New Delhi, August 28: Four Opposition parties – the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Shiv Sena – on Friday filed a review petition in the Supreme Court seeking a deferral of the IIT JEE and NEET examinations.

Addressing a press conference after approaching the court, the parties said they were not for cancelling the exams but wanted them deferred till November so that the government is able assure the safety of the students, The Hindu reported.

Senior TMC leader Derek O’ Brien said the petitioners do not want the students to lose the academic year and the petition aims to ensure better safety and security measures for the students. “The charge here is poor planning; what can one expect from a government who imposed a 21-day lockdown with merely four hour notice,” Mr. O’ Brien remarked.

Senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represented all the six petitioners, said the government needs to keep in mind that together the petitioners represent 30% of the Indian population.

The two examinations were originally scheduled for April and had been postponed because of extended lockdown. Singhvi said the government did not bring in a remedial framework. “The government has drawn itself into a corner and is now trying to get out it by a knee jerk reaction,” he said.

Citing Bihar as an example, he said out of 38 districts in the State, there were NEET centres only in two districts and IIT JEE centres only in seven. When the Centre said it had increased the number of centres, in fact only the density of centres had been increased in districts where they already existed, Singhvi said. 1,400 students are scheduled to appear in one NEET centre.

Singhvi added that holding the exams at present is also exclusionary for various reasons. With transport facilities disrupted, only the affluent who have private vehicles will be able to travel to the examination centres and children who are affected by coronavirus will not be able to appear.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said the government’s insistence on holding the two exams show its “stubbornness”. Soren said, “Not a single day goes by when a death due to Covid-19 doesn’t occur. Who will be responsible if any student or their family gets infected because of appearing in the exam?”

He said, ultimately, the State governments will have to bear the brunt of a unilateral decision taken by the central government. “I had written to the Union Education Minister urging him to defer the exams, but so far, I haven’t had any response from him,” Soren said.  

Ministers of six non-BJP States also moved the Supreme Court on Friday against the conduct of the JEE Mains and the NEET-UG amid the pandemic, saying lakhs of young students should not fall prey to the Centre’s “knee-jerk” and “haphazard” plans, which will prove “worse than the disease itself”. 

Ministers Moloy Ghatak of West Bengal, Rameshwar Oraon from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh’s Amarjeet Bhagat, Maharashtra’s Uday Ravindra Samant and Raghu Sharma and Balbir Singh Sidhu from Rajasthan and Punjab respectively, moved the court through lawyer Sunil Fernandes. The petition comes shortly after a meeting among Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and six Chief Ministers of non-BJP States.

“The Union Government had adequate time to make comprehensive preparations for the safe and successful conduct of the examinations. However, the intervening months from April to September were characterised by inaction, confusion, lethargy and inertia”, they submitted.

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