With the Bombay High court expected to conduct its final hearing and deliver its verdict in the Public Interest Litigation filed by Arvind Tiwari – a parent and a lawyer – related to the ICSE Examinations in Maharashtra on Monday, students and parents are upping the pressure. They are opposed to the conduct of the exams in a situation where the number of Corona positive cases in India has crossed the 3 lakh figure.
Due to the Corona virus pandemic, the exams were postponed on 19 March even as six papers of Class X and 8 papers of Class XII were pending. The exams were originally to get over on 30-31 March. Now according to the timetable issued by the Council for Indian School Certificate Examination, the pending papers are scheduled for the first two weeks of July, just like the CBSE.
Why is the student community – about 1.80 lakh in class X and 85000 in class XII – against the conduct of pending exams in July? Ten Reasons.
1. They ask if the Council will give an undertaking that the exam centres will be so well sanitised and no student will contract the virus. They also point out that it is not just about the exam centres – the transport they travel in, the invigilators and exam staff they come in contact with, the exam answer sheet, question paper, washroom – all carry a certain level of risk.
2. The Council in its affidavit on Friday quoted the Centre and state governments to say the vulnerable group is above the age of 65 and below the age of 10. Data however shows that a significant number of Corona positive cases are in the age group of 11-64 and many have even tragically succumbed to the virus pandemic.
3. The Home ministry’s nod to conduct the exams was given in May. With the number of cases rising as a result of the easing of the lockdown, the argument is that the okay given by Amit Shah’s Ministry needs to be revisited.
4. The irony of the courts holding virtual hearings while deciding on whether students can appear for a physical exam cannot be missed. Going further, students and parents ask why is it that Parliament has not been convened so far.
5. The Council in court quoted an online poll it had conducted on 7 June among principals of 196 ICSE schools (out of the 226 in Maharashtra). It said 84 per cent of them voted in favour of conduct of exams. Parents point out that no Parent Teacher Association meetings were held to authorise the principals to speak on behalf of the students or their guardians. Online polls held on different platforms suggest a different picture.
6. The Telangana and Madras High courts took the view that it is too risky to conduct the exams in such a situation. The former in fact, forbade the Telangana government from conducting the State Board Class X Exams in Covid 19 hotspots of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. As a result, the government cancelled the exams and decided to promote all the 5.34 lakh students. Now if Hyderabad with much lesser cases is not deemed safe by a High court, how can Mumbai or Delhi or Chennai with much larger number of cases, be safe.
7. July is also the month of peak monsoon in most parts of India. That is expected to pose an additional problem for students if they are made to appear for the exams.
8. In Corona positive times, the students will need to take the exams wearing a mask. That is uncomfortable and more so, for asthmatic children who tend to feel claustrophobic.
9. Most students have joined classes for Class 11 and therefore to expect them to go back to their Class X curriculum will lead to a fatigue. As a one-time exception, the Council must move on.
10. Finally, in response to the Council’s objection that the petitioner is a private individual since his son is an ICSE Class X student, the opinion is that Arvind Tiwari represents the large majority of students and parents and is therefore fighting for a public cause.