After JEE Main, the National Testing Agency (NTA) is gearing up for conducting the medical entrance exam NEET, scheduled to be held on September 13, for which over 15 lakh candidates have registered. The Joint Entrance Exam (JEE Main), which began on September 1 for admission to engineering colleges, concluded on Sunday.
The exams are being conducted in September after being postponed twice in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to NTA officials, 15.97 lakh candidates from across the country have registered for NEET, which is a pen-paper based test unlike JEE.
To maintain social distancing, the NTA has increased the number of centres from 2,546 to 3,843 for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) while the number of candidates per room has been reduced from earlier 24 to 12.
“For ensuring social distancing outside the examination hall, the entry and exit of candidates has been staggered. Adequate arrangements have also been made outside the examination centres to enable candidates stand with social distancing while waiting,” a senior NTA official said.
“Candidates have also been issued an advisory guiding them about the ‘dos and don’ts’ for proper social distancing. We have also written to State governments to extend support in local movement of the candidates so that they are able to reach their examination centres on time,” the official added.
Making hand sanitisers available at the entrance of the examination centre and inside the exam hall at all times, replacing the process of checking the admit cards of candidates with bar-code readers, increasing the number of examination centres, alternate seating plans, fewer candidates per room and staggered entry and exit are among the steps the NTA has taken.
“While all the candidates will be asked to go to the exam centres with masks and sanitisers, once they enter the centre, they will have to use the masks provided by the examination authority.
“Each candidate will be offered a three-ply mask at the time of entry and are expected to wear the same during the examination to avoid any form of unfair means at the time of examination,” the official added.
While the governments of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have assured students that they will provide them transportation, a group of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumni and students have also launched a portal to provide transport facilities to exam centres for the candidates in need.
The Metro Railway in Kolkata is planning to run special services for NEET candidates on September 13 to help them reach examination centres.
“As per the plan, candidates along with guardians will be allowed to board the trains on showing their admit cards,” according to Metro Railway general manager Manoj Joshi.
There has been a growing chorus for postponing the exams amid the rising number of COVID-19 cases. The Supreme Court had earlier dismissed a plea seeking postponement of the two exams amid a spurt in the number of cases, saying a “precious year” of students cannot be wasted and life has to go on.
Several opposition leaders, including Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik, DMK president M.K. Stalin and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had also demanded that the exams be postponed.
With barely days left for the JEE exams to start, the issue had escalated into a full-blown political battle with Ministers from Rajasthan and Punjab (Congress), West Bengal (Trinamool Congress), Jharkhand (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha), Maharashtra (Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena) seeking postponement of the exams “in a manner that achieved the twin objectives of ensuring that the academic year of the students is not wasted and their health and safety is not compromised.”
They filed a petition in the apex court to review its order of conducting JEE and NEET UG 2020 entrance tests during the coronavirus crises. However, the plea was dismissed by the Supreme Court.
The NEET-UG was originally scheduled for May 3, but was pushed to July 26 and then scheduled for September 13.