Several aspirants were unable to attend the University Grants Commission (UGC)’s National Eligibility Test (NET) on Wednesday, December 6, with the passage of Cyclone Michaung causing intense rains and flooding in many parts of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. On the condition of anonymity, an employee at a coaching centre in Chennai told TNM that multiple students scheduled to attend the exam in areas around Kovilambakkam were among those who suffered. “Many of the students who had to write the exam on the very first day of NET, December 6, weren't able to. I got calls from two female students who were unable to attend it. The following days, despite waterlogging, several students were able to attend,” she said.
Barath Pandian was among the select aspirants who managed to write his exam on December 6, despite the havoc wreaked by Cyclone Michaung hitting its peak around this time. But the journey was far from easy. “The entire stretch from my residence in Arumbakkam to my exam centre at Fortune Towers in Kovilambakkam was flooded. I had to take multiple diversions. The Maduravoyal bypass was flooded as well,” said Barath, adding that he had to go to his friend’s house to download his hall ticket for the exam.
“While there was no water on one side of the road, it was a dangerous ride on the other side. More than half the people were unable to write the exam owing to the rain. When I finally reached the hall, there were around 10 students, nowhere near the full strength,” Barath said.
Students pointed out that they were also unable to download their admit cards due to the loss of internet connectivity when the cyclone hit. “The admit card was released on December 4, and I wasn’t able to download it because there was no internet access. All xerox shops were also shut owing to the rains. Even if I had managed all of this, I would not have been able to attend the exam because of the flooding,” said another student residing in central Chennai. Her exam centre was at TCS iON in Kovilambakkam area.
She added that several people who were supposed to write the English and History exams on December 6 were unable to attend them.
A student from Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh told TNM that he too was unable to attend his exam, as the cyclone’s effect was also felt in Andhra. “My choice of exam centre was in Kakinada, which is around 600 km away from where I live in Tirupathi. All trains were cancelled due to the cyclone and I couldn’t travel,” he said.
Another student said she tried calling the UGC helplines for a solution. “They asked me to send an email to them and added that if the issue affects a lot of students, a solution would be implemented,” she said.
The NET exam is meant to determine eligibility for college assistant professor posts and to award Junior Research Fellowships (JRF) in government-run universities in India. The National Testing Agency (NTA) is the nodal agency to conduct the NET exam.
While the Tamil Nadu school education department announced postponement of exams in Chennai, Chengalpet, Kancheepuram, and other districts to December, the NTA has made no such announcement. Notably, the NTA had postponed the UGC NET exam in 2020 in wake of Cyclone Nivar in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry for Mathematics and Chemical Science papers. But no such prior notice was issued ahead of Cyclone Michaung.
Following the announcement that the exams would be held as per schedule, the NTA Twitter handle was flooded with messages, with students from Chennai and parts of Andhra Pradesh expressing concern that they will be unable to write the exam.
When asked for the list of exam centres in Chennai, a UGC official told us that owing to allegations of cheating or favouritism in the allotment of centres, they don’t make the list public. He, however, took a simpler stand when it came to Cyclone Michaung. “There is no problem on that front. Exams are being conducted despite the rains.”
Madurai Lok Sabha MP Su Venkatesan on December 7 took up the issue with Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, asking to give the students who missed out on the exams another chance to write it. Pradhan said that appropriate action would be taken, but so far there has been no intimation of the same.
Cyclone Michaung caused the highest amount of rainfall Chennai has witnessed since November 2015, eight years ago. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), many areas in Chennai received more than 20 cm rainfall, leaving the roads flooded and people seeking refuge at makeshift shelter homes.