Amid growing calls to postpone the the Joint Entrance Examination (Main) and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal on Tuesday said the Centre decided to go ahead with the exams because of “constant pressure from parents and students”.
Millions of people have been tweeting all week to postpone the exams, with students getting support from politicians, climate activist Greta Thunberg and Bollywood actor Sonu Sood.
Pokhriyal told DD News in an interview,“We have been under constant pressure from parents and students, asking why we are not allowing JEE and NEET. The students were very worried. In their minds they were thinking for how long will they continue to study?” NDTV reported.
He also said that he had been informed by the National Testing Agency (NTA) Director-General that 7.25 lakh out of 8.58 lakh candidates for JEE (Main) have already downloaded their admit cards, according to The Indian Express.
While the Joint Entrance Examination (Main) is scheduled from 1-6 September, NEET-UG is scheduled for 13 September.
The NTA, in a press release on Tuesday, said that the exams are being held in view of the academic interest of students. It also said that the number of exam centres have also been increased from 570 to 660 (in case of JEE Main) and 2,546 to 3,843 (in case of NEET 2020).
For JEE (Main), the number of exam shifts has also been increased from earlier 8 to 12 and the number of candidates in each shift has been reduced, it added.
NTA said it would follow social distancing norms inside the exam halls and candidates will be seated in alternate seats in case of JEE (Main). For NEET, it said the number of candidates in each room has been reduced from 24 to 12.
The entry and exit of candidates will be staggered and arrangements have been made to ensure social distancing while candidates wait outside the centres.
Students appearing for the JEE and NEET will have to wear masks and hand gloves, according to NDTV. Students will also be required to carry a water bottle and hand sanitiser to the exam centre. The report also said that there will be thermal screening at the entrance and every exam centre will have an isolation room.
Demands to postpone exams
There has been a growing chorus to postpone the exams in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik are among those who have appealed to the Centre to assess the risk and postpone the exams.
In a tweet, Banerjee appealed to the Centre to postpone the exams till the situation is conducive again. “It is our duty to ensure a safe environment for all out students.
She also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the state government received a letter from the NTA on Tuesday to conduct the JEE/NEET examinations starting 1 September, 2020.
“I am aware that the Hon’ble Supreme Court has given a verdict on holding JEE/NEET examinations and the central government has been issuing instructions to go ahead with it accordingly.
“However, I would like to request for your kind intervention and to consider the central government making an appeal to the Hon’ble apex court to review its decision in the interest of the student community, so that they are free from mental agony and mental disaster,” she wrote in the letter, according to PTI.
Patnaik wrote a letter to Pokhriyal, saying that there are over 50,000 aspirants from Odisha for the NEET and JEE (Main) this year. “However, the NTA has opened examination centres for the said tests in only seven townships of the state.”
He also said that it would be perilous for the students to visit the test centres physically to appear in the tests due to the prevailing Covid-19 situation and pointed out that local transportation gets disrupted due to lockdowns enforced by district administrations.
AAP leader and Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia also called on the government to cancel the exams.
“Is it sensible to stake children’s lives in the name of entrance examination?” he asked on Twitter.
Congress’s Rahul Gandhi and DMK’s MK Stalin have also demanded that the exams be postponed.
The Supreme Court had last week dismissed a plea seeking postponement of the two exams amid spurt in the number of Covid-19 cases, saying precious year of students “cannot be wasted” and life has to go on.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also tweeted on Tuesday, asking for the exams to be postponed. “It’s deeply unfair that students of India are asked to sit national exams during Covid-19 pandemic and while millions have been impacted by the extreme floods.”
Actor Sonu Sood told NDTV in an interview, “We have to support these students. 26 lakh students are going to appear in these exams.”
“The maximum students are from Bihar where 13 to 14 districts are badly hit by the floods. How can you expect them to travel? They don’t have money or places to stay. We cannot force these students to come out and give these exams,” he said.
(With PTI inputs)