In March, 2020, when our country hardly had 1000 COVID-19 cases, our Government decided to close the entire country and cancel all the exams. Today, when we have more than 31 Lakh COVID-19 cases and situation is worsening by every passing day, with an alarming addition of about 70,000 cases per day, the adamant decision of Government to compulsorily conduct all Exams/ Tests across India, is utterly shocking, extremely unfair and may lead to a Disaster, apart from being patently illegal and unconstitutional.
"People are more scared of COVID-19 hassles than the COVID-19 itself"
As per ICMR prediction, India is likely to see the peak of COVID-19 in the month of November, 2020. As per the Health Minister of India, the COVID-19 Vaccine is unlikely to come to India before December, 2020. Thus, India is likely to witness dangerous spurt of COVID-19 pandemic in the upcoming months. Conducting any Exam across India at such perilous time, is nothing else but putting lives of lakhs of young students and their family members at utmost risk and danger of anxiety, stress, disease and death.
There is no denial that COVID-19 mortality rate is low. But at the ground level, common people are more scared of the hassles of COVID-19, than the COVID-19 itself. The situation of government hospitals, particularly in rural and sub-urban areas, is pathetic, to say the least. Even in the National Capital Delhi, the conditions in few government hospitals were so bad few months back that extremely disturbing images of piled up dead bodies emerged and even the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India had to take suo-motu cognizance of the issue.
Private hospitals are anyways beyond reach of most of citizens because of their over expensive, unaffordable and exorbitant charges. It is pertinent to mention here that in a separate case, Hon'ble Supreme Court has also taken cognizance of the exorbitant amount being charged by many private hospitals, in the name of COVID-19 treatment.
Then there are a plethora of other reasons, like, possibility of COVID-19 patients sent to quarantine centres, deprivation from job/ employment during the period of infection, psychological and social discrimination, treatment as outcast and other hassles of COVID-19, due to which the common people of India, including the majority of the students and their family members, are under huge mental stress, anxiety and depression.
"Problems of Divyangs completely overlooked"
The government authorities, while deciding to compulsorily conduct various Exams/ Tests in the upcoming times, have miserably failed to take into account the heart wrenching plight of the specially abled (Divyang) students/ aspirants, who are facing utmost difficulties and harassments, while commuting to the Exam Centres and while appearing in the Exams. Worst hardship is of the Visually Impaired students/ aspirants, who rely upon Physical Touch even for walking or for their other day to day activities. Plights of such students have been shockingly ignored by the authorities.
"Double Whammy of Flood and COVID-19"
Almost all Exams/ Tests, which are scheduled to be conducted now, are otherwise conducted in the pre-monsoon/ summer season and that is for a reason. Today, many states like Assam, Bihar, North-Eastern States, Gujarat, Odisha etc. are witnessing incessant flood which has killed more than hundreds of people and has badly affected more than 100 Districts of India. Then there are many hilly areas of Uttarakhand/ Himachal Pradesh etc., which are facing deadly landslides. Many other states and even metropolitan cities are facing severe crisis due to excessive rain. The double whammy of COVID-19 and Flood/ Rain has virtually made it impossible for many students/ aspirants to even step out of their house, leave aside appearing in these exams.
"Educational Institutions Closed due to Unlock – 3 Guidelines"
As per Unlock-3 Guidelines dated 29.07.2020, schools, colleges, libraries, educational and coaching institutions are continuously closed till 31.08.2020. Thus, many of the aspirants have been deprived from adequate preparation of the upcoming Exams. Furthermore, many aspirants are not having access to daily Newspapers and many of them can't afford to subscribe to e-papers. Thus, due to restricted availability and/or non-availability of public resources due to COVID-19 pandemic, many sincere aspirants are at a disadvantageous position as of today.
Aspirants belonging to Rural Areas, North Eastern States and Jammu and Kashmir are having huge lack of internet access and thus they are unable to even prepare for the upcoming Exams online. Considering the vast Digital Divide in our country, it is unfair to conduct any Exam presently, otherwise it would deprive many less privileged aspirants from fair and equal opportunity. The authorities have further overlooked the Possibility of Hacking/ Tampering with the result, lack of safety etc. with respect to the proposed online exams, which are another areas of concern.
"Less Number of Exam Centres"
In most of the upcoming Exams/ Tests, the Examination Centres are not provided to the students in their home town or even in their neighbouring districts. Ideally, there should be at least one Exam Centre of every National Level exam, in every District of India. But on the contrary, there are many students whose Examination Centres are 1000 KMs apart from their present place of residence. Moreover, many aspirants have returned back to their hometowns due to COVID-19 crisis. Such students are unable to travel due to restricted Rail/ Air/ Road Travel and due to COVID-19 and thus they are being deprived from life time opportunity of appearing in these Exams, which is unfortunate and unjust.
