‘Are you trying to prove you are different?’ top court asks State
The Andhra Pradesh government’s insistence to have its Class 12 students brave the pandemic to attend exams saw the Supreme Court adopt a hard line on Thursday, saying the State will be held responsible and even be made to pay ₹1 crore as compensation in case of deaths.
A Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari asked the Andhra Pradesh government what it was trying to prove by risking lives when other States across the country had opted to cancel their State Board exams.
“Are you trying to prove you are different? Nobody should try to prove anything here… This is about lives,” Justice Maheshwari addressed advocate Mahfooz A. Nazki, for Andhra Pradesh.
“Unless we are convinced that you will be able to conduct exams without any fatality, we will not allow this exam to be held. When other Boards have cancelled their exam, you want to prove you can… are you trying to do that?” Justice Khanwilkar asked.
Justice Khanwilkar said the “State will be responsible for any fatality… Remember, there are States which pay ₹1 crore to frontline workers, we will have to think something on those terms in your case”.
The court grilled the State about the ambiguity of its eight-page affidavit on the why and how it plans to conduct the exams by July end amid the pandemic.
“Have you not seen there is a new variant of the virus called ‘Delta Plus’… The Centre has said that some States — Kerala, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh — are more prone to this variant… We don’t know how this is going to pan out… We cannot say, neither can you, what will happen by the end of July,” Justice Khanwilkar highlighted the uncertainty written large in Andhra’s exam plans.
The court asked the State to explain the statement in its affidavit that it would seat only 15 to 18 students in every exam hall.
“You say you have 5.19 lakh students taking the Class 12 exams. Simple maths shows you will need 34,634 rooms if you seat 15 students to a class and 28,864 rooms for 18 students to a room. Do you have the space for that or are you planning to conduct exams in the open? Show us a screenshot of your records on the decision… The rooms, again, should be well-ventilated. Besides, you will need over 34,000 invigilators… You have made statements in the affidavit without showing us how you arrived at this decision or how you plan to carry it out,” Justice Khanwilkar told the State government side.
“Other Boards have taken a conscious decision to not conduct the exams… But your affidavit says ‘you will endeavour to tentatively conduct the exams’,” Justice Maheshwari addressed the Andhra side.
The court asked whether the State had a “contingency plan” if the COVID situation got worse midway through the conduct of the exams.
“You should have a specific, concrete plan and give a firm commitment to the court that you will observe complete COVID protocol. We are not very convinced about your plans… This is a sensitive issue regarding the lives of students and others,” Justice Maheshwari said.
Justice Khanwilkar asked when the State would declare the results if it intended to conduct exams only by July-end.
“Students in CBSE, ICSE and other Boards would get admissions, your students would be left out,” Justice Khanwilkar said.
Mr. Nazki said he would take instructions on the issues flagged by the court. The Bench scheduled a hearing on June 25 at 2 p.m.
In its affidavit filed on June 23, the Andhra Pradesh government said it would have to hold exams because there was no other “reliable alternative” to assess the performance of students.
It had said that unlike the CBSE and other Boards, the Andhra system gave grades in Class 10 and not marks. The State Board had no fool-proof way to check the internal exams conducted in various schools.
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