A review petition was filed before the Supreme Court on Friday by ministers from six non-BJP-ruled states challenging an August 17 order of Supreme Court which had allowed the central government to hold the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and Joint Entrance Examinations (JEE) in September despite the prevailing Covid -19 situation.
The review petitioners stated that the Supreme Court, in its August 17 order, failed to consider the safety and security of students who are slated to appear for NEET and JEE and also failed to take into account the logistical difficulties in conducting the examinations.
“If the order of August 17, 2020 is not reviewed, then grave and irreparable harm and injury will befall the student community of our country and not only will health, welfare and safety of students appearing for NEET/ JEE stand imperilled but also the public health at large would be in severe jeopardy in these Covid -19 pandemic times,” the petition filed through advocate Sunil Fernandes said.
The six ministers who have filed the petition are Moloy Ghatak (West Bengal), Dr. Rameshwar Oraon (Jharkhand), Dr. Raghu Sharma (Rajasthan), Amarjeet Bhagat (Chhattisgarh), Balbir Singh Sidhu (Punjab) and Uday Ravindra Samant (Maharashtra).
NEET for students seeking admission to medical and dental courses is scheduled to be held on September 13 and the JEE for those aspiring to join top engineering schools is scheduled to be conducted from September 1 to 6.
A three-judge bench headed by justice Arun Mishra had, on August 17, rejected a plea filed in August by 11 NEET/ JEE candidates seeking postponement of the exams until after the Covid-19 crisis has passed.
Justice Mishra, while hearing that case on August 17, had said “life has to go on” despite the outbreak of the viral disease and the court cannot put the career of students in jeopardy by interfering with the decision of the National Testing Agency (NTA) to hold the examinations in September.
“Life has to move on even in Covid times. Covid may continue but postponement of exams is a loss for the country. Are you (petitioners) ready to waste a whole year,” justice Mishra had said.
On July 3, the NTA, the central government body tasked with conducting JEE and NEET, came out with public notices to hold the exams in September.
“The career of students cannot be put in peril. We find no merit in the petition. The petition is dismissed,” the bench, which also comprised justices BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, had ordered on August 17.
The review petition filed on Friday stated that the Supreme Court’s order of August 17 failed to consider that the decision to conduct examinations amid the ongoing pandemic increases the vulnerability of the students and their families to the risk of infection.
It was further submitted that the Centre had adequate time to make preparations for safe and successful conduct of the examinations but the intervening months from April to September were characterized by inaction and lethargy.
“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, the Union government has haphazardly and hurriedly fixed the dates of examinations,” the petition said.
Further, the petition also said that students from rural areas and semi-urban areas might be forced to use unsafe modes of transportation to reach examination centres and would thereby expose themselves and everyone else to Covid -19.
Besides, students residing in distant placed will find it it difficult to reach examination centres due to limited availability of transportation services during Covid -19.
“Students in tribal pockets and remote areas will face an unfair hurdle to reach and stay at the examination centres compared to those already residing in urban areas or in the vicinity of exam centres,” the plea said.