More than 2mn students will sit for admission tests to medical and engineering schools next week, the government said on Wednesday, despite growing concern that the move could fuel a jump in coronavirus infections.
India reported more than 60,000 infections, maintaining the world's highest single-day caseload since August 7, a Health Ministry tally showed.
With 3.2mn cases, it ranks after the United States and Brazil, though its 59,449 deaths are far fewer.
Now the government is pushing for a return to normalcy to lessen the economic pain, after having imposed a strict early lockdown in March.
"We are very mindful of the safety of our students, we will take full precautions," Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal told Doordarshan TV, adding that the tests had to be held to ensure students did not lose a year.
“A lot of parents had written to us asking when the exams will be held and how long a child can keep preparing for exams, which is why we decided to go ahead with exams,” Pokhriyal said.
Already twice postponed this year, the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) will be spread over several days and held at more centres than usual, to ensure there is no crowding.
But many students have to travel long distances and there was a risk of infections, said the All-India Students' Union, a leftist group that represents university students.
It urged students to wear black armbands and join online protests to put pressure on the government to delay the tests until infections fall.
Yestedray Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh asked Advocate General Atul Nanda to co-ordinate with his counterparts in other states for filing a collective petition in the Supreme Court seeking postponment of the tests.
This followed a virtual meeting convened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi with chief ministers of seven opposition-ruled states.
There was no time to seek time from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the issue, Singh said.
"Let us all get together to move the Supreme Court for postponement of the exams, which are threatening the lives of students," he said.
He suggested that the JEE, NEET and other professional exams could be held online and there was no need to put the students at risk.
A source in the Home Minmistry, which has been co-ordinating the lockdown and reopening efforts - clarified there was no plan to postpone the exams as yet.
The ultimate decision however will lie with the Education Ministry, the source said.
Asked abouit letters written to the central government by Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal and Naveen Patnaik of Odisha)seeking a postponement of the exams, the source said: “That is something that needs to be looked into by the Education Ministry. They will take a call.”
The National Testing Agency (NTA) which conducts the exams has clarified that the exams will take place as scheduled.
“The Supreme Court has ordered that there is absolutely no justification in the prayer made for postponement of the examination,” the NTA said in a statement on Tuesday.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thurnberg also waded into the dispute, urging a postponement.
"It’s deeply unfair that students of India are asked to sit national exams during the Covid-19 pandemic and while millions have also been impacted by the extreme floods," Thurnberg said on Twitter on Tuesday.
Parts of eastern India are also struggling with floods caused by annual monsoon rains.
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