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Ministers from Opposition-ruled States file review petition challenging SC dismissal of pleas to postpone NEET & JEE Exams

The review petition has been moved by Six Cabinet Ministers from opposition-ruled States of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Maharashtra in their individual capacities.
A review petition has been against the Supreme Court's August 17 judgment dismissing pleas seeking to postpone the conduct of this year's National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plea has been filed by six Cabinet Ministers from the opposition-ruled states of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Maharashtra.
Following the August 17 order of the Supreme Court, the National Testing Agency (NTA) on August 25 notified that these entrance exams would be conducted as per the revised schedule, with the NEET on September 13 and the JEE on September 1-6.

The review petitioners now assert that the August 17 ruling and the NTA's decision to conduct these exams amid the pandemic is flawed on the following broad contentions:
  • It fails to secure the safety, security and right to life of the student- candidates appearing for the NEET/JEE exams.
  • It has ignored the teething logistical difficulties in conducting the examinations on the proposed dates.
  • It has failed to balance the competing but equally important aspects of conducting the examination and securing the safety of the students.
  • It fails to ensure that mandatory safeguards are put in place during the conduct of the examinations.
The review plea highlights that 25 lakh students will cumulatively appear for the two exams, even as India records over 3.31 million COVID-19 cases.
With JEE being proposed to be conducted in over 660 exam centres for 9.53 lakh students, roughly 1,443 students will be writing the exam per JEE centre, the plea notes.
For the NEET UG exams, 15.97 lakh students are slated to appear in 3,843 centres, meaning that there will be 415 students per NEET exam centre.
The petitioners go on to submit that while the Centre had adequate time to ensure the safe and successful conduct of the examinations, "the intervening months from April to September 2020 were characterised by inaction, confusion, lethargy and inertia." The plea states,
"Now the Union Government has suddenly woken up to realize that their inertia is going to cost lacs of students their academic year and therefore as a knee-jerk reaction, the Union Government has haphazardly and hurriedly fixed the dates of the examinations which remedy will prove to be worse than the disease itself."
Further, it is contended,
"While the Union Government is focused on avoiding the contagion at the examination centers, they failed to appreciate the point that the process of reaching the examination centre itself can be a major source of contracting the infection."
In addition to the logistical difficulties and the hurdles for students to reach exam centres amid the pandemic, it is emphasised that it would be practically impossible to properly implement social distancing norms within exam centres due to the lesser number of centres. The plea goes on to read,
"This Hon’ble 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. Having at least one centre per district would have minimised the inter-district long travel of the students and thereby reduced the chances of COVID-19 spread."
Referring to the Supreme Court's observation while dismissing pleas to postpone these exams in its August 17 order that, "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 review petitions argue,

"The advice of “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. "
Review Petitioners
They add in their plea,
"With regards to the second reason of losing a year, it is most respectfully submitted that this would be tantamount to putting the cart before the horse, as the submissions hereinabove have revealed. The Review Petitioners too do not desire for the students to lose an academic year, but wish to balance their health, safety and security and that of their family with not losing the current academic year."
The petition has been filed by:
  • Moloy Ghatak, leader of the Trinamool Congress Party from West Bengal, Minister-in-Charge, Department of Labour & E.S.I. (MB) Scheme and Departments of Law & Judicial, Government
  • Dr Rameshwar Oraon, Indian National Congress leader from Jharkhand, Cabinet Minister of Finance, Government of Jharkhand.
  • Dr Raghu Sharma, Indian National Congress leader from Rajasthan, Cabinet Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Rajasthan.
  • Amarjeet Bhagat, Indian National Congress leader from Chhattisgarh, Minister of Food, Civil supplies, Culture, Planning, Economics & Statistics, Government of Chhattisgarh.
  • Balbir Singh Sidhu, Indian National Congress leader from Punjab, Cabinet Minister Health and Family Welfare & Labour, Punjab.
  • Uday Ravindra Samant, Shiv Sena leader from Maharashtra, Minister of Higher and Technical Education, Government of Maharashtra.
The petition has been filed in their individual capacities. "They have filed the present petition purely in discharge of their public duty and in public interest", the petition adds.

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