A day after seven chief ministers of non-BJP ruled states decided to jointly move the Supreme Court against the Centre's decision to hold the NEET and JEE (Main) exam amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the tug of war over the exams continued on Thursday with more voices joining both sides of the argument.
Even as the Congress-affiliated NSUI continued its nationwide protest against the exams, more voices from Opposition including the Samajwadi Party joined the protests.
.@TSNSUI have begun the indefinite hunger strike in staunch protest against the cruel, senseless and irresponsible decision of the Central & State govt to conduct the examinations during this pandemic.#AntiStudentNarendraModi#AntiStudentsModiGovt#HungerStrikeForStudentsSafety pic.twitter.com/TxzCg7P6Xn
" NSUI (@nsui) August 27, 2020
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik and DMK chief MK Stalin too reiterated their opposition the exams. On Thursday, Stalin even urged the chief minsiters of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to join the Opposition as they unite to move the SC against the exams.
In the letter to @CMO_Odisha @AndhraPradeshCM @TelanganaCMO @CMOKerala urged them to join in solidarity and approach the Supreme court on postponement of NEET and JEE exams. #PostponeNEET_JEEinCovid pic.twitter.com/cKoFC8ydfY " M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) August 27, 2020
However, the Centre's decision to hold the exam amid the pandemic has found support not only from within its ranks, but also among academicians.
While 150 academicians wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying any further delay will compromise students' future, directors of several IITs warned that that academic year will turn 'zero academic year' if exams are not held as scheduled.
"The government has announced the dates for JEE-Mains and NEET, any further delay in conducting the exams will result in waste of precious year for students. The dreams and future of our youth and students cannot be compromised at any cost. However, some are trying to play with the future of our students simply to propel their own political agenda and oppose the government," 150 academicians said in the letter, accordign to PTI.
"Like every year, this year too millions of students have passed their Class 12 exams and are now waiting at home to eagerly take the next step," the letter added.
Meanwhile, heads of IITs appealed to students to students to trust the institutions conducting the exam.
"The pandemic has already disrupted the academic plans of many students and institutions and we don't see the virus going away anytime soon. We should not let this be a zero academic year as it might have consequences on the bright future of several students," Ajit K Chaturvedi, Director, IIT Roorkee, told PTI.
He also said students and their parents need to have faith in the system.
"The decision to conduct these exams has been taken after considering every aspect of the current situation. The government has been ensuring that all necessary arrangements are made to safeguard the health and safety of the students. Delaying the exams would have a cascading effect so we should come together in understanding its importance and support the system in conducting it seamlessly," he added.
According to Virendra Tewari, Director, IIT Kharagpur, "The exams have a global reputation for seeking excellence and are considered one of the toughest and prestigious examinations in the world. A quick alternative to these tests will certainly not be as gratifying as competing for this examination by all fair means".
However, Samajwadi Party president and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav opposed the decision to conduct the exams in an open letter on Thursday.
He said the BJP-led government at the Centre is unnecessarily putting the students' health at risk.
"Funny and illogical things are being spread by the BJP that when people can come out for other work, why can't they give exams? It has forgotten that people are moving out in compulsion and even those who want to stay at home to save themselves are now being forced to come out of their homes in the name of examinations," Yadav said in the letter.
" Akhilesh Yadav (@yadavakhilesh) August 27, 2020
The Samajwadi Party chief asked who will be held responsible if students contract the infection. He claimed that the saffron party is only concerned about people who vote for it. "It appears that the BJP has come to know that the youth dealing with unemployment problem would no longer vote for them therefore, it is acting in a revengeful manner against the youth and their guardians," Yadav alleged.
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik too supported the call postpone the exam. On Thursday, he spoke to the prime minsiter over the phone and requested him to postpone NEET and JEE exams, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and the flood situation in the state, a senior official said. Patnaik, during his conversation with the prime minister, explained that Odisha is in the grip of a pandemic as well as flood, and students might face difficulties in appearing for the examinations, the official at the chief minister's office told reporters. Around 50,000 students in Odisha are set to appear for NEET, and over 40,000 for JEE (Main), officials said.
The Odisha chief minsiter's phone call came two days after he wrote a letter in this regard to Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. The CM, in his letter had urged the Centre to take steps for postponing the JEE (Main) and NEET exams as it "will be unsafe for students to physically appear for the exams amid the pandemic". Former karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah joined the bandwagon of the opposition parties, stating that the existing restrictiions in public transportaion and accomodation facilities due to COVID-19 is likely to add to student's anxiety.
In a series of tweets, the Karnataka Congress Legislature Party leader said that traveling is not safe for students, accommodation is difficult, public transportation is not fully functional and yet students are expected not to be anxious to write exams. "Despite opposition fromeveryone, @BJP4India govt is adamant on conducting NEET &JEE." "The COVID-19 cases are increasing rapidly in the country and yet students are being forced to take risk. Should they pledge their lives to take the exams?" Siddaramaiah pointed out.
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi should be more sensitive towards young students and postpone exams," he tweeted. The Central Government, however, made its stand clear on Thursday with Union Education Minsiter Ramesh Pokhriyal stating that only a "section of students" are against conducting the exams. "National Testing Agency (NTA) officials told me that over 7 lakh candidates have downloaded JEE (Main) admit cards while over 10 lakh aspirants have downloaded NEET admit cards. This shows that students want the exams be held at any cost," Pokhriyal argued in a tweet. "We have received mails from students and parents who are in favour of holding exams as they have been preparing for the exams from at least two three years," he added.
NTA DG told me that 7.5 lakhs out of 8.58 lakhs candidates in JEE have downloaded admit cards. For NEET, over 10 lakhs out of 15.97 lakhs candidates downloaded admit cards in 24 hrs. It shows that students want that exams are held at any cost: Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal pic.twitter.com/LfOcHfRXSU " ANI (@ANI) August 27, 2020
According to ANI, Pokhriyal also said that "JEE exam centres have been increased to 660 from 570 while there are now 3,842 NEET centres, up from 2,546 for the convenience of students. Students have also been allotted exam centres of their choice."
While the NEET is scheduled to be held on 13 September, engineering entrance exam JEE Main has been planned from 1-6 September. Around 9.53 lakh candidates have registered for JEE-Mains and 15.97 lakh students have registered for NEET.
These exams have already been deferred twice in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
JEE-Main 2020 was originally supposed to be held from 7-11 April, but postponed to 18-23 July, NEET-UG was originally scheduled for 3 May, then pushed to 26 July. They were postponed again and are now scheduled in September.
With inputs from PTI