Parents of applicants for the NEET UG 2020 entrance examination, who are residing in Doha, Qatar have filed a rejoinder in their petition challenging a Kerala High Court judgment which had dismissed their plea for assigning test centers for NEET in Gulf countries.
In the the rejoinder the petitioner prays for online examination and waiving off quarantine period for students and their parents coming from other Countries.
The Rejoinder affidavit expressly denies the submissions made by the National Testing Agency (NTA) in their counter affidavit. The NTA had filed a counter affidavit before the Supreme Court, intimating that it would not be possible to have overseas examination centres for NEET 2020 because the examination is conducted in "paper book format".
In their rejoinder, the petitioners state that NTA is the recognized authority to conduct both Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) as well as NEET. JEE will be conducted both online and offline, while it has centres in India as well as abroad, continues the petitioner. In this light, it is argued that NTA has the expertise to conduct examinations abroad and therefore, the NEET-UG 2020 examination may also be conducted using the same model.
"It is to be noted that the List of examination cities for JEE (Main) 2020 as provided in the JEE information bulletin issued by NTA shows allocation of exam centres outside India are in Bahrain, Colombo, Doha, Dubai, Kathmandu, Muscat, Riyadh, Sharjah, and Singapore. Since the NTA has got expertise in conducting the entrance examinations abroad, it is respectfully submitted that for this year's NEET-UG 2020 examination, the same model may be adopted so that these students who are abroad may be able to take part in the examination without any difficulty or risks of losing their chance to attend examination."
Pointing out that the JEE Mains and NEET-UG examinations are scheduled to be conducted on September 1-6 and September 13 respectively after having been postponed twice, the petitioner argues that students who applied for both examinations, and chose centres abroad, will only be able to appear for the former but not the latter. The gap between the dates of the two entrance exams is not enough to enable students to appear for NEET in India due to the mandatory quarantine period, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, urges the Petitioner. Therefore, argue the petitioners, the decision of NTA is arbitrary.
"It is to be noted that the gap between both the JEE and NEET exams are less than the mandatory quarantine period as prescribed in OVID-19 protocol. So, even if the students manage to reach India to attend the NEET examination, they would be in Quarantine during the day of NEET-UG 2020 examination and the students will lose their opportunity to attend NEET examination. Thus the decision of (NTA) to conduct the JEE and NEET examinations by providing only 6 days gap, and without providing adequate facilities for smooth conduct of both the examinations in the interest of the welfare of the students living abroad are impractical and thus the decision of (NTA) is arbitrary."
The petitioners further refer to the Central Government's guidelines regarding 'Unlock 3.0', issued on July 29, to point out that international air travel is restricted till August 31. Even if these restrictions are lifted on August 31, urges the petitioner, "it will make it impossible for those students to attend the NEET-UG 2020 examination scheduled on 13.09.2020 in Indian Centres once after attending their JEE Mains exams on 6.09.2020 from foreign centres."
Given that students will be exposed to the risks of COVID-19, they may have to quarantine for up to 28 days depending on their destination of arrival in India, intimates the petitioner through their rejoinder.
It is further pointed out that priority of travel from Gulf countries, specifically from Qatar, to India is given to passengers with emergencies and NEET applicants, or their parents, do not fall in the list of priority travel. In addition to this, the frequency of repatriation flights from Qatar to India is low. Therefore, it is extremely doubtful that all NEET applicants would even be able to travel back to India for the examination, submit the petitioners.
In conclusion, it has been further informed that the Indian consulate in Qatar has shown willingness to provide facilities in Qatar to conduct the examination there itself. In this light, it is suggested that consulates in Gulf countries may be asked to act as "custodians of Question paper" if a decision is taken to conduct the exam in paper book format. In the absence of the same, it is urged that online examination be conducted.
Reiterating their prayer, the petitioners urge that the risk of losing an academic year, having prepared for the exam over a few years, would cause severe mental trauma to the students.
Earlier, in its counter affidavit, the NTA stood by the decision of Kerala High Court and submitted as follows-
"the manner as to how examinations have to be conducted is a policy decision and, is, purely within the domain of the examining body viz., MCI and whether centres for conducting such examination should be provided in foreign countries, is in the province of MCI, to decide. MCI has taken its decision and, there is nothing on record which shows that the said decision of MCI is arbitrary or illegal."
In their counter, it was further informed that the NTA had duly consulted with the MCI regarding the students' demand for overseas test centers. However, the MCI has clarified that as the examination is conducted through Multiple Choice Questions in paper book format given to all candidates and, uniformity has to be maintained for all candidates, therefore, NEET (UG) examination should not be conducted in online mode for candidates abroad.
Highlighting the practical difficulty in fulfilling the students' demands, the counter affidavit stated-
"examination cannot be conducted in abroad cities due to the fact, as already stated, NEET (UG) has to be conducted in single shift at the same time, on the same day to maintain uniformity and, further, the questions papers and other exam materials are to be transported from NTA headquarters to a large number of examination centres in various cities, which would require meticulous planning for safe and secured delivery of the same at the examination centres on time."
The petition was filed by Advocate Haris Beeran and Pallavi Pratap on behalf of parents of students who are applicants for the NEET UG 2020 entrance examination and reside in Doha, Qatar, challenges the Kerala High Court judgement which dismissed the plea holding that the Court cannot issue directions to the Medical Council of India and National Testing Agency as they were expert bodies.
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