The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to bring National Eligibility cum Entrance Test or NEET aspirants from foreign countries back to India on Vande Bharat flights for their examination and dismissed a petition to set up exam centres abroad, Bar and Bench reported. The Vande Bharat flights are meant to evacuate Indian citizens stranded abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The court’s order came on a petition challenging the Kerala High Court’s decision to turn down a request to establish online exam centres for students in West Asian countries.

The top court bench, comprising justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat, directed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to speak to officials in West Asian countries to make travel arrangements for the students.

The bench said that the students must follow the 14-day quarantine norm and can approach the state governments with their request to relax isolation rules.

The solicitor general told the top court that students from abroad may be allowed to take their exam in India “subject to quarantine requirements and by establishing that they are coming for exam purposes.”

The petitioner, meanwhile, argued before the court that the National Testing Agency had allowed the JEE exam to be held in online mode and set up centres in Doha, Muscat and Dubai, while no such exception was made for NEET aspirants, according to Live Law.

The top court told the petitioners’ lawyer that it had to keep public health in mind too and the students had enough time reach India for the exam, which is scheduled to be held on September 13. “You ask your clients to come back now so that quarantine is taken care of,” the bench said. “We have to consider public health also. This year it’s too late to help the students.”

Last week, the Supreme Court had dismissed the plea of students to postpone the NEET and Joint Entrance Examination for engineering aspirants amid the coronavirus crisis. The court had said that the exams will be held in September as per schedule. The petitioners had argued that conducting the exams would be dangerous amid an alarming increase in coronavirus cases in India.

India has reported 31,06,348 coronavirus cases and 57,542 deaths so far, according to data from the Union health ministry.

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