Students and parents across the country have called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to postpone the NEET UG and JEE examinations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NEET, which was scheduled to be held on May 3, was postponed to July 26 due to the pandemic. It was then further postponed to September 13.
Here's all you need to know about the NEET controversy.
What is NEET?
NEET or the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test is an exam for students who wish to gain admission into medical and dental courses in public and private colleges in India. The National Testing Agency conducts the exam. 80,055 seats in 542 medical colleges will be available across India. In 2012, NEET replaced the All India Pre-Medical Test which was conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education.
What is the issue around NEET UG 2020 and JEE 2020?
Students and parents have asked the central government to cancel both the exams due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The exams were originally scheduled to be held in May but were then postponed to July and further postponed to September.
The Supreme Court rejected petitions asking for cancelling of exams, stating that the career of students cannot be jeopardised.
Following the ruling, many have called on the centre to reconsider conducting the exams. Congress President Sonia Gandhi has convened a meeting of Chief Ministers of Congress-ruled states and the governments of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for the exams to be postponed as did Maharashtra Minister of Tourism, Aaditya Thackeray.
Now with the directive of @EduMinOfIndia to conduct NEET, JEE 2020 in Sep, I would again appeal to the Centre to assess the risk and postpone these examinations until the situation is conducive again. It is our duty to ensure a safe environment for all our students. (2/2)— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) August 24, 2020
The issue also got global attention when well known Swedish environmental and climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted her support and termed the decision to hold the exams during the pandemic "unfair".
It's deeply unfair that students of India are asked to sit national exams during the Covid-19 pandemic and while millions have also been impacted by the extreme floods. I stand with their call to #PostponeJEE_NEETinCOVID— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 25, 2020
Why do students want the exam to be postponed?
The primary reason behind the opposition to conducting the exams is the CoVID-19 pandemic. In an article in Live Law, advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava writes that the "academic interest of a few students cannot and must not outweigh the right to health and right to life of a larger section of students and their family members". Srivastava has filed writ petitions in the Supreme court asking for various examinations to be cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic.
Students and parents argue that holding the exams during the pandemic will put the lives of students and their families at risk. Close to 16 lakh students and 10 lakh students have registered themselves for NEET and JEE respectively.
They argue that the number of daily COViD-19 cases being reported now are far higher than the numbers being reported in April, when the exams were originally scheduled to be held. The government had postponed the exams to July citing the health risks which was once again postponed due to the worsening pandemic.
The petitioners have also pointed out that the number of exam centres is inadequate considering the number of students appearing for the exams and the need to maintain physical distancing in the centres.
Students living in the flood-affected states of Bihar and Assam will find it even more difficult to travel to their exam centres.
It is also argued that many students have gone back home because of the pandemic and therefore, will find it very difficult to travel to their exam centres due to restricted rail, road and air travel.
Furthermore, the SC rejected a plea asking for foreign centres to be set up for students who have left the country. While JEE exam centres have been set up outside India, students who wish to appear for NEET have to come to India.
The JEE exams will be held from September 1 to 6 while NEET will be held on September 13. With quarantine restrictions in place for people returning from foreign countries, it becomes impossible for students to appear for both JEE and NEET within six days.
What did the Supreme Court say?
The Supreme Court dismissed the writ petition stating that the exam will be held with due precaution and won't be postponed. In its judgement, the SC ruled, "We find that there is absolutely no justification in the prayer made for postponement of the examination in question relating to NEET UG-2020 as well as JEE (Main) April, 2020. In our opinion, though there is pandemic situation, but ultimately life has to go and the career of the students cannot be put on peril for long and full academic year cannot be wasted."
The SC also dismissed the petition asking for centres to be set up outside India directing the central government to accommodate students in the flights run under the Vande Bharat mission. It has also urged state governments to consider the plight of these students when deciding quarantine measures.
The three-judge bench has also suggested to the Medical Council of India to consider holding the exams online from next year.
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