26 Aug 2020: HRD Minister Pokhriyal justifies holding NEET, JEE examinations amid coronavirus
HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' has finally waded into the controversy surrounding the impending NEET and JEE examinations, saying that the tests are being held due to "constant pressure from parents and students."
The BJP leader also claimed that 80% of JEE aspirants have already downloaded their admit cards, in a bid to imply that many students "wish" for the exams to be conducted.
Context: Background: JEE and NEET will be held next month
In July, the National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts competitive exams in India, announced fresh dates for NEET (held for admission in government-owned medical colleges) and JEE (through which seats are secured in the prestigious IITs).
While the JEE examination will be held from September 1 to 6, the NEET-UG exam is scheduled to be held on September 13.
Reaction: Date-sheet sparked concerns, SC was approached, it junked plea
As the announcement sparked a massive outcry, the Supreme Court was approached, but it refused to intervene saying postponing the exams would jeopardize careers.
Left with little alternative, students have been speaking on social media for days now.
Notably, students from flood-affected areas of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are dealing with a dual problem. Besides coronavirus-related concerns, they also lack transport facilities.
Voicing concerns: Students and parents highlighted their woes
Prateek Kumar, a NEET-aspirant from Patna, has alleged that the government's Standard Operating Procedures are not being followed. Kumar said that a lack of adequate COVID-19 facilities would endanger both students and their guardians.
Separately, a mother made a passionate appeal for canceling the exams since her son, an asthma patient, would not be able to go to crowded places, reports India Today.
Firm stance: Despite raging concerns, Pokhriyal remained firm
While the students' protest is being widely discussed, Pokhriyal said the government was with them and understands that health should get priority over careers. He, however, remained firm about conducting the exams in September.
In an interview with Doordarshan, he said the NTA Director-General informed him that around 7.25 lakh of the 8.58 lakh JEE (Main) candidates had already downloaded their admit cards.
Fact: Only 450 students want a different center: Pokhriyal
"Almost 99% of the students have got centers of their choice. Only 450 students have requested a change of center and NTA is ready for that. We are with the students," the minister added.
Precautions: He also assured that all precautions are being followed
Pokhriyal said that the number of centers has been increased and that each center would not be allowed to accommodate more than 150 aspirants.
As per NTA guidelines released recently, all students and invigilators will be thermally screened; students will have to wear masks and gloves at all times and carry their own sanitizers as well as water bottles.
Plans: Earlier, NTA's top official also explained the plans
On the precautions, NTA Director-General Vineet Joshi said hand-held metal detectors will ensure social distancing is maintained. These detectors will be installed on sticks and will be sanitized at regular intervals.
"Admit cards will have specific barcodes which will be scanned and rooms will be allotted to students accordingly," he had told HT earlier.
NTA had also assured SC that safety won't be compromised.
Political support: However, Centre's words didn't convince students, some politicians
While the Centre is confident holding the examinations is in the best interest of students, leaders across the political spectrum are unconvinced.
Congress' Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi tweeted on the issue; LJP's Chirag Paswan and BJP MP Subramanian Swamy wrote to Pokhriyal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi respectively, seeking a postponement.
RJD's Tejashwi Yadav also voiced his support, as did Shiv Sena's Aaditya Thackeray.
Fact: Government should listen to students' 'Mann ki Baat': Rahul
Fact: BJP's Swamy has, interestingly, rallied behind the issue
Mamata and Naveen: Separately, Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik also joined the chorus
West Bengal and Odisha Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik also wrote to Pokhriyal with the same request.
Banerjee urged Centre to seek a review of the Supreme Court's decision last week. Separately, Patnaik, in his letter, said that it would be "perilous" and "unsafe" for students to visit exam centers.
Patnaik underlined that NTA identified test centers in only seven Odisha towns.