‘Can’t waste a year’: SC rejects NEET, JEE delay

The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for students seeking admission to medical and dental courses and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for those aspiring to join top engineering schools will be held on schedule in September after the Supreme Court on Monday rejected a plea seeking postponement of the two entrance tests in the backdrop of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

A three-judge bench headed by justice Arun Mishra 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 asked the petitioners’ counsel, Alakh Alok Srivastava.

The petition, which was filed on August 7 by 11 students who are planning to appear for JEE/ NEET, sought postponement of the exams until after the Covid-19 crisis has passed.

JEE is scheduled to be held from September 1 to 6 and NEET for September 13. JEE and NEET, which were initially scheduled to be held in April and May, respectively, were postponed because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Last year,around 960,000 students appeared for JEE and over 1.4 million for NEET. The postponement of the exams has already disrupted the academic calendars of engineering and medical colleges across India.

When contacted, Prof Lalit Kumar Awasthi, director of NIT, Jalandhar, said, “The students and their parents face a lot of pressure as they prepare for these exams. It is important that they are held so that the academic session can move on.”

On July 3, the NTA, the central government body tasked with conducting JEE and NEET, came out with public notices to hold JEE and NEET in September.

Srivastava pointed out that various other examinations like the ones organised by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination (ICSE) had been postponed and sought parity with those for NEET and JEE. He also submitted that the petitioners were not seeking an indefinite postponement, and wanted the exams to be on hold until the development of a vaccine for Covid-19, which, he said, may be discovered soon.

“Vaccine for Covid-19 is on its way. I am not seeking an indefinite postponement,” he said

The bench wondered how lawyers were demanding the resumption of physical hearings in the courts while filing petitions seeking postponement of entrance and other competitive examinations because of the viral disease.

“You (lawyers) are demanding opening of physical courts. But you want exams to be postponed. Why can’t exams be held with precautions?” the court asked.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who was representing the NTA, opposed the plea, stating that all safeguards were in place for holding the examinations.

“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, ordered.

A government official said the NTA was already working on a thorough plan to ensure social distancing is followed.

Another petition praying that NEET and JEE be held on schedule was withdrawn by the petitioner after the court rejected the plea seeking their postponement.

Sumit Chandra Das, a JEE aspirant, said the uncertainty or frequent postponement of exams were not easy on students as they went through nervousness and anxiety. “COVID-19 is a concern but exams should be held and with proper arrangements,” he said.

JEE scores are the basis for admission to engineering schools like the National Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Technology. Admission to medical and dental undergraduate courses is based on NEET scores.

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