For many students appearing in JEE-Mains in Delhi, the day began with exam anxiety and apprehension about contracting COVID-19 but special arrangements made at centres to combat the virus allayed their fears, and they were finally relieved that they would not have to lose an academic year because of the pandemic.
The Joint Entrance Exam (JEE)-Mains for admission to engineering colleges began on Tuesday amid stringent precautions and social distancing measures in view of the pandemic despite calls from some quarters for postponement of the crucial exam which had already been deferred twice.
Nikhil Kumar, who travelled from Uttam Nagar to his centre in Vivek Vihar, said that the exam was held smoothly.
"Proper social distancing was ensured by the staff inside the premises. The exam went okay. I prepared for the entrance through online classes. I am relieved that the exam is finally over despite so many delays," he said.
Vishal Gupta, a resident of Bhikaji Kama Place, said that he reached the centre by a cab.
"The exam was held from 9.30 am to 12 pm. There were around 50 students sitting in the room where my exam was scheduled. Social distancing norms were strictly followed by school staff. I didn't face any difficulty in reaching the centre," Gupta said.
Bhushan Gaur (17), who came to Vivek Vihar from Khanpur, said that though he had fears of contracting the virus, he was relieved that all went well.
"My JEE exam will be held from 2.30 pm. Initially I was fearing that I may come in contact with the virus but when I reached the centre I gained confidence. I have done my preparations and I am relieved it will be over. Waiting another year would have been problematic.
"The coaching institutes had conducted online classes and also shared PDF material of the course," Gaur said.
Sanjay Kumar, his father, said that they initially had apprehensions because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
Vishal Yadav, a resident of Jagatpuri in Shahdara, said that social distancing was the main concern on his mind.
"The school staff gave us sanitiser thrice. When we entered the school, they gave us a mask also and asked the students to remove the old one. Inside the centre, we were sitting on alternate chairs," Yadav said.
Scenes outside exam centres across the country reflected the "new normal" amid the pandemic -- staggered entry and exit for candidates, sanitiser at the gates, distribution of masks, and students queuing up with safe distance among them.
Govind Kumar, who accompanied his younger brother for the exam, said, "This could have been avoided, but we don't have any option. My brother told me that proper precautions were taken inside the centre and I felt relieved."
Mohit Kumar Gupta, who came to Pitampura from Malviya Nagar for the JEE exam of his younger brother, said, "People are coming from all the parts of the national capital and you never know that this can turn into a hotspot. They should have made arrangements for students to give exams from their homes. Anyone who cannot access a laptop or Internet can be assigned to a particular centre.
JEE-Mains, the first large-scale exam to be conducted amid the pandemic, is scheduled from September 1 to 6. Over 9 lakh candidates have registered for the exam for admission to engineering courses in IITs, NITs and Centrally Funded Technical Institutions (CFTIs).
While the governments of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have assured students that they will provide transportation to candidates, a group of IIT alumni and students have also launched a portal to provide transport facilities to exam centres for the candidates in need.
Increasing the number of examination centres, alternate seating plans, fewer candidates per room and staggered entry and exit are among the steps the National Testing Agency has taken for safely conducting the crucial exam.
There was a growing chorus for postponing JEE-Mains and medical entrance exam NEET amid the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
The Supreme Court had earlier dismissed a plea seeking postponement of the two exams amid a spurt in the number of COVID-19 cases, saying a "precious year" of students cannot be wasted and life has to go on.
Based on the results of the JEE-Mains Paper 1 and Paper 2, the top 2.45 lakh candidates will be eligible to appear for the JEE-Advanced exam, which is a one-stop exam to get admission into the 23 premier Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). JEE-Advanced is scheduled to take place on September 27.