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Top Govt Officials to Hold Meeting as Students Question Rush to Hold JEE, NEET amid Covid Surge

Students wearing protective masks wait for vocational higher secondary education exams, which were postponed amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, inside a school(Image for representation: Reuters)

Students wearing protective masks wait for vocational higher secondary education exams, which were postponed amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, inside a school(Image for representation: Reuters)

The government sources said a decision on pushing the dates for the entrance exams back by a few days is likely to be taken after August 25.

The dates for the JEE and NEET, which are held for admission to premier engineering and medical schools of the country, may be delayed by a few more days amid a demand by students, sources have told CNN-News18.

The government sources said a decision on pushing the dates for the entrance exams back by a few days is likely to be taken after August 25. Education ministry officials are also set to hold meetings with health and home ministry officials to decide on the safety protocol amid the coronavirus pandemic.

JEE and NEET are usually conducted in the month of April, but are set to be held in September after the Supreme Court dismissed pleas for further postponement earlier this week. The JEE (Main) exam will be held between September 1 and 6 and JEE (Advanced) on September 27. The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) is slated to be conducted on September 13.

Sources said there's been an increase in the number of NEET centres -- while this number last year was 2,546, this year it has risen to 3,843.

Students, however, are still demanding that the exams be delayed further to avoid any mishappenings due to the pandemic as well as floods in several states. Vandita Rastogi, who is preparing for the NEET, told CNN-New18, “The health risk is too high right now. We’ve been going through mental anxiety and pressure for the past few months. And authorities have been ignoring are pleas.”

In normal times, IITs would have started their new academic year in the month of July. But now if the exam is conducted in September, the session may start only by December. The students are already a semester behind and any further delay might end up pushing them back a year.

V Ramagopal Rao, director of IIT-Delhi, which is responsible for holding the JEE Advanced this year, said that if the exams are delayed any further, they might have to cancel admissions for one batch of students since it’s difficult to accommodate two batches at the same time. “We are expecting to work the whole summer next year to make up for the lost time.”

Questioning the director of IIT-Delhi, Prahlad Shankar, a JEE aspirant, said, “The Covid-19 curve is on an all-time high right now. And as mentioned earlier by the director, the joining will be delayed. Then why is there a rush for conducting the exams amidst all the chaos?”

The director said that it important to start the classes, even if it is online. “M.Tech classes have already started online. It is not about being physically present on campus, it is about starting the academic session even if online.”

The Supreme Court had earlier this week dismissed a plea filed by a group of students and parents, demanding postponement of JEE Main 2020 and NEET 2020 entrance exams. The court stated it cannot put the careers of lakhs of students in jeopardy since the whole academic year is at stake.

The section of students demanding that exams be delayed further have also been accused of not preparing well and finding excuses to not appear for the entrance exams.

Ananya Acharaya, a NEET aspirant, said students are only concerned for their safety and the safety of their families.

“People have been preparing for these exams for years. But SOPs don’t guarantee everyone’s safety. The steps taken by the committees won’t make us immune to coronavirus. Once the cases start declining, we’ll look forward to the exams.”

India has so far logged over 29 lakh cases of the virus, the third highest in the world only after US and Brazil, and 54,849 deaths so far. The daily rise in cases has been the highest in the world for 17 straight days now.

Despite this, the lockdown has been eased in most parts of the country, with gyms and markets opening after the government’s Unlock 3 guidelines.

Vijay Shankar Pandey, former IAS officer, said the students are going to be the sole losers if the exams are delayed any further. “Factories, industries are opening now. Unless the exams are conducted no admissions can take place. Taking all the precautions and following SOPs, the exams should be held.”

But students pointed out that during the times of pandemic, not getting infected isn’t the only challenge, transport is another, with many students being allotted centres far away.

To add to the woes, Bihar and Assam are fighting floods too. With all these students fear they would not be able to reach the exam centre.

Abhishek Kumar, a JEE aspirant from Bihar, who has been given a center in Kota, Rajasthan, asked how will he be able to travel. “82 lakh people has been affected in Bihar. In the middle of the pandemic with railways being shut down, how can we travel to Kota?”

There are only two exam centers in Bihar. The authorities had promised to set up two more, but no action has been taken on that.

The National Testing Agency had assured the Supreme Court that it will make sure that the exams are conducted with all the precautions.

The concerns that need to be answered are travel, health, and ensuring the safety of students and the parents accompanying them. Only once these are tackled can students look forward to start their new journey with the right frame of mind.

first published:August 21, 2020, 13:27 IST