Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who has strongly opposed medical and engineering entrance exams in September on account of the coronavirus crisis, said today that he did not favour a gap year, just postponement by two or three months.
Amarinder Singh is among the seven Chief Ministers who have decided to request the Supreme Court to put off the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) to be held in September.
"A gap year will be difficult. We cannot have double exams next year. All we are asking for is a two-three month delay," Amarinder Singh said in an interview to NDTV.
The priority, he said, was to save people from Covid-19. "Number two is the selection process. You cannot have the selection process and then save people from Covid. No, the opposite," Mr Singh said.
The Chief Minister said experts had predicted that virus cases would peak in Punjab in September.
"My peak is expected between September 20 and 24. We are likely to touch 3,000 deaths and 1,10,000 cases. Are we interested in the health of our children or are we interested in some exam," he questioned.
Mr Singh said what was most worrying was the economic divide between students. The poor students, because of the lack of means, would be deprived of the opportunity that should be for them, he remarked.
"Those who are well to-do will reach the exam centres. But what about those who are in villages, how will they approach? Punjab still has proper roads, but what about the rest of the country? The poor, who should have got the opportunity, will suffer. That is why it should be delayed."
Mr Singh said his government had received no information about arrangements for the exams, which will start on September 1. "The Centre has not even communicated properly with us so that we can make arrangements. We are in the middle of a Covid crisis. Why can't you do the exams in November, December? Why only in September? Let the peak go," he said.
The Chief Ministers of non-BJP states would go to the Supreme Court on behalf of the parents of children, he said. "Our petition will say that everyone should have equal rights. And the poor children will not get equal rights in this."
The JEE is scheduled from September 1 to 6 and the NEET exam is to be held on September 13. The Supreme Court had last week rejected a petition by 11 students from 11 states asking for the exams to be deferred, saying: "Life cannot be stopped... Are students ready to waste one whole year?"
At a meeting called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee yesterday, the Chief Ministers had expressed concern that states would be blamed and the Centre would put the onus of conducting the exams on them, including arranging transportation and accommodation for students.