A group of student doctors moved the Supreme Court on Thursday asking for postponement of the NEET-PG medical entrance exams in view of a fresh wave of Covid cases across the country. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde will hear the matter tomorrow.
The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) exams are scheduled for April 18, with an estimated 1.7 lakh MBBS students and doctors having registered for the process.
The petitioners said forcing doctors, who treat COVID-19 patients on a daily basis, to attend a physical exam would put thousands of lives at risk.
They also referred to the centre’s decision to cancel the CBSE Class 10 exams, and postpone the Class 12 exams, that were scheduled to commence from May 4. Those exams were cancelled, and postponed, after an outcry by students, parents, medical experts and opposition leaders.
Over the past few weeks a similar outcry has been raised by NEET candidates, with “#postponeneetpg” trending online and a signature campaign set up online.
Earlier today DMK chief MK Stalin, whose party is a vocal critic of the NEET system, also spoke out.
“With increasing cases and fatalities, and when our doctors are fighting hard against all odds, is this the right time to hold NEET for PG courses,” Mr Stalin tweeted in Tamil.
Concern over holding exams during the pandemic – particularly when new, and potentially more infectious, strains of the virus are in circulation and vaccines (assuming students will become eligible to get the shot) are in short supply – was expressed last year too.
Those sitting for entrance tests like NEET and JEE protested vociferously, and took the matter to the Supreme Court. The top court, however, said the exams could be held with strict restrictions on contact and social distancing.
That was when the country was reporting over 90,000 new coronavirus cases a day. Now, that count has more than doubled – this morning over two lakh new cases were reported.
The National Board of Examination (NBE), which conducts entrance tests like NEET, had earlier been petitioned to postpone the exam but it declined to do so, pointing to safety guidelines that include having multiple exam centres in each state, and staggered timings for candidates.
The exam body also said it would not defer NEET because “peak of cases remains unpredictable”.
“… Considering the importance of the examination in admitting post-graduates in their respective subjects for further training, it is in the best interest of candidates to continue to hold this examination on the announced date,” the Board said in its statement.
The centre’s decision on the CBSE exams – which impacted over 35 lakh school students – was taken yesterday after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the Education Minister and top officers.
Opposition leaders, including the Congress’ Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, had called for the exams to be postponed, or held online.
Similar calls had also been issued by worried students and parents, who pointed out that children under 18 were not even allowed to be vaccinated.