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CBI Takes over NEET-UG Probe, Files Fresh FIR, Trail goes up to Maharashtra

CBI Takes over NEET-UG Probe, Files Fresh FIR, Trail goes up to Maharashtra

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, June 23: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has taken over the probe into the alleged irregularities in the conduct of the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET-UG) 2024 following a complaint by the Union Ministry of Human Resources and filed a fresh FIR against unidentified persons even as the police investigation to find the trail of the malpractices in the May 5 examination branched out of Bihar into Maharashtra on Sunday.

The accused arrested so far by the states in connection with the alleged malpractices will also be taken into custody under the fresh FIR, sources said.

As the protests started and investigation followed, several men were arrested in Bihar, who, the police said, admitted to a leak. One of them, a student taking the exam, said he was given the papers the night before the exam.

As the scope of the investigation has been widening and different agencies and teams have joined in probing the case, the police have found that the irregularities in the May 5 exam may be much more wider and serious than it was initially made out to be and Bihar and Jharkhand may not be the only states where malpractices were found during the medical entrance exam NEET with an Anti-Terrorist Squad of the Maharashtra police questioning several people, including at least two teachers, in the Marathwada region regarding the scam on Sunday morning. According to sources, inputs from different parts of the country such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi led police to Maharashtra.

The CBI takeover of the case comes a day after the government — which initially dismissed the possibility of a paper leak — announced that the probe will be handed over to the central agency.

The Centre on Saturday shunted out Mr Subodh Singh, the Director General of the National Testing Agency (NTA), which had conducted the test and handed over the probe into irregularities in medical entrance exam to the CBI. India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) Chairman and Managing Director Pradeep Singh Kharola has been assigned additional charge of the NTA till the appointment of a regular incumbent.

The Education Ministry also set up a seven-member panel headed by former ISRO chief K Radhakrishnan to review the agency’s functioning and recommend exam reforms. The NTA also postponed the NEET-PG entrance, the fourth entrance exam to be impacted in recent days.

There were allegations of irregularities, including cheating, impersonation and other malpractices after the results of the NEET-UG 2024 was declared on June 4 — days before schedule announcement of the results on June 14.

Student protests have been raging across the country since, amplified by the Opposition, and the matter has snowballed into a huge political row. The students have been demanding the exam be rescheduled for everyone and not the 1500-odd students who received grace marks.
This, however, has not been accepted by the government and decided to go ahead with the re-test for 1,563 candidates, who had initially received grace marks, on Sunday. The initial exam was held on May 5, which was taken by 24 lakh students across the country.

When the results were declared, it was found that 67 students scored an unprecedented 720/720 marks. Over 500 students received grace marks. The outcome was unnaturally high cut-off percentage that triggered waves of apprehension among students over finding a berth at any college.

In Maharashtra, the police questioned two teachers in the paper leak case. Sanjay Tukaram Jadhav and Jalil Umarkhan Pathan were picked up by the Nanded Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) on the suspicion that they were involved in the NEET paper leak case. They used to teach in Zilla Parishad schools and also run private coaching centres in Latur. They were released after several hours of questioning and will be called again if needed, sources said.

Bihar Police had earlier arrested four persons who had confessed to having leaked the question papers a night before the NEET UG exam. Cops are now probing the role of ‘solver gangs’ that sell leaked exam papers to students and provide proxy candidates to take tests for candidates.

In the aftermath of the row over the NEET-UG exam, the Union Health Ministry also announced the postponement of NEET-PG entrance, a night before the entrance exam, as a “precautionary measure” in the wake of recent allegations on the integrity of certain competitive exams.

The move comes a day after the June edition of the Joint Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and UGC-NET was postponed. The Joint CSIR-UGC-NET is a test conducted to determine eligibility for junior research fellowship and assistant professor and admission to PhD in science courses. The UGC-NET was cancelled on Wednesday, a day after it was conducted following inputs that the integrity of the exam was compromised. The matter is being probed by the CBI.

Bihar Police on Friday night detained six more people from Jharkhand’s Deoghar district in connection with the alleged leak of NEET paper in the state, an official said. Its Economic Offences Unit last month arrested 13 people, including prime suspect Sikandar Yadavendu, in connection with the alleged paper leak. The EOU is also exploring the “possibility of conducting narco analysis and brain mapping tests” of the accused, sources said. They also indicated that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) might investigate the money laundering aspect.

A ‘solver gang’ that leaks exam papers and also provides proxy candidates who would sit for an exam has also come into the limelight. Police believe that Ravi Atri, the head of a nationwide ‘solver gang’, is the alleged mastermind behind the leak that has cast a shadow over India’s prestigious medical entrance examination.

Atri’s ‘solver gang’ network specialized in obtaining and distributing solved question papers via social media platforms, catering to aspirants willing to pay a hefty price for guaranteed success. Atri, already infamous for his involvement in previous exam paper leaks, operated with impunity across various states, leveraging his connections within the ‘exam mafia’.

Atri’s modus operandi involved obtaining the exam papers well in advance, typically a day before the examination, and swiftly disseminating them to paying clients through social media.

The gang also offered students the option of paying more and getting a ‘Munna Bhai’, a proxy who would give the exam in their place. The candidates were assured that the ‘Munna Bhai’ would score high.

Sanjeev Mukhiya, who is a member of the ‘solver gang’, has been identified by police as a central figure in the NEET paper leak. Police are conducting raids at possible locations linked to him. Mukhiya does not stand alone in his family’s criminal background. Sources reveal his son’s arrest in connection with the leaked question papers for the third phase of teacher recruitment exams conducted by BPSC.

The investigation has revealed a network extending from constable recruitment exams to teacher recruitment exams across multiple states, illustrating the scale and reach of the operation. Sources say that Mukhiya may have fled to Nepal after the controversy snowballed, complicating extradition procedures due to the bilateral agreements between India and Nepal.

Meanwhile, commenting on the removal of the NTA chief, the Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said shuffling the bureaucrats was not a solution to the “endemic problem” in the education system “rotted by the BJP” and claimed that in the NEET scam the buck stops at the doorstep of top-level officials of the Narendra Modi government.

“In the NEET Scam, the buck stops at the doorstep of the top echelons of the Modi government. Shuffling the bureaucrats is no solution to the endemic problem in the education system rotted by the BJP. NTA was projected to be an autonomous body, but in reality, was made to serve the devious interests of the BJP/RSS,” Mr Kharge posted on X.

The Congress president further said, “Paper Leaks, Corruption, Irregularities and the Education Mafia have infiltrated into our Education system. For students to get Justice, Modi government must be held accountable. Now, the NEET-PG Exam has been postponed. 4 examinations have been either cancelled/postponed in the past 10 days. This belated whitewashing exercise is of NO consequence as countless youth continue to suffer!” he added.



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