As students continue their online campaign to get NEET and JEE - entrance exams to medical colleges and IITs - postponed over Covid fears and concerns over travel during the pandemic, and opposition parties join in the chorus, a centre vs state war has broken out.
On Wednesday afternoon Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren cautioned his counterparts that the centre would put the onus of conducting these exams on them, including arranging for transportation and accommodation of out-of-station students.
"Exams must happen, but we are hurrying up. Situation in my state is that we have very few centres. To accommodate these students, we will have to open all hotels and buses. Chances of contracting Covid will be higher. Centre must facilitate by taking more time, otherwise centre will blame states all over again if something goes wrong," Mr Soren said.
"We will have to jointly raise these issues," he added, addressing a virtual meet of opposition chief ministers, called by Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
Hours later his warning bore fruit. By Wednesday evening the National Testing Agency (NTA), which is tasked by the central government with conducting entrance exams for higher educational institutions, released a statement detailing responsibilities.
"NTA has also written to state governments, on August 12 and August 25, for facilitating local movement of candidates, so that they are able to reach their examination centres on time. NTA has also issued letters to various other state authorities, seeking their cooperation for the conduct of JEE (Main) and NEET (UG) between September 1 and 6, and on September 13, respectively," the statement said.
According to the statement the Chief Secretaries of all states had been written to, asking for relaxation of inter-district movement.
DGPs of all states were also written to, for facilitating movement at exam halls. Health secretaries were asked to help NEET officers. District Magistrates and cops were asked to ensure ease of movement and manage crowds, as well as maintain law and order.
The challenge before the governments of states and union territories is, as Mr Soren alluded, a big one.
For the JEE (Main) exam alone the NTA says a total of 7.41 lakh candidates (out of 8.58 lakh who have registered) have already downloaded admit cards. As for the NEET exam, the NTA says 6.84 lakh candidates (out of 15.97 lakh registered) have downloaded admit cards since they were made available online at 11.55 AM.
In addition to the lakhs of students who will be moving across state and district boundaries to appear for these exams, state and UT governments must also deal with an increase in the number of exam centres; the central government green-lit this since social distancing will mean each centre can accommodate fewer students than normal.
JEE (Main) centres have been increased from 570 to 660 and NEET (UG) centres from 2,546 to 3,843, according to the government.
Opposition-ruled states are now planning to move the Supreme Court. While they claim their concern remains the health of the students, they are also worried about how their revenue-deprived administrations are going to manage to fund this additional burden.
Last week the Supreme Court dismissed a petition to defer these exams. The top court declared that "careers of students could not be put in jeopardy".