Six non-BJP states move SC seeking deferment of exams
Ministers of six states ruled by non-BJP parties approached the Supreme Court on Friday, seeking review of a top court order that allowed the National Testing Agency (NTA) and central government to hold the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) in September in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“If the order of August 17, 2020 is not reviewed, then grave and irreparable harm and injury will befall the student community of our country...,” the petition filed through advocate Sunil Fernandes said. It added that not only health, welfare and safety of students appearing for NEET and JEE will be at risk but also the “public health at large would be in severe jeopardy”.
The petition was filed by ministers Moloy Ghatak (West Bengal), Rameshwar Oraon (Jharkhand), Raghu Sharma (Rajasthan), Amarjeet Bhagat (Chhattisgarh), Balbir Singh Sidhu (Punjab) and Uday Ravindra Samant (Maharashtra) in their individual capacity.
On July 3, NTA, the central government body tasked with conducting JEE and NEET, came out with public notices to hold the exams in September. NEET, for students seeking admission to medical and dental courses, is slated for September 13. JEE, for those aspiring to join top engineering schools, is scheduled to be conducted from September 1 to 6.
A three-judge bench headed by justice Arun Mishra, on August 17, rejected a plea by 11 NEET/JEE candidates seeking postponement of the exams until after the Covid-19 crisis.
Justice Mishra, while hearing that case, said “life has to go on” despite the outbreak of the viral disease and the court cannot put the career of students in jeopardy by interfering with NTA’s decision of to hold the examinations in September.
In response to this remark, the petitioners submitted on Friday that the “advice of ‘Life Must Go On’ may have very sound philosophical underpinnings but cannot be a substitute for valid legal reasoning and logical analysis of the various aspects involved in the conduct of the NEET UG and JEE exams.”
The chorus against the medical and engineering entrance tests has been growing with opposition leaders, including Congress’s Rahul Gandhi and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, backing a section of students in seeking postponement of the exams. On Wednesday, chief ministers of several Opposition-ruled states discussed the matter.
In a recent interview to HT, Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” requested his “colleagues across the political spectrum to abide by the orders of the honourable Supreme Court” and leave politics aside. “I feel that this government is very empathetic and considerate to the cause of the students. Academic career is very important, and a zero academic year will cause tremendous loss to the students,” he said. He added that he every day he receives “innumerable mails from the silent majority” seeking the exams.
“Only two reasons that can be discerned from the (August 17) order for dismissal of the petition — life must go on and students should not lose an academic year. With utmost respect, both the reasons, even if cumulatively taken, do not constitute an authoritative and comprehensive judicial scrutiny of the issue,” the review petition said.
A review petition is a legal remedy available after the Supreme Court has pronounced its judgment in a case. The grounds for filing a review petition are limited and the petitioners seeking review should show that a new fact or evidence has come to light or that the court committed an obvious or apparent error while delivering its judgment. It is not necessary that a review petition should be filed only by those who were parties to the original case. However, the court is cautious while entertaining review petition filed by non-parties.
In this case, none of the ministers, who have filed the review petition, were parties before the Supreme Court in the plea filed by the 11 students.
“The petitioners are all eminent citizens with impeccable record of public service and have the necessary standing to make some pertinent submissions before the Supreme Court on this subject. Though they weren’t formal parties in the (main) petition filed by 11 students, we would seek Supreme Court’s permission to allow them to file the review petition, as per Supreme Court practice,” Sunil Fernandes told HT.
The petitioners highlighted that students from rural areas and semi-urban areas might be forced to use unsafe modes of transportation to reach examination centres and would thereby expose themselves and everyone else to Covid -19. Besides, students residing in distant placed will find it difficult to reach examination centres due to limited availability of transportation services during Covid -19.
They also pointed out that certain states have inadequate examinations centres which will make implementation of social distancing norms impossible.