COVID-19: How SOPs At The Judicial Exams In Punjab Were Disregarded
Punjab government has depicted criminal disregard of SOPs amid the second wave of coronavirus. Recently conducted competitive examination for magistrates is one of many cases that depicts how (non)serious is the attitude of government towards the deadly pandemic.
On November 25, Pakistan recorded an astounding 3,000 cases of COVID-19 and the death rate has now spiked to almost 50 a day. We are amid the second wave of COVID-19, deadlier than before. This time around, the authorities have failed to fully play their role in safeguarding people. Despite having numerous reported cases from various educational institutions the authorities sat and wiggled their thumbs regarding closing them down. It was clear from the time they were reopened that a good number of institutions were flouting COVID-19 protocols. The experts had already gravely warned of the increased infectiousness and mortality rate of the second wave, yet the government displayed a sinfully callous behavior when it came to children and youth. Not only were educational institutions allowed to remain open and conduct on-campus classes, the Punjab government itself also allowed provincial competitive exams, the most recent one being the Civil Judge Cum Magistrate exam held at BISE LAHORE cluster examination centre from 17.11.20 to 24.11.20.
What I experienced as an exam candidate was a harrowing tale of exposure and disregard for SOPs. The most important facet of the safety protocol regarding the ongoing pandemic is social distancing which experts suggest should be around 6 feet. Several candidates were made to stand huddled together outside the gates of the centre as the given time for entry on the roll number slip was 8:30 am and 8:45 am for seating but the candidates weren’t allowed inside the gates before 8:45 am. Everyone was made to stand in a small space packed like sardines waiting for the gates to open. Before entering the candidates were to form a line which meant the few inches of the distance they had was gone too. The guards that were stationed at the gates responsible for checking roll number slips and identity cards weren’t wearing any safety gear, not even masks and stood as close to candidates as possible touching their documents with bear hands. Then came the overcrowding at the stairs and the corridors.
Chaos is a small word for what occurred on the first day when candidates frantically ran from east to west of the examination centre constantly bumping into each other in search of their respective halls. The seats in the halls were quite close to each other as well especially in the initial days when the attendance was maximum. On the first day, one of the invigilators observed that the seats did not have any distance and benevolently pulled forward my chair a good three inches. The supervisor asked everyone to keep their masks on while hers was probably kept at home for safekeeping and made its debut appearance on the third day of the examination. Some of the invigilators and even the candidates had their masks resting on their chins exposing their noses and mouths rendering the mask utterly useless.
One of the candidates on the first day requested the invigilator to let him leave the hall as he wasn’t feeling well but the invigilator said that wasn’t allowed and offered him water instead. The candidate after the half time decided to attempt his exam anyway. Obviously, it is not in my knowledge as to what infliction weakened him enough to find it difficult to pull through a three-hour exam and compelled him to leave an exam that allows three attempts only. It definitely wasn’t a comforting thought to have him (forcefully) seated in a badly ventilated hall in close vicinity of other candidates. The authorities were visibly not prepared to handle a situation if a candidate were to feel too sick to continue.
The coronavirus spreads from not just droplets in the air but also from surfaces on which it can linger on for days. The attendance sheets were passed from candidate to candidate increasing the possibility of infection. If that wasn’t enough, the invigilators distributed question papers using the desi way of licking the finger and separating the sheet from the bundle.
Unfortunately, the authorities acted as if putting on a mask is all one needs to survive the pandemic. If it were true, world governments would just be throwing masks at people, not enforcing lockdowns and suffering economic setbacks caused by them. Our Prime Minister Imran Khan, as well as other officials, have countless times told the nation to observe social distancing then why were lives of so many candidates put at risk by conducting an exam of immense importance that gets thousands of applicants every time, when it could have either been taken online or simply delayed until the second wave had passed. PM Imran Khan while announcing a new lockdown prohibiting public gatherings, closing down educational institutions and indoor dining facilities in restaurants pulled no punches when he accused the opposition of risking the lives of people by conducting large gatherings. Regrettably, this concern was not shown to the exam candidates.
What compelled the authorities to conduct a provincial examination of this scale when cases were surging with every passing day and hospitals were reaching their maximum capacity forcing many distraught families of the sick to take to social media to ask for help? While that remains unknown, their careless actions and delayed decisions forced numerous candidates to risk exposure to a deadly disease that has already spiraled out of control.
The writer is an Advocate High Court, with a masters degree in Political Science and pursuing one in law, working through her association B.R.U Law Associates and NGO ProNature. She can be reached at [email protected].