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Centre against Scrapping May 5 NEET-UG Exams

Centre against Scrapping May 5 NEET-UG Exams

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, July 5: Even as the on-going investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation is finding newer evidences that the irregularities in conducting the National Eligibility and Entrance Test for the undergraduate candidates (NEET-UG) by the government-constituted National Testing Agency (NTA) for admission in medical courses has gone beyond Bihar as was initially concluded, the Centre has stuck to its stand that the entire examination need not be scrapped and hold a re-test.

In an affidavit submitted in the Supreme Court on Friday, the centre maintained that there was no large scale irregularities in the exams and cancelling the 2024 examinations in its entirety would “seriously jeopardise” the future of lakhs of “honest candidates” who had appeared for it.

The Centre’s affidavit showing its unflinching stand comes at a time when it finds itself at the receiving end of protests because of the irregularities not just in NEET-UG but also in UGC-NET, which had led to the exam being cancelled a day after it was held. The NEET-PG and CSIR UGC NET exams also had to be postponed. All the tests are conducted by the same agency, the NTA.

In case of the UGC-NET, in which more than 13 lakh candidates appeared, the entire examination was cancelled a day after it was conducted last month on reports of possible question paper leak. The NEET-PG test for admission in post-graduate medical courses was postponed just hours before it was to be held on June 23 and the NTA on Friday announced that it would now be held on August 11.

All of these things led to huge questions being raised about the National Testing Agency, formed in 2017, which conducts all of these exams. Facing criticism not just from students but also the Opposition, which has a louder voice now, given its much-improved showing in the Lok Sabha elections, the government replaced the head of the NTA and handed over the probe into the irregularities to the CBI.

Reiterating its stand on the NEET-UG controversy, the Centre has told the Supreme Court that it does not intend to scrap the examination and hold a retest. It has also emphasised that there were no large-scale irregularities in the exam, in which 24 lakh students appeared.

The Centre told the Supreme Court, which will hear petitions on the issue on Monday, that in the absence of proof of any large-scale breach of confidentiality in the examination, it would not be rational to take the step. Pointing out that the CBI has been asked to conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations, the government said it was committed to conducting all exams in a fair and transparent manner.

“The Union of India duly appreciates that the confidentiality of the question papers is the utmost priority in any examination and that if due to some criminality at the behest of some criminal elements, the confidentiality has been breached, the Union of India submits that the said person must be dealt sternly and with the full force of law to ensure that they are punished,” the affidavit said.

The CBI already has made several arrests across the country including in Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Gujarat in connection with the alleged irregularities in the NEET-UG examinations held on May 5, the results of which were declared on June 4, 10 days before the schedule on June 14. The results stunned the country with for the first time in its history, a high number of 67 candidates scoring a perfect 720 out of 720 marks, including six candidates from a single centre in Haryana.

A large number of students have questioned the sanctity of the May 5 exams and had expressed readiness to appear for a re-examination, but the government was reluctant to concede the demand for re-test. The Centre’s affidavit in the top court was in line with what Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has maintained from day one that he was not in favour of re-test.

Addressing a press conference last month, the minister had said, “Lakhs of students, many of them meritorious candidates who are poor or from rural areas, have got good marks and good ranks. Their career should not be held hostage because of isolated incidents. We are ready to make all needed improvements. None of the guilty will be spared.”

A bench headed by the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud is scheduled to hear a batch of petitions on July 8, which seek various forms of relief, including a re-test and a thorough investigation into the alleged malpractices.

NEET-UG is conducted by the NTA for admissions to MBBS, BDS, AYUSH and other related courses in government and private institutions. The integrity of the NEET-UG examination has come under scrutiny due to allegations of paper leaks and other irregularities, prompting widespread protests and political friction.

On June 11, the Supreme Court, while hearing a plea to hold the exam afresh, noted concerns about the sanctity of NEET-UG and demanded responses from the Centre and the NTA. However, the court refused to stay the counselling of the successful candidates.

On Thursday, over 50 successful Gujarat-based NEET-UG candidates moved the top court seeking a direction to restrain the Centre and the NTA from cancelling the controversy-ridden exam.

The fresh plea of Sidhharth Komal Singla and 55 other students was filed through lawyer Devendra Singh.

It said, “The Hon’ble court may further direct the respondents (Centre and the NTA) not to re-conduct NEET-UG … as that would not only be unreasonable and harsh for the honest and hardworking students but also would lead to the infringement of the Right to Education and therefore violative of Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution.”

With the government postponing the NEET-PG examination and cancelling the UGC-NET, competitive exams in India have come under scrutiny over alleged irregularities. The CBI has made six arrests so far in the NEET-UG paper leak case.



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