Six non-BJP state ministers seek review of SC order refusing to postpone NEET/JEE

Six ministers each from West Bengal, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Maharashtra have filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against its decision dated August 17 refusing to postpone the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) scheduled to be held next month amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In their plea, the ministers who come from non BJP states have submitted that if the Court’s decision refusing to postpone NEET and JEE exams is not reviewed then grave and irreparable harm and injury would befall on the student community.

The apex court on August 17 while rejecting a plea seeking postponement of NEET and JEE (Main) exams had observed-

“We find that there is absolutely no justification in the prayer made for postponement of the examination in question relating to NEET UG-2020 as well as JEE (Main) April, 2020. In our opinion, though there is pandemic situation, but ultimately life has to go and the career of the students cannot be put on peril for long and full academic year cannot be wasted”.

The order under review, the petitioners say, is cryptic, non-speaking, does not discuss let alone enumerate the various aspects and complexities involved in a matter of this magnitude and complex nature.

The Petitioners have contended that not only will the health, welfare and safety of the students/candidates appearing for the NEET/JEE examinations be imperilled but also public health at large in these COVID-19 pandemic times.

The petition, in essence, contends that the decision under review has failed to secure the safety, security and Right to Life of students/ candidates appearing for the NEET/JEE exams.

It is further contended that the top court’s decision has ignored the teething logistical difficulties in conducting the examinations on the proposed dates. It had failed to balance the competing but equally important aspects of conducting the examination and securing the safety of the students.

Additionally, it is alleged that the said order had failed to ensure that mandatory safeguards are put in place during the conduct of the examinations.

The petition highlights that as per the National Testing Agency (NTA) approximately 9.53 lacs [9,53,000] and 15.97 lacs [15,97,000] students have been registered for JEE (Main) and NEET (UG) 2020 respectively.

This, according to the petitioners, would mean that 25 lacs [25,00,000] students cumulatively would be appearing for these two examinations.

“As on 27th August, India has over 3.31 million [33 lacs, 33,00,000] COVID-19 cases. We are presently at the third position in this unenviable list after the USA (5.79 million cases) and Brazil (3.72 million cases) and on course to be the No.1 nation on this list”, the petitioner highlights.

The petitioners, thus, argue that such a 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.

“On this short ground alone, the Impugned Order deserves to be recalled and the examinations deserve to be postponed”, the plea contends.

On the role of the Central Government, the petitioners state that while it is focused on avoiding the contagion at the examination centres, it failed to appreciate the point that the process of reaching the examination centres itself can be a major source of contracting the infection.

“The Union Government has created an unfortunate situation whereby the students/candidates may become vectors and carry the infection back to their homes and put their parents, grandparents, family, relatives and friends at risk of infection. This multiplier effect will be disastrous for the health of the nation”, the plea states.

Moloy Ghatak Minister-in-Charge, Department of Labour, Government of West Bengal; Dr. Rameshwar Oraon, Cabinet Minister of Finance, Government of Jharkhand, Dr. Raghu Sharma, Cabinet Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Rajasthan; Amarjeet Bhagat, Minister of Food, Civil supplies, Culture, Planning, Economics & Statistics, Government of Chhattisgarh; Balbir Singh Sidhu, Cabinet Minister Health and Family Welfare & Labour, Government of Punjab; Uday Ravindra Samant, Minister of Higher and Technical Education, Government of Maharashtra have filed this petition through Advocate-on-Record (AoR) Sunil Fernandes.

The petition has been settled by senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

Earlier, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, leaders of Congress, and Aam Aadmi Party leader Manish Sisodia demanded the postponement of the exams. The Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee had also written a letter to the PM to postpone the exams.

The Leaflet