as far as DU is concerned. The division bench has permitted DU to go ahead, reviewed the preparedness and passed a detailed order,” he said, adding that thi online mode has inbuilt safeguards and a physical exam will be conducted soon after for the students who did not or could not appear in online OBE.

He said it enables students to pursue their career and the results will be declared in the shortest possible time.

“Assuming only physical examination is held, imagine the hardships for students in remote areas and the health concerns. Imagine the hardship if online OBE is not allowed,” he said.

During the hearing, which was also attended by various students, an audio was turned on and music started playing in the background.

“I don’t know what they are celebrating,” the judge said.

While one of the counsel said there are comments on live chat, of the hearing, castigating UGC and DU, another suggested that links should not be shared with students by advocates.

To this, Justice Singh said links are given by the court master to whoever makes a request as this is an open court.

In the rejoinder submissions, advocate Akash Sinha, appearing for the petitioner students Anupam and others, said he has challenged the notification by which the varsity first resolved to hold OBE. He said if this notification goes, the entire exercise of OBE goes.

On Tuesday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the University Grants Commission (UGC), had submitted that for final year, majority of assessment cannot be internal based.

He had said so far as final year examination are concerned, it has to be timed and can be online, offline or blended mode but they cannot be presentation based.

Sinha had argued that those students who do not have Internet facilities have not been able to sit for mock tests and they would sit for the main exam directly on August 10.

He had said there are students who have stable Internet but some are stuck in containment zones and flooded areas and contended that OBE violates students right to livelihood as job due to delay the job offers are being taken away and students in other universities are way ahead of them.

Advocate Shivankar Sharma, appearing for an intervenor, had said the onus is to only show how OBE was chosen without any basis and it is not even an online mode of exam but a blended one as students have to click pictures of the answers and then upload.

He had claimed that the decision was arbitrary and without any application of mind and the students were not heard by the task force.

DU is scheduled to hold final year undergraduate online OBE from August 10-31 and the students who will be left out of online exams will be given an opportunity to appear in physical examinations, to be held sometime in September.

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