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Limited Accessibility For IIT-JEE & NEET Aspirants

Kumar Kartikeya & Sushant Inderjeet Singh
30 Aug 2020 4:55 AM GMT
Limited Accessibility For IIT-JEE & NEET Aspirants
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In Indian households, the majority of children live up with a dream of becoming an engineer or a doctor. Every year, lakhs of students appear for entrance exams to achieve the same. The competition in these entrance examinations is soaring. They are known to be one of the toughest exams in the world and most importantly these exams are pathways to certain prestigious universities in India who have provided the best CEOs and doctors like Sundar Pichai and Dr. Panangipalli Venugopal Padma Bhushan awardee. The youth are inspired by them and want to be part of the same universities for the best education. The aspirants do hard work for days and sleepless nights for almost a year (or several years in some cases) to 'appear' in these exams. So, they can secure a seat for their admission to pursue their education. 

Globally, these exams controversy is getting attention and there is an attempt to make it a political issue because the Indian government has decided to conduct them during the peak time of Covid-19. Every day, we are breaking our records of corona positive cases. Needless to say, at this time the government needs to act as a parent body to concerns about career and health at the same time. No parent would ask their children shouldn't risk their lives to take any exam. Mere postponement won't harm the administration in comparison to this big risk of lives. Around 25 lakh students will appear for these two exams of JEE and NEET. If a throng of students appears for the exams, it will surely increase the risk of spreading coronavirus cases, as recent data states. We are not only risking the health of students but their families as well. India is in the third position with the most number of confirmed cases of coronavirus. These are the reasonable grounds to be considered for students before taking this exam. Who would be responsible for being absent from that exam? Can students be blamed or pay the cost for giving priority to their life over their dreams? The volenti non fit injuria principle cannot implement while dealing with students for their exams. The government doesn't give them a free choice to take this exam rather they are forced to take these exams where everyone lives in different circumstances. There are many more issues faced by candidates other than the prevailing pandemic of coronavirus like geographical disadvantages e.g.- floods in Bihar, Heavy rainfall in Gujarat. Should the government conduct exams during these times? What is the hurry? Why can't it be done after sometime when the government prepares itself more with infrastructure and transportation for all? Why academic year cannot shift to a few months? We all are living with these reasonable unanswered questions.

The exams are being conducted for a large number of students. They have to come out and gather at centres to take the exams. Concerned students, parents, and CM's of various states urged the government to postpone the exam by mentioning rational concerns until we all prepare for the same. We are living in a perilous situation where India has recorded more than 77000 coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours and this entrance would impel students into that.

There are only a few additions in examination centres as compared to normal time. The conceivability of students being exposed to the virus can be unwholesome. In addition to pandemic prevailing all over India, there are practical hurdles for the public at large which can only be operated by the government.

Lack of transport facility

Lockdown is opening in phases in India, but the government is yet to resume transport facility as we have not reached the phase to open public transport for the people. The majority of public travel through Indian railways but it is not fully functional and buses are allowed to take only a few passengers. The government has stopped its functioning in the fear of community spread but these students require safe traveling to reach their centres. In the capital of India, Delhi, Delhi Metro is not running. In which, every day around 9 lakh people used to commute. There is no alternative provided to locals other than travel through private vehicles. Limited public transport for inter & intrastate commuting to reach their centres there will be arduous and unsafe. In Uttar Pradesh where around 2 lakh students will give JEE exams, there are only 66 centres. The total number of centres in UP is less than the total number of Lok- Sabha seats in UP which indicates some places may not have centres and if students need to transport how will they do so?

Need for more examination centres and natural calamities barriers.

Considering living with COVID a new norm but that will not be possible with old infrastructure and facilities. We need safe & secure arrangements for upcoming events. If a minimum distance of 6 feet is required then space would be curtailed to one-third at least as we are habitual of living 2 feet distance from each other. The need of the hour is to work upon the infrastructure and how to accommodate people gathering with safety. The number of examination centres for JEE and NEET are meagre in number and are isolated. In a developing and populated state Bihar, there are only 7 centres for JEE for approximately 1 lakh candidates and NEET has centres only in two districts. Due to the scarcity of centres, the candidates need to travel far from home and everyone there is suffering from floods. In the capital of Bihar, Patna has been flooded with people living with waterlogged houses. The situation is similar in other states as well. The centres are located far from their location and to reach there is a challenge in itself. JEE is conducted online and NEET has conducted with pen and paper both the exam patterns have issues in their methods. The gathering of aspirants at centres will be a risk to the health of candidates which cannot be put on a stake at any cost. As in the M.S. Chawla Vs State of Punjab, the Supreme Court rules that "Right to life ensured under Article 21 incorporates inside its ambit the right to health and clinical consideration." So, if the state is putting the life of the candidate under any condition then there is a likelihood of facing menace with their health.

