There is much to criticise and little to commend about the conduct of the Joint Entrance Exam (main) in Kolkata and tragically in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
There are no winners and losers in this clash of egos between the Centre, which holds the exam, and the West Bengal government.
On closer reflection, the former does have a point when it iterates its determination to stick to the academic calendar in a wasted year ~ from the pre-school to the post graduate levels.
So too does Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who had been shrilling for deferment in view of the forbidding scenario since 25 March.
Indeed, the opportunity to take the entrance exam has been wasted if 75 per cent of the candidates couldn’t make it to the examination centres in TCS Gitabitan in Salt Lake and the Institute of Instrumentation and Metrology in Belghoria, going by the projections of the state government.
On Wednesday, 46 per cent of the candidates were absent in the two centres during the BE/B.Tech entrance exam.
The nub of the matter must be that it is the young candidates, aspiring for rewarding careers in medicine and technology, who have suffered in the raging clash of egos within the political class brought about by an exigent situation. Arguably, the inability to sit for the papers could well lead to the loss of a year in the course of the crucial transition from Class 12 to college.
Very pertinently has the Chief Minister remarked, “So many students are being totally deprived. Who gave the Centre the authority to destroy the future of the students?” A second examination for those who missed the bus might, on the face of it, be an option for the state; but this is easier suggested than accomplished.
That said, it devolves on the Centre to take a call on the number of students across the country who have been unable to appear for the exam, and to determine if the Bengal story has been repeated elsewhere.
To that can be added the arduous journey to the examination hall from such far-flung places as Gosaba in South 24-Parganas to Salt Lake ~ cycling for more than 100 km and then travelling 20 km by bus.
For all the face masks, gloves and face shields, many avoided overcrowded buses, fearing infection. On Tuesday and Wednesday, it was decidedly a test of nerves, if ever there was one. In the absence of trains, the journey from Malda to Kolkata, for instance, cost a candidate Rs 25,000.
Having weathered these ordeals, candidates cannot be expected to retain their mental balance in the examination hall. Verily, the conduct of the JEE this year has showcased the collapse of “special transport”, as normally arranged for Madhyamik and Higher Secondary. Fairly disastrous has been the failure of coordinated planning and logistics.
While there will yet be a batch commencing study in 2020, it may not consist of the best India has to offer.