Six ministers from Maharashtra, Punjab, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh had moved the apex court saying that if the order is not reviewed, “grave and irreparable harm and injury would befall on the student community”
The Supreme Court is scheduled to consider Friday a review plea by six opposition-ruled states against its August 17 order allowing the conduct of NEET (UG) and JEE (Mains) entrance examinations physically amidst Covid-19 pandemic.
While rejecting the plea for further postponement of exams, the apex court had said that “life cannot be stopped” and the “career of students cannot be put in jeopardy”.
The JEE (Main) was to be held on April 7-11. Due to the pandemic, it was first postponed to July 18-23, and later rescheduled for September 1-6. The JEE (Advanced) is to be held on September 27. The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), for admission to undergraduate medical programmes, was to be held on May 3. It was first postponed to July 26, and then to September 13.
Six ministers from Maharashtra, Punjab, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh had moved the apex court saying that if the order is not reviewed, “grave and irreparable harm and injury would befall on the student community”.
The review matters in the top court are usually considered ‘in-chambers’ through circulation of the petition among all the judges of the bench. The judges then decide ‘in-chambers’ whether there is any merit in the review petition to re-examine the case in the open court hearing.
The petitioners are Moloy Ghatak (minister from West Bengal), Rameshwar Oraon (Jharkhand), Raghu Sharma (Rajasthan), Amarjeet Bhagat (Chhattisgarh), Balbir Singh Sidhu (Punjab), and Uday Ravindra Samant (Maharashtra). The petitioners said, “not only will health, welfare and safety of students/candidates appearing for the NEET/JEE examinations stand imperilled but also the public health at large would be in severe jeopardy…”
The plea had said that as per the National Testing Agency (NTA), approximately 9.53 lakh and 15.97 lakh students have registered for JEE (Mains) and NEET (UG), respectively. “This means 25 lakh students cumulatively would be appearing for these two examinations,” the petition stated. “As on 27th August, India has over 3.31 million [more than 33 lakh] Covid-19 cases. We are presently at the third position in this unenviable list after the US (5.79 million cases) and Brazil (3.72 million) and on course to be the No. 1 nation on this list.”
While there are 660 examination centres for JEE — roughly 1,443 students per centre — there are 3,843 centres for NEET, or approximately 415 students per centre, the petitioners had pointed out. “Such large movement of people will ipso facto prove to be a serious health hazard and will totally defeat the twin present-day solutions we have of combating the Covid-19 – i.e. social distancing and avoidance of large public gatherings,” they had said, urging the court to postpone the entrance examinations.
The plea had said, “Having at least one centre per district would have minimised the inter-district travel of students and thereby reduced chances of Covid-19 spread.”
The petitioners had said, “The mere fact that lakhs of students have registered for the exam is not indicative of their consent or willingness or desire to attend physical exams, as no student would like to forego the exam, if it’s conducted and the respondents are forcing the students to put their lives and health in peril by conducting these exams.”
In a situation, the plea had said, “where there is absolutely no classroom teaching, the decision of the Union Government to conduct examinations on such a massive scale reveals non-application of mind and is unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious exercise of power.”
The petitioners said they “do not wish to make any value judgment or political criticism of the Union Government in such times but the undisputed facts are that there has been an exponential increase in both Covid-19 positive cases as well as deaths/mortality arising out of Covid-19 from April, when these exams were originally scheduled, till August, when the Union Government decided to conduct the said examinations”.
“The Covid-19 graph is showing a continuous upward movement and the ‘curve’ has not flattened for the Government to undertake such a massive exercise,” the petition stated. It said that schools and colleges continue to remain shut despite the various phases of unlock and there is “no rational nexus between the object of the examinations and the purpose that it seeks to achieve”.
The six ministers stated that the Centre had “adequate time to make comprehensive preparations” for safe and successful conduct of the examinations. “However,” they argued, “the intervening months from April to September were characterised by inaction, confusion, lethargy and inertia…now the Union Government has suddenly woken up to realise that their inertia is going to cost lakhs of students their academic year and therefore as a knee-jerk reaction…has haphazardly and hurriedly fixed the dates of the examinations”.
The petitioners called it a remedy that will “prove to be worse than the disease itself”.
The plea said that postponing the exams by two months would give valuable time to the government “to put in place an adequate mechanism in consultation with the State Governments, to ensure a smoother and safer conduct of examinations”.
The petition also pointed to health issues of students and said that “even otherwise, with recent evidences and information of the virus being allegedly airborne now, conducting of physical examination of such magnitude can have disastrous consequences”.
The petition said there have been instances where surge in cases have been reported after offline exams were conducted.
The process of reaching the examination centre itself can be a major source of contracting the infection, and candidates may become vectors carrying the virus to their homes, it said.