The Congress, TMC, JMM and Shiv Sena on Friday said non-NDA leaders had moved the Supreme Court seeking postponement of NEET and JEE keeping in view the health and safety of students amid rising COVID-19 cases. Ministers of six opposition-ruled states moved the court seeking review of its order permitting the Centre to conduct the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) this year amid the persisting coronavirus pandemic.
The review plea has been filed by ministers from West Bengal (Moloy Ghatak), Jharkhand (Rameshwar Oraon), Rajasthan (Raghu Sharma), Chhattisgarh (Amarjeet Bhagat), Punjab (B S Sidhu) and Maharashtra (Uday Ravindra Sawant). In a joint online press conference of the parties, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the grounds on which their review petition has been filed has not been heard by the court so far and is different from those petitions which have been dismissed by the top court.
The petition for postponement of the entrance exams has aspects like safety, security and health of students, logistics which are required for holding the tests with 25 lakh students taking them and balancing health and education of students. The review plea was filed on Friday in the backdrop of the Supreme Court on August 17 refusing to interfere with the conduct of medical and engineering entrance exams — NEET and JEE — scheduled to take place in September saying that life must go on and students can’t lose a precious year due to the pandemic.
Singhvi said that they have only sought deferment or postponement of NEET and JEE and not cancellations, as they do not want the academic year of students to be wasted. “Though a petition has been dismissed by the court in this regard, none of the points raised by us have been discussed by the court earlier. Ours is a petition for deferment and not for cancellation of exams,” he said.
On August 17 the top court had dismissed a plea by one Sayantan Biswas and others seeking direction to National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts both the NEET and JEE exams, to postpone them after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta assured that all safeguards would be taken. This fresh petition is a constructive, non-negative, non-destructive approach to not cancel the exams but defer them, the Congress spokesperson said.
“We are doing this as our duty towards the youth and students of our country and in public interest. We are not deterred by clearly admitted constraints of both time and earlier petition dismissed, which was totally avoidable and which did not raise any of these issues. Without denying the constraints, there is always hope,” Singhvi said. He claimed that this petition represented by around 30 per cent area and population of the country.
Singhvi suggested that the exams, which are starting from September 1, be deferred till November and the academic session can start from January to save the academic year. While JEE is from September 1 to 6, NEET begins from September 13.
The petition follows a meeting of chief ministers of seven states. It was convened virtually by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday. Singhvi also accused the central government of being insensitive and inefficient, and termed it as a “government of apathy and contradictions”.
The petition says that it be listed before the Supreme Court at the earliest, otherwise grave and irreparable harm and injury would befall on the student community of our country and not only the health, welfare and safety. Singhvi said students appearing for NEET and JEE could stand imperilled but also the public health at large would be in severe jeopardy in these COVID-19 pandemic times.
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien said conducting examinations of this magnitude when the infection is at its peak poses serious health hazards for the students, their parents and persons conducting these exams. He said the issue would also come before Parliament for discussion, where all parties will come together on it.
“It is very clear that we will be speaking in one voice. The review petition is only one step in that direction. It is beyond politics and it is in the interest of students,” O’Brien said. He added that in jointly filing the petition, various governments have shown “great team work” and it is being filed in the “true spirit of federalism”. O’Brien added that this is a big step in fighting for the rights of students, which will be taken forward in 2020.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said many students would not be able to take these exams out of fear or due to logistical difficulties. Besides, he said, some may even be suffering from underlying health conditions such as asthma and diabetes, thus making it even more dangerous for them to physically appear at examination centres. “It seems the central government is being adamant and stubborn in holding the exams,” Soren said, asking who will be responsible for the health of students.
He urged the Supreme Court to take a holistic view on the matter, noting that the central government seems to have shed its responsibility on states and is not bothered about controlling the spread of coronavirus. Maharashtra Minister Uday Samant was also present at the conference but he had to leave for a meeting.
Singhvi argued that with recent information about the spread of the virus, conducting physical examination of such magnitude can have disastrous consequences. He said with the prime minister giving sermons on safety every day, holding the examinations of such nature would make a mockery of the COVID safeguards.
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The Congress leader noted that COVID is dormant and people are asymptomatic, and temperature guns at exam centres would not be enough as safeguards at exam centres, which have a density of 1500 students per centre for JEE and 450 for NEET. “The exam centres are a recipe for disaster as far as health of students is concerned,” he said.
Asked about the chances of the petition, Singhvi said “we are not deterred”.
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