The Supreme Court Wednesday refused to postpone UPSC civil services preliminary exam, to be held on October 4, because of COVID-19 pandemic and floods in several parts of the country.
A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari asked the Centre to consider granting one more chance to those aspirants who may not appear in their last attempt allowed for the exam due to the pandemic.
It also refused to consider the plea for clubbing of this year's exam with that of 2021 saying this will have a cascading effect. The bench was hearing a plea seeking postponement of the Civil Services Exam for two to three months, so that the flood/ incessant rains recede and the COVID-19 curve flattens.
The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) opposed the plea saying all necessary precautions have been taken and adequate arrangements have been made for holding the exam. The bench said that as some public exams have recently been conducted successfully by the authorities by observing proper protocols, it is possible to conduct the UPSC preliminary examinations. It added that the grievance of lack of transport facility at 72 examination centres and sub-centres have not been substantiated by the petitioners.
Dealing with the grievances of the aspirants that due to the COVID-19 situation students could not take the coaching and other facilities, the bench referred to the availability of facility of online study material to them. The top court said that it has impressed upon ASG SV Raju, appearing for the Centre, to explore the possibility of giving one more opportunity to such students who fail to take up the exam in their last attempt.
It said that a formal decision can be taken by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) expeditiously. On allowing suspected COVID-19 aspirants to take up their exams, the bench said that it is not possible to enter into this arena as a matter of fact medical SoP required that a patient is needed to be quarantined as it may result in exposure of other candidates. It noted that UPSC has made separate arrangements for students suffering from cough and cold.
On September 28, the top court had asked the UPSC to apprise it about the "logistical arrangements" made for conducting civil services preliminary exams on October 4 in view of alarming spurt of COVID-19 cases as also floods in various parts of the country. The top court had earlier said that it would take up for hearing the plea seeking postponement of civil services 2020 examinations in view of alarming spurt of COVID-19 pandemic and floods.
It had granted the liberty to the petitioner to serve advance copy of the petition on the Standing Counsel for the UPSC as well as on the Standing Counsel for the Central Agency representing Union of India through email/online. The petitioners have sought postponement of the Civil Services Exam for two to three months, so that the flood/ incessant rains recede and the COVID-19 curve flattens.
The plea submitted that the UPSC decision to conduct the exam in accordance with the impugned Revised Calendar, violates the rights of the petitioners and those similarly situated, under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution to practice their chosen profession/ occupation of serving the public. According to the plea this 7-hour offline exam, will be taken by approximately six lakh aspirants at test centres in 72 cities.
Conducting the aforesaid examination across India at such perilous time, is nothing else but putting lives of lakhs of young students (including Petitioners herein) at utmost risk and danger of disease and death. Also, the natural calamities like flood, incessant rain, landslides etc. are likely to directly affect the life and health of the Petitioners and many similarly situated students, it said.
Hence, the impugned Revised Calendar is utterly arbitrary, unreasonable, whimsical and patently violative of the Right to Health and Right to Life of the Petitioners herein and lakhs of similarly situated students, under Article 21, the petition stated. The plea said the Civil Services Exam, being a recruitment examination, is altogether different from an academic examination and in the event of its postponement; there would not be any question of delay or loss of any academic session.
It said that due to non-availability of exam centres in their home towns, many aspirants are facing unimaginable hardship due to non-availability of or unsafe health conditions in, the PG accommodation/ hostels/ hotels etc., where they are forced to stay with their family members, once they are travelling to an outstation Examination Centre.
It is pertinent to mention here that despite alarming spurt in COVID-19 pandemic, UPSC did not increase the number of Examination Centres, resulting into a situation where many candidates from rural areas will be forced to travel for around 300-400 Kilometres, in order to reach to their Examination Centres and there will be high probability of such aspirants, getting affected while using public transportation for such travel, the plea said.