Here is your ten-point cheat sheet on this big story:
Entry to NEET exam centres around the country began at 11 AM, although the exam itself started only at 2 PM. The early entry was to ensure Covid hygiene protocols were followed by the students. Students were allotted different slots for entry to ensure that there is staggered movement and social distancing is maintained. Visuals showed lakhs of students lining up outside exam centres and being screened before being allowed inside.
A candidate from Bihar was quoted by news agency ANI as saying: "Some of us who've higher temperature are being asked to wait for some time as it can be due to hot weather. We're drinking water & trying to relax." Candidates with temperatures above prescribed limits will be taken to "isolation rooms" to sit for the exam.
The National Testing Agency (NTA), which is in charge of conducting competitive entrance tests, had issued an extensive list of guidelines, in which students were also directed to wear face masks and gloves at all times. The NTA has also sought a self-declaration from candidates, which says they do not have any symptoms or suffer from Covid and have not been in touch with a Covid-positive person.
Overall, more than 16 lakh students have registered for this exam. Nearly 2.3 lakh students have registered from Maharashtra alone, which is the state worst-affected by the Covid pandemic. Around 1.67 lakh students will take the exam in Uttar Pradesh, while Karnataka has around 1.19 lakh students, Tamil Nadu has 1.18 lakh and Kerala 1.16 lakh.
Before the exam Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, who has been among those most critical of the decision to hold the exams during the pandemic, tweeted. "My best wishes to the students appearing for NEET... my sympathies to those who couldn't take it due to Covid and floods," he said. Mr Gandhi also took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, adding, "Wish Modiji was as concerned about JEE-NEET aspirants & students as he is about his crony capitalist friends".
States have announced measures to assist those appearing for the exam. Bengal has cancelled the Covid lockdown scheduled for today and is operating special Metro services in Kolkata for students. Punjab lifted its weekend curfew, although non-essential services will remain closed. The two states, combined, have nearly 90,000 aspirants.
Odisha had announced free transportation and accommodation for candidates needing to travel long distances to write the exam. Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh had also promised assistance to students travelling to sit for the NEET exam. In Mumbai, the Railways is running special trains to ferry candidates and their parents. In Bihar too special trains - 20 of them - are being operated.
Four Tamil Nadu NEET candidates died by suicide this week - three on Saturday and the third on Wednesday. Two had failed to clear the exam in previous attempts. The third cleared it last year but had been on the wait list since. Tamil Nadu had abolished the exam for nearly a decade, citing increased stress on students; admissions were made basis Class 12 marks. The UPA had exempted the state, but the BJP refused to do so.
On September 1, the first day of the JEE, the attendance rate in UP's Lucknow was below 60 per cent. It was around 25 per cent in Bengal, Ms Banerjee claimed, with several students complaining of difficulties in traveling to their exam centres. In Gujarat, around 45 per cent of student skipped the first day, the state government said.
On Saturday evening, with hours to go for the exam, #BanNEET and #NEETisSocial_Injustice began trending on Twitter.
With inputs from ANI, PTI
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