The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre to respond to affidavits filed by Maharashtra and the Delhi government, challenging the University Grants Commission guidelines to conduct final year exams by September-end, Live Law reported.

A bench comprised of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah heard a bunch of petitions filed by over 30 students challenging the conduct of exams amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the UGC, told the judges that both Delhi and Maharashtra government have decided to cancel the exams. “How can states cancel exams when UGC is empowered to confer degrees,” he asked. “If exams aren’t conducted, students can’t get a degree. That’s the law.”

In its petition, the Aam Aadmi Party-ruled Delhi government cited “the reality of digital divide”, which does not permit everyone to access online classes, according to Bar and Bench. “During this extremely tough period, regular physical classes got completely interrupted,” it added. “The students had no access to study material and the college libraries were closed, although getting access through online mode in such peculiar circumstances, the students did not get the kind of preparation needed to attempt a full-fledged examination.”

Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government said the State Disaster Management Authority has “consciously decided” to not conduct examinations amid the coronavirus crisis.

However, the court asked Mehta to respond whether the Disaster Management Act will override the directions issued by the UGC. The solicitor general sought time to respond to the affidavits, while stating that students should continue to prepare for the exams regardless of the pendency of the case.

The court will hear the matter next on August 14.

The UGC has advocated to conduct the final year exams by September 30 in compliance with health protocols. In its written response to the students’ petitions, the UGC said the “final year/terminal semester exams is a crucial step in the academic career of a student”.

According to the new guidelines issued in July, students to opt for offline (pen and paper) mode of taking exams, online exclusively or the “blended” manner in which students can alternate between online and physical modes of attending the exams.