On August 17, the order of the Supreme Court in the case of Sayantan Biswas & Ors v. National Testing Agency (NTA) & Ors has sealed the fate of millions of students across the country by refusing to postpone the decision of the government to hold the JEE (Mains) and NEET – UG entrance examinations any further.
The court said, “In our opinion, though there is a pandemic situation, ultimately life has to go on and the career of the students cannot be put on peril for the long and full academic year cannot be wasted.”
The JEE (Mains) and NEET-UG entrance examinations are usually scheduled for the months of April, however, due to the Corona virus Pandemic which has gripped the entire world and continues to wreak havoc, the examinations had been postponed for a later date.
In light of the above-mentioned order, the JEE (Mains) and NEET – UG examinations will be held in the first two weeks of September 2020, as has been decided by the Ministry of Education (Previously known as the MHRD).
Although the government has put into place elaborate and extensive preventive measures such as – staggered entry to prevent crowding and to maintain proper social distancing, use of hand sanitizers while entering the examination centers, deployment of thermal screeners, separate facilities for candidates exhibiting Corona like symptoms, and increase in the number of testing centers, there is a great deal of discontent among the aspirants with the decision of the government to hold the examinations without any further delay.
A considerable section of students has been vehemently protesting against holding the entrance examinations until the pandemic is brought under control.
Twitter hashtags like –#ProtestAgainstExamsinCovid and, #SpeakUpForStudentSafety have flooded the social media site.
The students have expressed their concern that there is a possibility that attending the examination will expose them to the virus, and also potentially threaten their families. Further, aspirants from flood-hit states of Bihar, Assam, and Gujarat have voiced their concerns about inaccessibility to public transport for reaching the examination centres.
Furthermore, students have also expressed their discontent with having to attempt the examinations while wearing face masks and gloves for three hours continuously.
The students have also received unconditional support from opposition political parties, such as – INC, TMC, SP, Shiv Sena, JMM, etc. In fact, even NDA ally –BJD, has also extended support to the cause of the students and has asked for a postponement of the entrance examinations.
The author feels that the fears of the students cannot be outrightly rejected as being whimsical or illusionary. Although these contentions have merit in them, however, only a deeper investigation into the consequences of the postponement can reveal whether the decision of the government is right or wrong.
The first and foremost thing to be kept in mind while debating this issue is the fact that this situation will not come in control as long as – 1.) The vaccine is not developed, and 2.) A nationwide immunization program is implemented successfully.
This whole process is painstakingly slow, and irrespective of the attempts by the government to expedite the whole process, it is undoubtedly going to take considerable time.
This means that if the government waits for the situation to improve, the entrance examinations will have to be postponed perpetually. This will not only jeopardize the futures of serious aspirants but will also lead to wastage of government resources.
As a hypothetical situation, if the examinations are indefinitely postponed and are held next year, i.e., 2021-22 academic sessions, the number of aspirants will double, whereas the number of seats will remain the same.
This would be unfair for hardworking average students who had been meticulously preparing for their examinations for the past couple of years but could not crack the exam due to a sudden tip in the student per seat ratio.
Also, there will be lingering effects for the upcoming batches as well. Even if it is assumed that the examinations will be held later this year, and the current batch of students be admitted in the 2020-21 batch, in that case, the universities and colleges will have to compress the six-month-long semester into a shorter 3-4 month semester, which will have a direct impact on the quality of education.
Further, the delay in holding the examinations has also been a source of great anxiety for serious aspirants who had been toiling hard for the past couple of years. Any more delay in the exams may demotivate the serious aspirants and push them into slackening their preparation which will be detrimental to their performance in the examinations.
On top of all this, private universities have taken advantage of the whole situation and are in the process of admitting students on the basis of their Board marks. This has posed a serious problem to students who are not certain about their performance in the entrance examinations, and they have been forced to take up provisional admission in these private colleges and universities shelling out lacks of Rupees in their fees.
However, the real problem lies for aspirants coming from not so affluent families, who might have probably cleared the examinations, but had to take up admission in these private universities because of the uncertainty of their results, and subsequently find themselves unable to afford the admission fee for the institutes for which they may have qualified later.
Further, the author feels that the misery of the students has been politicized by the opposition in an attempt to corner the government. This is very much reflected by the fact that only contempt has been expressed by these parties, and no real solution has been proposed for the same.
Student welfare has been used as a guise by these parties to garner support from underprepared aspirants who vastly outnumber, like in any competitive examination, the serious aspirants. The capricious support extended by these political parties undermines the hard work and dedication of serious aspirants.
This argument is further buttressed on the ground that these parties have only asked for the postponement of the entrance exams, and not the recruitment exams which offer employment to lack of job seekers because doing so will antagonize their vote banks.
The author feels that despite all the issues raised by the aspirants, the entrance examinations should be conducted. It is inevitable that a few students who appear for the exams may get infected from the virus, however, the peril of a few cannot be an excuse to jeopardize the future of lacks of students who have worked hard for a couple of years, and paralyze the whole education system and hold the government at ransom.
However, at the same time, the government should come up with proper guidelines and framework to address student issues such as – transportation availability, post examination self-isolation guidelines for students, proper lodging facilities for aspirants coming from far-flung areas with financial handicap attributable to the pandemic, and reconsider the use of gloves and masks by students facing medical issues et al.
The author offers his deepest sympathies to the students who find themselves in such a perilous situation, however, postponement of entrance examinations will add to the burden of the students in the long-term.
Writ Petition (s)(civil) No(s). 812/2020