"Don't mess up with the education system", the Supreme Court said on Thursday while refusing to direct the Central Board of Secondary Education and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations to provide option of hybrid mode, instead of only offline mode, to the students for appearing in class 10 and 12 board examinations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Observing that this 'last-minute' business should be discouraged, the apex court said it would not be appropriate to intervene and disturb the entire examination process at this stage.
The top court noted that term one board exams of the CBSE have already commenced from November 16, while semester one of the board exams of the CISCE are to commence from November 22.
"This eleventh hour changing and giving hope to the students, we discourage this," a bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and CT Ravikumar said.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the CBSE, told the bench that all precautions have been taken for conducting the board exams in offline mode and the number of examination centres have been increased from 6,500 to 15,000.
The top court was hearing a plea by six students seeking directions to the CBSE and the CISCE to issue a revised circular for conducting the ensuing class 10 and 12 board exams in the hybrid mode, instead of the offline mode only, amid the pandemic.
The bench told senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, who was appearing for the petitioners, that it was too late now and the examinations cannot be rescheduled at this stage.
Hegde told the top court that today there is a state of uncertainty and the students should be given the option of hybrid mode to appear in the examinations.
"Don't mess up with the education system. Let the authorities continue to do their job," the bench said, adding that there would be 'chaotic situation' as nearly 34 lakh students would be appearing in these examinations across the country.
Hegde told the court that COVID-19 is an evolving situation and several aspects, including the possibility of conducting online exams, were deliberated upon earlier.
"This we could have tested if you had come early. This last-minute business should be discouraged," the bench said.
At the outset, Hegde told the bench that this is not adversarial and they are only requesting that option of hybrid mode be also provided to the students to appear in the board examinations.
Mehta said there are around 34 lakh students who would be appearing in the classes 10 and 12 board examinations.
"The exams (of CBSE) have already started on November 16," Mehta said, adding that the authorities have taken care of the concern raised about the possibility of spread of the virus.
"Let us be very practical about it. The examinations have already started. How can it be made online now," the bench observed.
It said that as the exams have already commenced, it would not be appropriate to intervene at this stage.
The bench noted Mehta's submissions that only 12 students per class will be there during the examination, which was earlier 40 per class room, and the number of examination centers have been increased from 6,500 to 15,000.
It also noted that the exam time has also been reduced from three hours to 90 minutes and these measures have been taken to ensure that the students appearing in the examinations and other duty holders are not exposed to any untoward situation.
The bench observed that besides these broad measures, the COVID-19 appropriate behaviour and other protocols will be followed at all the examination centres.
"Suffice to observe that at such belated stage, it is not possible to intervene in exercise of writ jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution of India," the bench said, while disposing of the petition.
"We hope and trust that the authorities will take all precaution and measures to ensure that the student community appearing in the examinations and the duty holders are not exposed to untoward situation, as has been assured across the bar by the Solicitor General," it said.
The plea, seeking a hybrid option in the ensuing board examination, had claimed that the entire exercise of the boards in conducting the term one or semester one examinations in offline mode only is 'patently unreasonable.'
The petition, filed through advocate Sumanth Nookala, had said that the board exams be conducted in hybrid mode with an option to choose between offline and online examinations.
"Consent assumes significance as exams directly relate to the mental health of the petitioners requiring a conducive and voluntary atmosphere to ensure a fair assessment. It is common knowledge that the third wave of COVID pandemic is predicted," it had said.
The petition had claimed that the proposed current system of offline examination is 'fraught with bad planning and lack of application of mind' which will further adversely prejudice the students.
"Even if the respondents (boards and others) wanted to conduct the examinations on the said dates, it had sufficient time and resources to plan it carefully and consider the concerns raised in the present petition," it had said.