Over 14 lakh students have already downloaded admit cards for engineering and medical entrance exams, JEE-Mains and NEET, scheduled in September, according to National Testing Agency (NTA) officials.
The NTA released admit cards for NEET on Wednesday amid growing clamour for postponement of the two exams in view of rising COVID-19 cases.
"The admit cards for NEET were released at 12 pm today and within three hours over four lakh students had already downloaded it. The number rose to 6.84 lakh by evening. We have ensured that 99 per cent candidates get their first choice of centre cities," a senior NTA official said.
A total of 15.97 lakh candidates have registered for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET-UG) which is scheduled for September 13.
"A total of 7.41 lakh candidates out of 8.58 lakh have downloaded their admit cards for JEE-Mains till Tuesday evening. Only 332 candidates have requested for change of their centre which is being considered positively," the official added.
The Joint Entrance Examination (JEE)-Mains, for admission to engineering colleges is scheduled from September 1-6.
As calls for postponement of the crucial exams grew louder, the Ministry of Education (MoE) officials reiterated that the exams will be conducted as per schedule in September.
Increasing the number of examination centres, alternate seating plan, fewer candidates per room and staggered entry and exit are among the steps the NTA will take for safely conducting NEET and JEE-Mains next month.
"The number of examination centres have also been increased from 570 to 660 (for JEE Mains) and 2,546 to 3,843 (for NEET). While JEE-Mains is a computer-based test, NEET is a pen-paper test," the NTA said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Additionally, in case of JEE-Mains, the number of shifts have been increased from 8 earlier to 12, and the number of candidates per shift has been reduced from earlier 1.32 lakh to 85,000 now," it said.
"In order to ensure proper social distancing inside examination halls, the candidates will be seated in alternate seats in case of JEE-Mains. In case of NEET, the number of candidates per room has been reduced from 24 to 12," it added.
For ensuring social distancing outside the examination hall, the entry and exit of candidates has been staggered.
"Adequate arrangements have also been made outside examination centres to enable candidates to stand with adequate social distancing, while waiting. Candidates have also been issued an advisory guiding them about the 'Dos and Don'ts' for proper social distancing," the NTA said.
There have been demands from several quarters to further postpone the entrance exams in view of increasing coronavirus cases.
On Tuesday, Swedish teen climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg also threw her weight behind postponing the exams in view of the pandemic.
"It's deeply unfair that students of India are asked to sit for national exams during the COVID-19 pandemic and while millions have also been impacted by the extreme floods. I stand with their call to #PostponeJEE_NEETinCOVID," she said in a tweet.
Several opposition leaders in India including Congress' Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik, DMK president MK Stalin and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia have demanded that the exams be postponed.
The Supreme Court had last week dismissed a plea seeking postponement of the two exams amid a spurt in the number of COVID-19 cases, saying precious year of students "cannot be wasted" and life has to go on.
"We find that there is absolutely no justification in the prayer made for postponement of the examination in question relating to NEET as well as JEE-Mains," the Supreme Court had said.
In a meeting convened by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on a range of issues ahead of Monsoon Session of Parliament, chief ministers of seven states unanimously agreed to the need for filing a review petition urging the Supreme Court to reconsider its recent order rejecting postponement of the competitive exams.
The NTA has also written to state governments to extend support in local movement of the candidates so that they are able to reach their examination centres on time.
JEE-Mains was originally supposed to be held from April 7-11, then postponed to July 18-23, and finally rescheduled to September 1-6. NEET-UG was originally scheduled for May 3, then pushed to July 26, and is now scheduled to be held on September 13.