Although the controversy over the holding of NEET and JEE exams is getting increasingly politicised, it is basically about how much risk is to be taken in getting back to ‘normal’ functioning. The fundamental realisation, in the months of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been that despite all the extreme measures adopted the most effective are the simple ones of wearing masks, washing or sanitising hands, and physical distancing. The last implies that work environments need to be large enough to ensure that infection does not spread between individuals. It has also been noted that certain age groups are more prone to getting infected than others.
So, the question before those planning to resume suspended activity is whether the lessons learnt can be applied effectively enough in cases like holding the NEET exams, or would it be too much of a risk. Those against the move feel that even a single young life is too precious to endanger. They have added to the mix problems like local restrictions, floods, etc., to bolster their argument. On the other hand, those entrusted with ensuring that the economic and social impact of the pandemic is as little as possible naturally have to think in terms of doing what is necessary. It must be remembered that every delay further complicates the processes for the future. In the case of the exams, it could lead to students not just losing a precious year, but also their focus on career planning.
It may be noted that the pressure being applied by society and even the courts in other sectors is towards further opening up. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has asked for resumption of Metro services, while others are seeking normal functioning of the Railways. Restrictions on inter-state travel have been greatly eased and international flights are being planned. With the greater interaction all this will involve, it is only natural that the number of cases will go up. This is being particularly witnessed in Uttarakhand these days. The answer to all of this remains the same – personal caution on preventing infection. Some are doing this well and others not so well. Some are being downright negligent. Under the circumstances, what is the guarantee that students not appearing for the exams will not get infected in their daily routine?
However, as has been pointed out by some observers, state governments have a significant role to play in holding of these exams – by ensuring spacious and sanitised environments, transporting the students to the centres, providing safe accommodation to outstation arrivals, etc. If they do not feel up to it, or refuse to take responsibility, the Centre cannot do it on its own, and the exams will have to be cancelled. But, for how long? When will the situation be considered safe enough? Those waiting for a vaccine or something like that should know it may be a couple of years before it is universally deliverable in India. These questions await an answer.