The ministers had claimed that the top court order failed to secure students’ “right to life” and ignored “teething logistical difficulties” to be faced in conducting the exams during the Covid-19 pandemic.
National Testing Agency (NTA) which conducts both the exams is holding JEE Main Exams from September 1 to September 6, while NEET exams will be held on September 13.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, B R 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.
The apex court’s August 17 order, which allowed the exams to be held has become a political battle as the ministers of six states — ruled by parties like Congress, TMC, JMM, NCP and Shiv Sena — sought postponement of the exams “in a manner that achieves the twin objectives of ensuring that the academic year of the students is not wasted and their health and safety is not compromised.”
The review plea has been filed by ministers from West Bengal (Moloy Ghatak), Jharkhand (Rameshwar Oraon), Rajasthan (Raghu Sharma), Chhattisgarh (Amarjeet Bhagat), Punjab (B S 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 top 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 that 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 that the apex 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.
“It is submitted that if the impugned order dated August 17, 2020 is not reviewed then grave and irreparable harm and injury would befall on the student community of our country and not only will the health, welfare and safety of the students/candidates appearing for the NEET/JEE examinations would stand imperilled but also the public health at large would be in severe jeopardy in these Covid-19 pandemic times,” the plea said.
The petition said that as per the NIA press release, approximately 9.53 lakhs and 15.97 lakhs students have been registered for JEE (Main) and NEET (UG) 2020 respectively.
The plea said that 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 ipso facto 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 said.
The petitioners do not wish to make any value judgment or political criticism of the Union government in such times but the undisputed facts are that there has been an exponential increase in Covid-19 positive cases as well as deaths due to the virus from April onwards.
“It is rather ironical that at the initial stage when there were much lesser number of Covid-19 positive cases, the examinations were postponed and now when the daily spread of the virus is at its peak the examinations are directed to be conducted forthwith,” the plea said.