The Supreme Court will consider on Friday a petition filed by ministers of six opposition-ruled states seeking review of its August 17 order allowing holding of NEET and JEE exams physically. The ministers had said the top court's order failed to secure students' "right to life" and ignored "teething logistical difficulties" to be faced in conducting the exams during the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts both exams, is holding JEE Main Exams from September 1 to September 6, while NEET will be held on September 13. A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari will consider the review plea in chambers.
The review matters in the top court are usually considered 'in-chambers' through circulation of the petition among all the judges of the bench. The judges then decide 'in-chambers' whether there is any merit in the review petition to re-examine the case in the open court hearing.
Six states had moved the apex court seeking review of its order permitting the Centre to conduct NEET and JEE entrance exams in September. The review plea has been filed by ministers from West Bengal (Moloy Ghatak), Jharkhand (Rameshwar Oraon), Rajasthan (Raghu Sharma), Chhattisgarh (Amarjeet Bhagat), Punjab (BS Sidhu) and Maharashtra (Uday Ravindra Sawant).
The plea, filed through advocate Sunil Fernandes, said the apex court order fails to satisfy the safety and security concerns of students who have to appear for the exams. The court had refused to interfere with the conduct of the medical and engineering entrance exams, saying that life must go on and students can't lose a precious year due to the pandemic.
The apex court had on August 17, dismissed a plea by one Sayantan Biswas and others seeking direction to NTA to postpone them after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta assured that all safeguards would be taken. Terming the decision to conduct the exam as irrational, the plea said that the top court failed to appreciate that the Union government had adequate time to establish at least one centre for every district for NEET (UG) and JEE (Mains) rather than having several centres in one district.
The review petition said the mere fact that lakhs of students have registered for the exam is not indicative of their consent or their willingness or their desire to attend physical exams. It said the August 17 order is cryptic, non-speaking and does not discuss various aspects and complexities involved in a matter of this magnitude.
The plea said only two reasons given by the court - life must go on and students should not lose an academic year - do not constitute an authoritative and comprehensive judicial scrutiny of the issue. It said the court's observation that "life must go on" may have very sound philosophical underpinnings but cannot be a substitute for valid legal reasoning and logical analysis of the various aspects involved in the conduct of the NEET UG and JEE exams.
The petition said as per the NTA, approximately 9.53 lakh and 15.97 lakh students have registered for JEE (Main) and NEET (UG), respectively. The plea said JEE Mains is slated to be conducted over 660 exam centres with 9.53 lakhs students appearing for it, roughly 1,443 students per centre. Similarly for NEET UG, 15.97 lakhs students will appear in 3,843 centres across the country, nearly 415 students per centre, it said.
Such large movement of people will prove to be a serious health hazard and will totally defeat the twin present-day solutions we have of combating the COVID-19 pandemic i.e. social distancing and avoidance of large public gatherings.