Sandeep Sahu

The Odisha government has done it again; prioritised elections over everything else. In a notification issued on Friday, the Council of Higher Secondary Education (CHSE) has rescheduled all higher secondary examinations scheduled on May 31, the day the by-election to the Brajarajnagar assembly constituency is set to be held. 

The question is: was it really unavoidable? After all, it's just a by-election. Why on earth should lakhs of students across the state, who have been preparing diligently for the examination for weeks, suffer just because there is a bypoll to one of the 147 assembly constituencies of the state? Studies of all students, including those in the higher secondary classes, have already been badly affected for two years due to the pandemic. In this backdrop, was it really necessary to subject them to another round of anxiety, even trauma, just because of a by-election? The answer, I am afraid, has to be an unequivocal 'No'. 

The government could argue that it had no control over the scheduling of the by-election, which was in the domain of the Election Commission (EC). It may say it can't be faulted if the EC decided to hold the  bypoll on a day an examination had already been scheduled. But the counter to that argument is: why did it take so long for the government to announce the rescheduling of the exam? The date for the Brajarajnagar by-election was announced by the EC on May 2. The School and Mass Education (SME) department must have realised immediately that the bypoll date would clash with the examination. So, what was it waiting for before announcing the rescheduling? Was it sleeping or had it forgotten all about the exam for 18 days?

The other argument the government could offer is the deployment of poll personnel and setting up of polling booths. But both these arguments are tenuous. There was nothing that prevented the government from deploying personnel from places other than Brajarajnagar for poll duty? As for the polling booths, surely there are enough primary and higher secondary schools in the constituency to accommodate the less than two lakh voters in the constituency. There is thus no justification for the shifting of the Plus Two examinations scheduled for poll day. 

Examinations are serious business for students just as elections are for politicians. It involves months of rigorous preparations and any last minute change in the schedule throws their preparations off gear. The state government has no business upsetting their preparations with a cavalier approach to exams.

But then it is unrealistic to expect politicians and babus to be burdened by such 'mundane' considerations affecting the hoi polloi, isn't it? We have already seen, most tellingly during the Pipili bypoll, how electoral considerations overshadow everything else - even something involving matters of life and death as in the case of the deadly second phase of the pandemic. All precautions were thrown out of the windows as hordes of politicians and party workers descended on Pipili and held meetings and road shows even as the government kept issuing advisories and the authorities came down heavily on those who violated the norms elsewhere. 

But even by its lousy standards, the decision to postpone the examinations on May 31 marks the height of callousness. After all, it's just a by-election!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.) 

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