Pointing out that holding the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic would pose a grave health risk to students, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday urged all non-BJP chief ministers to move the Supreme Court together with a plea to postpone the exams.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief claimed state governments were getting bulldozed by the Centre “in the name of cooperative federalism”.
Banerjee made the remarks at a meeting convened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and attended by Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, and four Congress CMs — Amarinder Singh (Punjab), Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh), Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan) and V Narayanasamy (Puducherry).
On Monday and Tuesday Banerjee had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to file a review petition in the Supreme Court on the matter.
In a letter on Tuesday, the National Testing Agency (NTA) reminded Banerjee that the exams were being held in accordance with the top court’s order. Last week, the court had dismissed a plea seeking to postpone the exams to April 2020, saying a precious year of students “cannot be wasted” and “life has to go on”.
As Wednesday’s video conference started, Gandhi urged Banerjee to chair the meeting since the chief minister had another engagement. “It is my privilege and honour that you proposed my name to chair the meeting,” Banerjee responded.
Criticising the Centre, the TMC chief said, “We are fighting the battle. Let us go to the Supreme Court. Let us talk about this matter. This is a mental agony for students. I have not seen so many atrocities in a democracy. The situation is very serious. We have to speak up for children.”
Banerjee said to get the exams postponed they would have to move fast as JEE (Main) is scheduled to be held between September 1 and 6. JEE (Advanced) will be held on September 27, and NEET on September 13. “The students are going through a crisis. The future of the students is uncertain. I have written to the Prime Minister several times,” she added.
At a press conference at the state secretariat after the meeting, Banerjee said, “We are not in a position to put students’ careers at risk, but we are urging Centre to defer the examination. Because, in this situation if examination is held, it may cause infection to surge. We have faith in the apex court, but we are requesting the central government to make the court understand what the situation is. We will also request the other states that did not attend this meeting. This decision should be reviewed in the interest of the whole country.”
The states might also approach the President, or the Prime Minister himself, if the examinations were not deferred, she added.
Hitting out at the Modi government, the chief minister reiterated that it had not paid Bengal its GST dues. “Our government is yet to get Rs 53,000 crore from the Modi government. We cannot talk. They are using the agencies against us. We demanded Rs 35,000 crore for [Cyclone] Amphan relief, but the central government gave us only Rs 1,000 crore.”
Banerjee told reporters, “When the states are trying to raise any voice, the central government is either trying to create division or they are intimidating us. Then, shall we move away from federalism in fear? No, we will talk about people. One should forget about who is in the government. They should fight to save democracy.”
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