In the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, the Supreme Court said on Friday (May 28) that it would hear a petition seeking directions to cancel the CBSE and Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE) class 12 exams on May 31.
The petition, which also sought directions to develop a ‘objective methodology’ for declaring class 12 results within a specific time frame, was heard before a bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari.
The bench began by asking petitioner Mamta Sharma if she had served a copy of the petition on the advocate representing the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). When the petitioner stated that she would serve a copy of the plea on the parties, the bench noted, “You are the one who does it. It will be available on Monday (May 31).”
“We permit the petitioner-in-person to serve an advance copy on the standing counsel for the respondent(s), namely, the central agency, CBSE, ICSE, and the office of the Attorney General for India,” the bench said in its order, adding, “List this matter on Monday, i.e. May 31, 2021, at 11 AM.”
The petition has named the Centre, the CBSE, and the CISCE as respondents.
During the video-conference hearing, Justice Maheshwari stated that the CBSE is expected to make a decision on the issue on June 1. The counsel for the CISCE told the bench that because the Supreme Court is hearing the case, the high courts should not hear it. “Nothing will happen until Monday,” said the bench.
When the petitioner told the bench that the Supreme Court could take suo motu cognizance of the matter, the bench replied, “Maintain a positive attitude. Maybe by Monday, there will be some sort of resolution. Allow us to have it on Monday.”
The CBSE announced on April 14 the cancellation of class 10 exams and the postponement of class 12 exams due to an increase in coronavirus cases.
The Ministry of Education recently requested detailed suggestions from states and union territories on the proposals discussed at a high-level meeting on the subject until May 25.
The CBSE has proposed holding the exams between July 15 and August 26, with the results being announced in September.
The board also proposed two alternatives: holding regular exams for 19 major subjects at notified centres or holding shorter-duration exams at the schools where students are enrolled.
The petition filed in the Supreme Court argued 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 that any further delay would result in irreparable harm to students’ futures.
“In light of the unprecedented health emergency and rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country, conducting examination (either offline/online/blended) in the upcoming weeks is not possible, and delay in examination will cause irreparable loss to the students as time is of the essence in taking admission in higher education courses in foreign universities,” the petition stated.
“It cannot be legitimately expected of the respondents to remain a mute spectator over the current situation and to fail to take a timely decision in respect of examination and declaration of results for more than 12 lakh students in class XII,” it stated.
The petition also asks for the CBSE and CISCE notifications issued in recent months to be set aside, but only in relation to the clauses dealing with class 12 examination postponement.
According to the petition, it is the state’s primary responsibility to protect students’ health and safety while not jeopardising their higher education or career opportunities.
It stated that the COVID-19 situation is worse than last year and that respondents should use the same criteria for assessing the grading/marks of class 12 students as they did last year.
It also referred to the apex court’s June 26 order, which approved CBSE and CISCE’s schemes for cancelling remaining board examinations scheduled from July 1 to 15 last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as their formula for assessing examinees.
According to the petition, respondents are obligated to issue similar orders, as approved by the Supreme Court last year.
It stated that the Supreme Court may use its plenary power under Article 142 of the Constitution to direct the respondents to use the same methodology used for class 10 to declare the result and cancel the class 12 exam.