The High Court of Karnataka on Wednesday refused to stall the Karnataka Common Entrance Test scheduled to start from tomorrow.
The Court however clarified that all students who come to give examination should be allowed to write CET and that failure to inform COVID-19 positive status or in advance or to obtain a medical certificate should not be a ground to disallow a candidate to attend the exam and that they should be dealt with in the manner provided under the Standard Opertaing Procedure of the state.
"...on no ground, should a student be denied the opportunity to write exam. Authorities should provide transport to students on cases to case basis and not just to COVID positive students", the bench stated in the order.
The Court directed that the authorities should "scrupulously follow" the guidelines of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Standard Operating Procedure formulated by the State Government for the conduct of CET.
The Court also directed that the SOP should be uploaded to the web portal of KEA before 8 pm today.
The bench told the Government that all personnel should be given clear instructions that students from containment zones can come out on showing hall tickets.
"All police and health personnel should be instructed properly regarding this", the bench told Additional Advocate General, Dhyan Chinnappa, who represented the Government.
The Court stated in the order as follows :
"...we make it exclusively clear that on no ground whatsoever any candidate will be prevented from attending his examinations. All logistical support shall be extended to such candidates who require medical attention, transportation, food in case of covid patients and other facilities. Respondent authorities shall also make sure that not only inside the examination hall but outside the hall the conditions prescribed under the SOP issued by Ministry of health affairs and SOP by state from time to time, is scrupulously/strictly followed. State shall ensure that all necessary instruction and information is issued to authorities for ensuring that no candidate or their parents and guardians accompanying them are prevented from leaving their place of residence on account of same being in containment zones or otherwise. If necessary on a case to case basis they shall provide transportation not only to candidates who may be tested positive for covid but also to those candidates who may be in need of such transportation.
Respodent authorities shall also ensure that on account of non compliance of Sop. Namely not informing authorities about covid-19 status in advance or non production of medical certificate from physician, certifying that candidate is fit to write the examination and furnishing risk consent as a ground to prohibit from taking up the exam. For reasons aforestated the interim prayer sought for stands rejected".
The bench comprising Justices Aravind Kumar and M I Arun told the petitioners that they came belatedly to the court, challenging the KCET notification issued on May 13.
"You came at the last moment. What were you doing for two months?", the bench said.
Yesterday, a bench headed by Chief Justice Abay S Oka had directed the State Government to reconsider the decision to hold Karnataka Common Entrance Test(KCET) amid the rising cases of COVID-19 in the state.
Today, the Government told the HC that it has decided to go ahead with the KCET as scheduled on July 30, 31 and August 1.
#KCET2020— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) July 29, 2020
Read the operative portion of the order of Karnataka HC which clarified that no student should be disallowed from attending #KCETExams on the ground on not fulfilling conditions in SOP. The bench however refused the prayer to stay the exams.#KCETStudensInHCForJustice pic.twitter.com/IcK6EkS13o
The directions of Karnataka HC in pleas challenging #KCET :— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) July 29, 2020
1. No stay of exams.
2. All students who come to give examination should be allowed to write CET
3. Transport should not be restricted to COVID-19 positive cases
4. SOP to be uploaded to KEA web portal before 8pm today https://t.co/05XYUQsHTL
As happened during the oral hearing:
The case was heard today by a bench comprising Justices Aravind Kumar and M I Arun as Chief Justice AS Oka was not available today.
During the hearing, the bench, expressed dissatisfaction with the Standard Operating Procedure formulated by the State government on July 18 observing that it was framed without considering relevant aspect.
"From the date of announcing the CET schedule (May 18), there is a marked change. The SOP framed on July 18 does not address many aspects. Can we put the students to danger?", the bench asked Dhyan Chinnappa, Additional Advocate General, who appeared for the Karnataka Government.
"You came out with the SOP late", the bench told the AAG.
The bench also observed that the decision was taken in a "hurry" and asked if any "irreparable harm or injury" will be caused if the exams are postponed.
The AAG replied that the postponement of exams will result in a "financial drain to the exchequer as arrangements have already been made".
Asserting that the decision to go ahead with the exams was taken after considering all aspects, the AAG submitted "Today we are in a state of preparedness and students are also prepared and so we should go ahead with the exams".
The bench elaborately quizzed the AAG with respect to various scenarios that could arise on account of COVID-19. When the AAG submitted that so far 40 candidates are reported COVID-19 positive and that ambulances will be arranged for them to write exams in special rooms, the bench asked: "suppose a student gets COVID-19 positive report today or tomorrow morning, then what will you do?"
To this, the AAG said that he does not have an answer, but added: "I am told that we are accepting request from COVID patients till the last date".
