Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank has defended the centre's move to push ahead with holding the all-India exams for engineering and medical courses amid the coronavirus pandemic as a result of "constant pressure from parents and students".
The Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for admission to the Indian Institute of Technology and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to medical courses are scheduled to be held next month.
In an interview to the government broadcaster DD News, Mr Nishank said 80 per cent students who will appear for JEE has already downloaded admit cards.
"We have been under constant pressure from parents and students, asking why we are not allowing JEE and NEET. The students were very worried. In their minds they were thinking for how long will they continue to study?" the Education Minister told DD News.
"Out of 8.58 lakh students who registered for JEE, 7.25 lakh candidates have downloaded their admit cards... We are with students. Their safety comes first, then their education," Mr Nishank said.
On reopening schools, Mr Nishank said a decision will be taken based on guidelines given by the Home Ministry and the Health Ministry.
To minimise the risk coronavirus infection, students appearing for the JEE and NEET will have to wear masks and hand gloves and carry a personal bottle of water and hand sanitiser to the exam centre.
The entry to the exam centres will be staggered and students will have to clear a thermal scan for gaining access. Every exam centre will have an isolation room for those whose body temperature is high, indicating possible fever.
Some parents, students and experts working in the field of education, however, have raised concerns over holding the exams at a time when coronavirus cases in India have been rising. Climate activist Greta Thunberg, in a tweet, has also supported calls to postpone the exams.
Politicians across parties have backed the demand to postpone the exams, highlighting that the move was not only unsafe because of COVID-19, but also unjust due to floods in parts of some states such as Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Karnataka, among others.
A fresh surge of 60,975 new infections registered in the last 24 hours till Tuesday morning took India's coronavirus tally to 31,67,323, the Health Ministry has said. The number of fatalities linked to the pandemic rose to 58,390.