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Yesterday, the Karnataka High Court had asked the state government to reconsider its decision to conduct the Karnataka CET amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Karnataka High Court today held that this year's Karnataka Common Entrance Test (KCET) examination cannot be stalled, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread in the state.
The Court thus refused to grant interim relief in terms of postponing or cancelling the exam, which is scheduled to be held on July 30, 31 and August 1.
The Division Bench of Justices Aravind Kumar and MI Arun passed the order in the matter today since Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka was unavailable.
The Bench further directed in its order that on no ground should a student be denied the opportunity to write the exam. It further directed the authorities to provide transport to students on a case-to-case basis, and not just to COVID positive students.
The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is required to be uploaded on the Karnataka Examinations Authority website by 8 PM today.
Additional Advocate General Dhyan Chinnappa today informed the Court of the state government's decision to go ahead with the exams on the scheduled dates of July 30 and 31.
Appearing for the petitioners, Senior Advocate AS Ponnanna submitted that the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for conducting KCET for COVID positive students was initially issued on May 17. He pointed out that now, there are over 50,000 cases in Bangalore city alone. On the date the notification for the exam was issued, the number of cases was considerably less, Ponnanna argued.
"Environment is not fit enough to conduct an exam", he said.
The state government then submitted that 1,881 students are coming from outside Karnataka to write the exam. Out of these, 1,300 students are expected to come to Bangalore.
Ponnanna further pointed out that containment zones in the city are changing everyday.
"10,978 containment zones are there at present, they are only increasing by the day. One containment zone (in Bangalore West) has about 12,150 households", he said.
At this point, the Bench asked,
"How many students are there in containment zones? We cannot presume. SSLC exams was conducted and 8 lakh students wrote the exams."
Ponnanna then referred to yesterday's direction of the High Court to the state government to reconsider its decision to conduct the exam. He went on to argue,
"You cannot dilute containment zones. You cannot put health of the public at risk. It is violative of Articles 14 and 21."
Answering the Bench's query on other exams, the Senior Advocate said that the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) have been postponed.
The Bench then asked whether other states have permitted conduct of similar exams. Ponnanna informed the Bench that except Kerala, no other state has been conducting exams during the pandemic.
Advocate Anil Kumar, appearing for the petitioners, was next to make submissions. He said,
"Lockdown is still continuing in containment zones. State government cannot go against Central government order."
When the Bench asked for the total number of containment zones, district and taluk-wise, Kumar said that the state government has not done any exercise to find out the number of students in containment zones.
Kumar then referred to an email sent by a student who had test positive for COVID-19. On perusing the same, the Bench said,
"Check the last line, it says 'we have not been able to study due to COVID-19'."
The Bench then queried as to whether a second chance could be given to those who do not write the CET.
AAG Chinnappa then said that over 1 lakh students have downloaded the hall ticket for the exam. To this, the Bench said,
"Downloaded is correct, we don't know about writing the exam."
Kumar then said,
"Many students are coming from far off places...COVID students have to come in their own ambulances. They have to make their own arrangements. Many patients may not be able to get ambulances. If one person gets COVID now, whom should he contact?"
He further pointed out that the number of examination halls provided by the state government was not enough.
"497 rooms are not enough as maximum 24 students will be permitted in each room. State has to clarify whether they have more rooms. If we divide it, approx 8,300 rooms will have to be provided."
Concluding his submissions, Kumar said,
"We are not asking for cancellation, let them postpone it. This has been done in a hurry."
Advocate Abdulla Mannan Khan was next to argue before the Court. He said,
"Thermal screening is not sufficient. Lot of undetected cases will also be there in the centres. Certain positive cases are missing from hospitals, we have no information about them."
He also informed the Court that when exams were conducted in Kerala, students were infected with COVID-19.
"There is Twitter trend to postpone KCET #kcetpostpone exam. About 52,000 students have retweeted."
Khan further pointed out that CET was a career-defining exam, unlike the SSLC exams that were recently conducted in the state.
Turning to AAG Chinnappa, the Court,
"Instead of Court passing an order, we thought the wisdom of the state government would prevail. If anyone misses the exam, will you give them another window?"
When Chinnappa responded that a decision to that effect was yet to be taken, the Bench asked for a categorical statement.
The AAG then informed the Bench,
"I am instructed to say that since CET is a competitive exam, a second chance may not be possible."
Chinnappa then submitted that only 40 students giving the exam were COVID-positive. In response, the Bench said,
Karnataka High Court
The Bench went on to note,
"From May 13 till now, there has been tremendous change in the COVID situation. Can we put lives of young boys and girls in danger?"
The Court further queried,
"What is this risk consent? What is the format, where is it uploaded, from where should students get it?
Which medical practitioner will give a certificate to COVID patient saying that he is fit to write exam? There are no clinics now."
Chinnappa submitted that transportation will be provided for CET students, centres will be sanitized, COVID-positive students will be kept in separate rooms, students from containment zones will also be taken care of, and students from other states will be treated as "business travellers".
The Bench then asked,
"How will you identify COVID positive students?"
"First, they have to register with Karnataka Examination Authority. Then an ambulance will transport them to designated exam center."
The Bench responded,
"What if they were declared COVID positive yesterday? Then what if they are denied saying that they did not register earlier?"
The Court went on to query,
"What injury will be caused to you if KCET is postponed? Is there any irreparable/disproportionate financial damage?"
To this, Chinnappa said,
"Financial injury is there. All facilities have been set up, we are in a state of preparedness. Students are also mentally prepared to write exams now."
The Bench proceeded to break for two hours.
On resumption, the Court posed two questions to the state government:
What happens if COVID positive students are unable to produce certificate from medical practitioner saying he/she is fit to write exam?
What happens if risk consent is not there?
The Bench also asked if the State was ready to provide transportation for candidates from containment zones.
AAG Chinnappa replied,
"We have made buses available throughout all wards. If we receive specific requests, we will cater to it."
The Court ultimately decided against postponing or cancelling the exam.
Yesterday, the Karnataka High Court had asked the state government to reconsider its decision to conduct the KCET amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A Division Bench of Chief consisting of Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice H P Sandesh had passed the order.
The reasons that had prompted the Court to pass the above order included the large spike of COVID-19 cases in the state, the inability of persons to step out of containment zones, lack of provision for public transport etc.
This direction was passed by the Court while dealing with a batch of petitions challenging the decision of the Karnataka Examinations Authority (KEA) to conduct the Karnataka Common Entrance Test (KCET) amid the COVID-19 pandemic [Eric E Steaphenes and ors v. State of Karnataka].
[Read order here]