The bench also asked the AAG if a second opportunity will be given to students who miss KCET. The AAG replied that so far the government has not taken a decision on that.
The bench also expressed doubts over the workability of the clause in the SOP, as per which a student from Containment Zone will be allowed to come out along with parents on showing the hall ticket.
The bench observed that there are chances of the officer standing at the ground refusing such passage for students or parents, despite the SOP.
The AAG told the bench that 1,84,368 students have downloaded the hall tickets and it is "neither feasible nor proper in the larger interests of students" to stop carrying out the exams.
The written submission submitted by the Government stated that special arrangements will be made for the transport of students from containment zones. As per the SOP, the exam centres will be sanitized, and special rooms will be arranged for students showing symptoms.
Allowing students to come out of containment zones leads to dilution of COVID-19 guidelines: Submission by petitioners
Senior Advocate AS Ponnanna, appearing in the petition filed by National Students Union of India, submitted that allowing students to come out from containment zones will lead to dilution of the COVID-19 guidelines framed by the Central Government. He pointed out that as per the "unlock" guidelines of the Ministry of Home Affairs, containment zones are supposed to be under complete lockdown. He stressed that in Bengaluru city alone, there are over 12,000 containment zones.
When the KCET notification was issued on May 13, the state had roughly 1,100 cases. Now it has crossed one lakh cases. This drastic change in circumstances has not been properly considered by the State.
Also, SOP says that students from outside state will be considered as "business travellers" and will be exempted from quarantine for the purpose of KCET. This is contrary to guidelines of Centre and defeats the purpose of quarantine.
He highlighted that all major central exams have been postponed taking note of COVID-19. NEET has been postponed from July 27 to September 13. JEE scheduled from July 18 to 23 is postponed to Sept 1 to 6. PGCET is also postponed from August 8/9. The neighbouring state of Telangana postponed the entrance exams.
"All of us are aware that COVID-19 is rapidly spreading. Condition is not conducive to hold exams where around 2 lakh students are going to be appearing. Students should not be made to suffer", he submitted.
Ponnanna : SOP says students from outside state will be considered as business travellers. So, they are exempted from quarantine for the purpose of #KCET. This is contrary to guidelines of Centre, and defeats the purpose of quarantine.#KCETStudentsInHCForJustice— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) July 29, 2020
SOP unworkable, petitioners submit
Advocate Anil Kumar, appearing for petitioner Pradeep Kumar, submitted that the SOP is not made known to the students, and is not even uploaded in the website.
He also said that the comparison drawn by the State with the conduct of SSLC exams was not appropriate, as the situation has drastically changed after that.
The SOP only deals with Exam on July 30 and 31, does not deal with August 1 exam.
He also submitted that the State has not clarified how many rooms will be made available for exams.
"SOP says only 24 students per room. 497 rooms are not enough for that. Then, approx 8300 will have to be provided. The state has to clarify", he submitted.
He clarified that the petitioner was not seeking cancellation of the exam but its postponement.
Advocate Abdulla Mannan Khan, appearing in the third petition, submitted that the thermal scan procedure at exam centres can be circumvented by consuming paracetamol tablet.
This will lead to many COVID-19 patients being undetected at exam centres. He pointed out that the entrance test in Kerala had led to few COIVD-19 positive cases.
Comparison with SSLC exams is not correct. In SSLC, a student who misses the exam is allowed to re-appear. In #KCET, there is no second exam, no second opportunity : Adv Ani Kumar.— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) July 29, 2020
@nsui @NSUIKarnataka #COVID19 #KCETStudentsInHCForJustice #KarnatakaCOVID#KCET
Yesterday, while asking the State to reconsider the decision on KCET, Chief Justice AS Oka had observed
"During the last two weeks, every day around 5,000 positive cases are detected in the state and around 1500 cases were reported daily from Bengaluru. There are more than 5000 containment zones in Bengaluru. The SOP of government says that no one is allowed to leave Containment Zones. Moreover, Public transport will not be available too. There is a possibility of students missing out on the exam".
In the light of these factors, the bench had directed the State to reconsider the question of holding the CET and to inform its fresh decision to the Court today.
The writ petitions were filed by: 1) Group of Students and NSUI 2) Adv Pradeep 3) Adv Abdullah Mannan Khan.
The petitioners submitted that conducting the exams under "such dreadful conditions" was arbitrary and risky to the health and safety of students, leading to violation of fundamental rights under Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
The petitioners also highlighted that students in containment zones will face difficulties in attending the examination, resulting in denial of equal opportunities to the student community, which is a violation of the equality clause under Article 14 of the Constitution.