Around 25 lakhs aspirants are engaged in the process of examination.

Approximately 10 lakh students in JEE and 16 Lakh in NEET. Needless to mention the importance of these exams to any aspirant. These exams play a vital role for each one of them who has been waiting for this day. It is stressful for the parents as they are concerned about the health and wellbeing of their kids. If in any worst-case scenario, a candidate is contracted with the virus it keeps every family member to a brim of getting contracted with these highly contagious diseases. If This transmission is carried on further it can be a chain that will be very difficult to stop seeing the number of candidates. The government restricted the gathering of up to 50 people only then how can the gathering of aspirants up to 200 in the same circumstances. Can the government or organizers take the responsibility if anyone is infected with the coronavirus in the whole process of examination? If not, how can we let these kids be exposed to viruses while giving the examination? Especially when there is no cure available worldwide.

Underprivileged aspirants will be paying more costs than others.

Undoubtedly, taking this exam will be a difficult process for all but the underprivileged section, it will be onerous as they have to travel on their own in the absence of public transport. Most affected class of students will be from the underprivileged because their mode of preparation is full of thrones and more things on the stakes for these exams. In some families, this is not a dream of a child but the entire family. Having existing difficulties, transportation will be a huge task for them and more chances of getting exposed to the virus in their journey. The government has a duty to protect their interests as they don't have any alternative. There are chances they will put their lives on stake to take this exam. It holds more value to them as in many families they will be the first person to study at such a prestigious Institute. If the marginalized section stays away from the examination due to precautionary measures from the Covid-19 pandemic then how equality was served to them. The government should keep this into consideration while implementing any new policy to conduct any of the exams that it shouldn't turn out to be a classist process.

Constitutional Duty of government to look after public health

In any process, equality needs to be served. It is the duty of the state to treat everyone equally with reasonable protection. Reasonable protection from the state is expected from any threat to life likewise when a process is initiated where the life of aspirants will be at high risk then apex authority should intervene to correct it. Article 21 of the Indian constitution ensures that each and every citizen should have the Right to Life and Personal liberty. As aforementioned in the M.S. Chawla case, the Supreme Court interpreted that Right to health and clinical consideration is also a part of right to life. The state must provide well health to each and every person residing in the state and "save them from any possible situation which may lead to the deterioration of the health of a person". With a pandemic in India, it would be a neglect of interpretation of article 21 by the government if these exams are conducted. Public Health should be the priority of the government over anything.

Mental Health

In the current scenario, the mental health of aspirants should be considered in the entire process. Whenever these young minds will be appearing for these exams, they should be in their comfort of calmness without any fear of being infected. The performance in three hours decides their career and future. Their anxiety about exams is inevitable but we should provide them a safe space to make them comfortable to perform the best from their calibre. Every day India is recording the highest number of cases and deaths of more than a thousand how it is expected from the aspirants to focus only on exams but not on his and families' health. As a prudent person, they will not only focus on their health but also try to keep their parents & grandparents safe because evidently viruses affect them depending upon their immunity. We may discuss and show sympathy for needy people but a better way to deal with it is with more empathy. The mental health of the aspirants shouldn't be ignored while executing the process of examination in a difficult scenario.

While having these unanswered questions it looks far from feasible to have a fair and a non-discriminative examination for the students. If this exam is conducted in a hasty manner and without keeping in mind reasonable concerns of aspirants and their families then it will leave a blot on the principles of equality & fairness. Delaying these exams with uncertainty cannot be a solution but finding a midway of postponing this exam for a reasonable time can serve the greater good for all. This step will not compromise anyone's right nor the stress on the academic calendar as we are dealing with unprecedented times. It will be a bewildering act to watch unfold while being wilful to conduct this exam on 6th September and it will be nothing more than a sheer dereliction of equal treatment and Right to life under article 21. We have taken umpteen steps for the first time because of a pandemic and conducting an exam next week may be justified on the part of the administration but it will fail on the part of humanity. The appropriate way of dealing with the situation will impact at large especially when youth is involved
(Kumar Kartikeya, is an aspiring lawyer, with a keen interest in Constitution, Law and Public policies,Sushant Inderjeet Singh, practicing advocate at Delhi High Court. Alumnus, National Law University Delhi) 
(This is an opinion piece reflecting the views of the authors, and it does not necessarily reflect the view of LiveLaw)

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