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The Court has asked the Solicitor General to consult with concerned Ministries on if it can be ensured that students overseas return to India via Vande Bharat mission flights in time to write the September 13 NEET exam
The Supreme Court today declined the prayer to direct the National Testing Agency (NTA) to set up National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) exam centres abroad for the benefit of students residing overseas amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the Court has asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to consult with the concerned government ministries on whether it can be ensured that such students return to India via Vande Bharat mission flights in time for writing the September 13 NEET exam. The Court said,
The order passed by the Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupt and S Ravindra Bhat today contains the following directions:
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to speak to concerned ministries to ensure aspirants from the Middle East are permitted to return to India in Vande Bharat Mission flights.
Incoming students to ensure that 14-day COVID-19 quarantine is followed in interest of public health.
The petitioners are permitted to approach the concerned State government seeking a relaxation of the quarantine period for incoming students.
"Solicitor, you please communicate to the concerned ministries that these people may be allowed to come back for the exams", the Court orally instructed today.
SG Mehta responded that, "subject to quarantine requirements and establishing that they are coming for exam purpose, it can be done."
Addressing the counsel for the petitioner Haris Beeran, the Court said,
"You ask your clients to come back now so that quarantine is taken care of. We have to consider public health also. This year it's too late to help the students."
During the hearing, Beeran also argued that there were students abroad who intended to write both the NEET and Joint Entrance Exams (JEE).
The petitioner has highlighted that the decision to conduct the JEE (September 1-6) and NEET exams (September 13) with only a 6-day gap in between would put such students in a fix.
The Court, however, orally observed,
"We don't know how it is happening outside, but in India, those who write NEET usually don't write any other exams. The subject stream in 10+2 is different. Students usually start preparing from an early class for medical entrance."
"I have taken instructions, upto 60% of the aspirants want to write both NEET and JEE."
"Maybe they are from IB, there are some IB students here also", the Court mused.
Nevertheless, the Court eventually declined to pass orders on this issue, observing that no such student (who had opted to write both exams and to write the JEE abroad) was before the Court.
The petition before the Supreme Court challenged the Kerala High Court's dismissal of a plea seeking the setting up of NEET centres overseas or, alternatively, the exam's postponement until the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
A petition seeking directions to the Centre and the National Testing Agency (NTA) to this end, moved by General Secretary of the Kerala Muslim Culture Centre, Qatar, Abdul Azeez, was rejected by a High Court Division Bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly. This prompted the petitioners to approach the Supreme Court.
The plea in the Supreme Court was filed through Advocate Pallavi Pratap.
The plea states that there are 4,000 such students registered with NEET-UG from Qatar who are facing difficulties in getting their documents attested from the Embassy of India in Qatar.
The petitioner states that earlier, the NEET exams were scheduled to be held in May 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exams were rescheduled to July 26. The students had already booked their tickets to India to participate in their exam. However, since there is a ban on international travel by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), it is not feasible for the students to attend the exam in India.
It is also averred that though flights have begun operating via the Vande Bharat mission, the candidates have not been able to get seats in the said flights.
In July, the Supreme Court had issued notice to Centre and the Medical Council of India on this petition.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition seeking the postponement of NEET and the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) scheduled to be held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following the verdict, the Union Government on Friday also stated that the NEET and JEE exams will not be postponed.