The National Testing Agency (NTA) is all set to conduct the engineering entrance exam JEE-Mains from Tuesday amid elaborate arrangements to maintain social distancing at centres in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the governments of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have assured students that they will provide transportation to candidates, a group of IIT alumni and students have also launched a portal to provide transport facilities to exam centres for the candidates in need.
Union Minister of Education Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' has appealed to the chief ministers of various states to support the students appearing for the exam.
There has been a growing chorus for postponing JEE-Mains and medical entrance exam NEET amid the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
The Joint Entrance Examination (JEE)-Mains for admission to engineering courses in IITs, NITs and Centrally Funded Technical Institutions (CFTIs) is scheduled to be held from September 1 to 6. The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) is scheduled on September 13.
As many as 8.58 lakh candidates have registered for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE)-Main and 15.97 lakh have registered for NEET.
"I appeal to chief ministers of all states that support our students in such unprecedented circumstances and make appropriate arrangements so the aspirants do not have to face any inconvenience. I also appeal to students to have faith in agencies behind conduct of the examination," the Education Minister said.
Increasing the number of examination centres, alternate seating plans, fewer candidates per room and staggered entry and exit are among the steps the National Testing Agency has taken for safely conducting NEET and JEE.
According to NTA officials, before the start of each exam shift and after the last shift ends, all seats will be thoroughly sanitised and the work stations and keyboards will be disinfected.
"Hand sanitisers will be available at the entrance of the examination centre and inside the exam hall at all times. The usual process of checking the admit cards of candidates will be replaced with barcode readers, which have been made available to the examination centre authorities," an official said.
"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 3-ply mask at the time of entry and expected to wear the same during the examination in order to avoid any form of unfair means at the time of examination," the official said.
There have been demands from several students and parents to further postpone the entrance exams in view of the increasing number of coronavirus cases.
Several opposition leaders including Congress' Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik, DMK President MK Stalin and Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia have also demanded that the exams be postponed.
The Supreme Court had earlier dismissed a plea seeking postponement of the two exams amid a spurt in the number of COVID-19 cases, saying a "precious year" of students cannot be wasted and life has to go on.
With barely days left for the JEE exams to start, the issue had escalated into a full blown political battle last week with ministers from six states -- 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 SC to review its order of conducting JEE and NEET UG 2020 entrance tests during the novel coronavirus crises.
The crucial exams have already been deferred twice in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The JEE-Main was originally scheduled to be held from April 7-11, but was postponed to July 18-23, the NEET-UG was originally scheduled for May 3, but was pushed to July 26. They were postponed again and are now scheduled in September.
Based on the results of the JEE-Mains Paper 1 and Paper 2, the top 2.45 lakh candidates will be eligible to appear for the JEE-Advanced exam, which is a one-stop exam to get admission into the 23 premier Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). JEE-Advanced is scheduled to take place on September 27.