The Joint Entrance Examination (Main) and the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET-UG) will be conducted in September as scheduled, officials said on Tuesday, amid a growing chorus for postponing the crucial tests in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Testing Agency said it has planned several steps to conduct the papers safely which include increasing the number of examination centers, alternate seating plan, fewer candidates per room and staggered entry and exit.
These steps have been introduced to ensure adherence to social distancing norms at the centres in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, it said.
Officials in the Ministry of Education asserted the exams will be conducted as per schedule.
While the Joint Entrance Examination (Main) is scheduled from September 1-6, the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET-UG) is planned on September 13.
'The number of examination centers have also been increased from 570 to 660 (for JEE Main) and 2,546 to 3843 (for NEET). While JEE-Mains is a computer-based test, NEET is a pen-paper test,' the NTA said in a statement.
'Additionally, in case of JEE-Mains, the number of shifts has been increased from the earlier 8 to 12, and the number of candidates per shift has been reduced from earlier 1.32 lakh to 85,000 now,' it said.
'In order to ensure proper social distancing inside the examination halls, the candidates will be seated in alternate seats in case of JEE-Mains. In case of NEET, the number of candidates per room has been reduced from 24 to 12,' it said.
For ensuring social distancing outside the examination hall, the entry and exit of candidates has been staggered, it added.
'Adequate arrangements have also been made outside the examination centers to enable candidates stand with adequate social distancing, while waiting. Candidates have also been issued advisory guiding them about 'Dos and Don'ts' for proper social distancing,' it added.
There have been demands from several quarters to further postpone the entrance exams in view of increasing coronavirus cases.
On Tuesday, Swedish teen climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg also threw her weight behind postponing the exams in view of the pandemic.
'It's deeply unfair that students of India are asked to sit national exams during the Covid-19 pandemic and while millions have also been impacted by the extreme floods. I stand with their call to #PostponeJEE_NEETinCOVID,' she said in a tweet.
Several opposition leaders in India including Congress' Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik, DMK President MK Stalin and Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia have demanded the exams be postponed.
The Supreme Court had last week dismissed a plea seeking postponement of the two exams amid spurt in the number of COVID-19 cases, saying precious year of students 'cannot be wasted' and life has to go on.
"We find that there is absolutely no justification in the prayer made for postponement of the examination in question relating to NEET as well as JEE-Mains," the Supreme Court had said.
The NTA has also written to state governments to extend support in local movement of the candidates so that they are able to reach their examination centres on time.
While a total of 9.53 lakh candidates have registered for JEE-Mains, 15.97 lakh students have registered for NEET.