NEET, JEE exams: Ministers of 6 opposition-ruled states move SC, seek review of order

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Ministers of six opposition-ruled states moved the Supreme Court on Friday seeking review of its order permitting the Centre to conduct NEET and JEE entrance exams this year amid the persisting COVID-19 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).

The plea, filed through advocate Sunil Fernandes, said the apex court order fails to satisfy safety and security concerns of students appearing for the exams.

On Aug 17, the top court had refused 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.

The apex 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.

Terming the decision to conduct the exams as irrational, the plea said the top court failed to appreciate that the Union Government had adequate time to establish at least one centre for every district for NEET (UG) and JEE (Mains) rather than having several centres in one district.

The mere fact that lakhs of students have registered for the exam is not indicative of their consent or their willingness or their desire to attend physical exams, the plea said.

The August 17 order is cryptic, non-speaking and does not discuss the various aspects and complexities involved in a matter of this magnitude and complex nature, it said.

The plea further said that only two reasons given by the court life must go on and students should not lose an academic year do not constitute an authoritative and comprehensive judicial scrutiny of the issue.

It said that apex court’s observation that Life Must Go On may have very sound philosophical underpinnings but cannot be a substitute for valid legal reasoning and logical analysis of the various aspects involved in the conduct of the NEET UG and JEE exams.

It is submitted that if the impugned order dated August 17, 2020 is not reviewed then grave and irreparable harm and injury would befall on the student community of our country and not only will the health, welfare and safety of the students/candidates appearing for the NEET/JEE examinations would stand imperilled but also the public health at large would be in severe jeopardy in these COVID-19 pandemic times, the plea said.

The petition said that as per the NTA press release, approximately 9.53 lakhs and 15.97 lakhs students have been registered for JEE (Main) and NEET (UG) 2020 respectively.

The plea said that JEE Mains is slated to be conducted over 660 exam centres, roughly 1,443 students per centre. Similarly for NEET UG, 15.97 lakhs students will appear in 3,843 centres across the country, nearly 415 students per exam centre.

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 pandemic i.e. social distancing and avoidance of large public gatherings.

On this short ground alone, the Impugned Order deserves to be recalled and the examinations deserve to be postponed, the plea said.

The plea said that the review petitioners 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 the COVID-19 positive cases as well as the deaths/mortality arising out of COVID-19 from April 2020.

It is rather ironical that at the initial stage when there were much lesser number of COVID-19 positive cases, the examinations were postponed and now when the daily spread of the virus is at its peak the examinations are directed to be conducted forthwith, the plea said.