West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday urged Opposition leaders to together move the Supreme Court against the Centre’s decision to go ahead with the national-level Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Mains and National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) amid rising coronavirus cases in India, NDTV reported. She said the decision was inflicting “mental agony” on students.
Banerjee was speaking at a meeting convened by interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi with the chief ministers of seven states, to evolve a united strategy to pressure the government to postpone the exams. Besides them, the meeting was attended by Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren and chief ministers of four Congress-ruled states.
“Let us go to the Supreme Court,” Banerjee told the leaders. “Let us talk about this matter. This is a mental agony for students. I have not seen so many atrocities in a democracy. The situation is very serious. We have to speak up for the children.”
The chief minister also referred to the two letters she wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this week, seeking postponement of the entrance exams. She added that the state governments have been “bulldozed” by the Centre in the name of cooperative federalism, according to PTI.
Banerjee’s suggestion to move the top court found support from Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, ANI reported. He also agreed with Banerjee’s suggestion that all chief ministers should jointly meet the prime minister, as their states have not received Goods and Services Tax compensation.
Gandhi said the Centre’s resolve to conduct the NEET-JEE under the current circumstances exemplified the ruling dispensation’s “uncaring attitude”, News18 reported. “It should really worry us,” she was quoted as saying. “Other problems of students are also being dealt with uncaringly.”
The Congress chief added that announcements like the National Education Policy was a cause of worry for the Opposition as they were a “setback for progressive secular and scientific values.” She said these policies reveal the insensitivity of the government.
Soren, meanwhile, pointed out to the logistical hurdles in holding the examinations in the middle of intermittent lockdowns imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19. “We will have to start the transportation system, open hostels, buildings to conduct exams – and under a Covid-19 lockdown – this is difficult,” he said.
The Jharkhand chief minister added that the Opposition leaders should first go to Modi or President Ram Nath Kovind with their demands, before approaching the Supreme Court.
Thackeray also voiced his opposition to the Centre’s decision by drawing parallels between India and the United States. “There was a report from the US that about 97,000 children were infected by Covid-19 when schools were opened,” Thackeray said at the meeting. “What will we do if such a situation arises here?”
The Maharashtra chief minister said leaders should work and fight together against the Central government. “We have to decide whether we want to fear or fight the government,” he added. “The people who that elected the BJP at the centre also elected all of us. But if we do something it is paap [sin] and if they do anything then it is punya [virtuous]?”
Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy warned that the Centre’s decision will lead to a surge in coronavirus cases in the country. “The Government of India will be responsible for it,” he added. “We will jointly fight the battle against the Central government on this issue.”
The meeting came a day after the National Testing Agency, which is responsible for conducting both NEET and JEE, said that it will not change the schedule of the exams. JEE will be conducted from September 1 to 6, while NEET will be held on September 13. Nearly 8.58 lakh and 15.97 lakh candidates have registered for the JEE (Main) and NEET examinations, respectively.
The organisation also released a set of safety guidelines for the exams, which include thermal scanning and staggered entry of students into centres. Students will also have to wear masks and carry hand sanitisers.
The Centre has been facing escalating demands from political leaders and student organisations to push back the examinations. They have argued that the current circumstances are not conducive to hold exams. However, Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal on Tuesday defended the Centre’s decision and claimed the government was under pressure from parents and students to conduct the tests.