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Power of states under the Disaster Management Act to override UGC exam guidelines

Topics Covered: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Power of states under the Disaster Management Act to override UGC exam guidelines:


Context:

The Supreme Court has held that States are empowered under the Disaster Management Act to override University Grants Commission (UGC) exam guidelines in order to protect human lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s the issue?

UGC had on July 6 issued guidelines based on the recommendations of the R.C. Kuhad Expert Committee.

  • They provided three modes of examination – pen and paper, online and blended (both physical and online).
  • A “special chance” was also given to students unable to take the exams.

Following this, a batch of petitions were filed in the court against the direction to hold exams as per the UGC guidelines.

  • The petitioners also contended that the revised guidelines violate Article 14 on two counts — by fixing a date for the completion of exams for the entire country irrespective of the situation in different parts, and discriminating between final and first/second year students.

The judgment:

  • Universities and other institutions of higher education will have to conduct the final-year exams and “cannot” promote students on the basis of internal assessment or other criteria.
  • However, states and Union Territories, which may have postponed the exams in view of the Covid outbreak, can approach the University Grants Commission (UGC) for extension of the September 30 deadline.

Powers of states under the DM Act:

  • In case of a disaster, the priority of all authorities under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 is to immediately combat the disaster and contain it to save human life.
  • Therefore, under the DM Act, states can countermand the revised UGC guidelines of July 6 to conduct the final year and terminal semester examinations by September 30.
  • However, the powers of the States under the Disaster Management Act do not extend to promoting students on the sole basis of their internal assessment without taking exams.

Do these guidelines discriminate against final year students?

The court said the July 6 guidelines did not discriminate against final year students by compelling them to take exams while their juniors were promoted on their internal assessment marks.

  • Final year exam is an opportunity for a student to show his optimum calibre. It paves his future career both in academics and employment.

What next?

In future, if any State found it impossible to conduct the exams by September 30 and wanted to postpone them, it could apply to the UGC, which would consider the request and decide at the earliest, the court directed.

Relevance of DM Act in this pandemic:

Under the Act, the States and district authorities can frame their own rules on the basis of broad guidelines issued by the Home Ministry.

  1. The legal basis of the DM Act, is Entry 23, Concurrent List of the Constitution “Social security and social insurance”.
  2. Entry 29,Concurrent List “Prevention of the extension from one State to another of infectious or contagious diseases or pests affecting men, animals or plants,” can also be used for specific law making.

About the Disaster Management Act, 2005:

The stated object and purpose of the DM Act is to manage disasters, including preparation of mitigation strategies, capacity-building and more.

It came into force in India in January 2006.

  • The Act provides for “the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
  • The Act calls for the establishment of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA),with the Prime Minister of India as chairperson.
  • The Act enjoins the Central Government to Constitute a National Executive Committee (NEC) to assist the National Authority.
  • All State Governments are mandated to establish a State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA).

How does DMA empower the governments?

  • The law authorises the NDMA’s chairperson, the Prime Minister, to take decisions to deal with the pandemic, including deciding on relief for victims and special measures for the needy.
  • The state chief minister may also invoke special powers under the law for dealing with the pandemic.
  • The powers of the PM and CMs are the same under the law, except in case of Delhi, where the Lieutenant-Governor, has these powers.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. What is DM Act?
  2. Bodies established under this act.
  3. Composition of NDMA.
  4. Powers of states and centre under DM act.
  5. What is a notified disaster?
  6. Functions of NDRF.

Mains Link:

Is the Disaster Management Act, 2005, ill-suited to be the main economic law of the country? Analyse the need for a pandemic law in the current situation facing the world.

Sources: the Hindu.