Due to non-availability of Exam Centres in their home towns, many aspirants are facing unimaginable hardship due to non-availability of or unsafe health conditions in, the PG accommodation/ hostels/ hotels etc., where they are forced to stay with their family members, once they are travelling to an outstation Examination Centre.
"Airborne and asymptomatic COVID-19"
COVID-19 has been found to be airborne and in many cases, it is asymptomatic. This is increasing the possibility of its spurt at the large gatherings of students/ their parents at the Exam Centre. Thus, there is another strong likelihood that many of the aspirants may firstly get infected at the Exam Centres and later on may infect their old aged grandparents, young siblings and other family members, at their homes, which is likely to ultimately lead to a Disaster, if the upcoming large-scale Exams are not immediately postponed/ cancelled.
"Lockdown still in many parts of the country"
The Authorities have further overlooked that many districts/ municipal bodies are still imposing Complete Lockdown in their respective areas. Many big cities have several containment zones. Free movement of students are restricted in such areas, causing lot of harassment.
Due to the upcoming Exams during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, many young students are going through huge mental stress, anxiety and depression and even few disturbing reports of students committing suicides due to anxiety of the Exams, have also come, which is heart wrenching and disheartening.
"SOPs only on paper"
In the cases of various recent Examinations/ Tests, it has been seen that the authorities are unable to implement the SOPs on the ground, in large scale gatherings.
"Violation of Article 21 – Right to Life"
Hon'ble Supreme Court has held in a plethora of Judgments that "Right to Life" under Article 21 of Constitution of India, includes within its purview, the "Right to Health". The decision of the authorities to conduct various exams/ tests despite COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, is flagrantly violative of "Right to Health" and "Right to Life" of the Lakhs of aspirants/ students and their family members.
"Violation of Article 14 - Right to Equality"
The decision of the Government authorities to conduct Exams at such perilous times, is further violative of the fundamental right to equality of the students on many counts. Many students are deprived from appearing in the upcoming exams due to COVID-19 pandemic and/ or deadly flood, which is direct violation of their Article 14 Rights. Many students, who would ultimately appear in these Exams, will have to appear with extreme level of mental stress and anxiety and thus they would not be able to appear in these Exams with free mind, like their predecessors.
"Difficulty in wearing Masks for 5-6 Hours"
The students would be required to wear the Masks for more than 5-6 hours on the date of examinations and thus would be forced to reduced oxygen level, resulting into slowed down brain function and thus it is even in the interest of justice to cancel these Exams in the interest of health of the students.
"IITs and NLUs cancelled Exams"
Premier institutions such as IITs & NLUs have done away with final year exams and have evaluated their final year students on the basis of past performance and additional parameters where ever applicable, keeping in mind the health (mental and physical), safety and future of the students in mind.
"Haves and Have-Nots"
On one hand, the physical examinations are extremely risky and threatening to the health and safety of the concerned students and on the other hand, conducting online examination will amount to depriving various underprivileged students from appearing in the said examinations due to non-access to computers, non-access to high speed Internet, technical glitches, poor internet infrastructure in rural areas etc. The biggest sufferers of the upcoming Exams amid COVID-19 pandemic are the students belonging to the middle class and/or lower middle class. The privileged may still appear in these Exams, without worrying about transport, accommodation, expenses, health and safety. But, the under-privileged students will be forced to suffer utmost injustice and deprivations. Such class-based discrimination must be avoided.
"No Consultation with Experts"
The Decision to conduct exams in such dangerous times, seems to have been taken in utterly arbitrary and whimsical manner, even without consulting other important stakeholders, like Health experts, Doctors, Teachers, Students, etc. and thus the entire genesis of the said Decision, is erroneous.
"Conclusion – My sincere Appeal"
Academic interest of few students cannot and must not outweigh the right to health and right to life of a larger section of students and their family members. The best recourse at this stage can be to wait for some more time, let COVID-19 Crisis subside and then only conduct these Exams, in order to save lives of the students and their parents. For those exams, which form basis to job opportunities and/ or higher studies, the degrees/ final marksheets should be immediately awarded on the basis of the assessment of past performance. For every exam, some or other mechanism may be devised but end of the day, no student/ aspirant should be forced to appear in any exam till COVID-19 curve is flattened. I sincerely request the Hon'ble Prime Minister of India to immediately intervene and save our young students, who are the future of India.
Views are personal only.
(Author is an Advocate On Record at Supreme Court of India)
[The author has filed various writ petitions for candidates against UGC Guidelines and Against conducting NEET/JEET/ ICAI, AIAPGET & ICSE Exams during this pandemic]