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NEET-UG Row: SC Refuses to Stay Re-test or Counselling

NEET-UG Row: SC Refuses to Stay Re-test or Counselling

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, June 21: Hinting that the controversial May 5 National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET-UG) 2024 examination may be cancelled in totality by the regular bench of the Supreme Court, a vacation bench of the apex court on Friday refused to stay the re-test proposed by the National Testing Agency (NTA) for 1,563 candidates who were granted grace marks or postpone the counselling for medical college admissions slated to start on July 6.

Even as the Congress staged demonstrations in various parts of the country on Friday demanding cancellation of the May 5 examinations and re-test of all the candidates, the vacation bench of Justices Vikram Nath and S V Bhatti, which has fixed various NEET-related petitions for hearing on July 8 when the Supreme Court would reconvene after its summer recess, rejected the prayer for postponing the re-examination of 1,563 candidates pointing out that if the petitioners win the case ultimately, there was a possibility that the entire examination taken on May 5 was set aside and advised the petitioners to await the final outcome.

“Nothing will happen now. Everything can be set aside. When there is a chance of setting aside of the May 5 main examination, where is this question postponing the re-test for 1,563 candidates?” said Justice Nath.

The counsel appearing for the petitioner sought a stay on the re-test saying that the NTA had withheld material information from the court – that out of the 1,563 candidates, 753 had already failed. “They are thereby getting a second shot at the examinations,” he said. This, he added, was unjust and unreasonable given that there are qualified candidates who would like to reappear. He also contended that the candidates reappearing will undergo the stress of taking the examination.

Yet another petition sought a pause on the counselling for two days. Rejecting the request, Justice Bhatti said, “Counselling is not open and shut. It is a process. That process commences on July 6.”

Upon being informed that the first schedule will last for about a week, Justice Bhatti added, “What is the duration of the first schedule? Afterwards, within that week, applicants have any number of options to amend, modify, dabble, whatever they want to do, they do it. After they freeze, then only it gets into the domain of the convenor.”

Justice Bhatti said the candidates “will come to know what are all the colleges open. It’s not that everything is accepted. So we are allowing time not to be lost either by this side or that side”.

Considering another plea by a candidate who said he did not get adequate time to take the exam due to his rare medical condition which makes it impossible for him to hold the pens for more than 10 minutes in a stretch, the Supreme Court asked the NTA to decide on his representation to allow him a re-test and to inform him of the decision by 4 pm Friday.

The NTA released the NEET UG 2024 results on June 4, 2024, ten days ahead of schedule. This caused commotion since it revealed 67 All-India Rank 1 holders, which was unusual, and since then there have been concerns regarding the grace mark distribution as well as the integrity of the exam with reports of paper leaks. The NEET has faced criticism for its integrity in choosing candidates for undergraduate medical seats. The NEET is currently overseen by the Ministry of Education’s autonomous NTA.

Petitions for the cancellation of the exam were quickly filed at the Supreme Court and several High Courts, citing suspected leaks and anomalies. Under rising criticism, the NTA and the government cancelled the grace marks and announced arrangements for a re-examination on June 23 for the 1563 applicants who lost exam time. Some petitioners have also requested a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The Supreme Court is scheduled to convene on July 8, 2024, to deliberate about the potential cancellation of NEET 2024.

The NTA, established in 2017 under the Indian Societies Registration Act 1860, conducts about 15 major exams annually. NTA manages registrations from over a crore students for its various examinations. In 2023 alone, registrations reached 1.23 crore, reinforcing NTA’s position as the second-largest exam-conducting agency globally, trailing only China’s Gaokao, which saw 1.29 crore registrations in the same year.

The NTA is primarily responsible for creating the question papers, while the examination is handled through outsourcing. The agency releases several tenders for tasks linked to the examination. These organisations oversee the full operation of the test facility.

A political slugfest has erupted in Bihar over the NEET ‘paper leak’ controversy with both Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the BJP linking each other with the prime accused of the case. After BJP claimed that one of the prime suspects–Sikander Prasad Yadvendu–is linked to Tejashwi Yadav’s personal secretary (PS), the RJD has hit back with a photo of another accused– Amit Anand– with Deputy Chief Minister Samrat Choudhary.

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav also defended his PS and said the BJP wants to divert people’s attention from the ‘masterminds.’ “The INDIA alliance is united on this issue. We want the NEET exam to be immediately cancelled…They (BJP) have all the investigation agencies, they can call the PS or PA anyone for a probe…They want to divert the issue from the kingpin…Those who want to drag my name or my PA’s name, this will not benefit anyone…The engineer who is talked about could be a beneficiary but Amit Anand and Nitish Kumar are the masterminds of the paper leak. The people of the country know that whenever BJP comes to power, then paper leaks happen.”

The official X handle of RJD also shared a picture of Dy CM Choudhary being allegedly felicitated by the accused. “The main accused in the NEET exam paper leak scam with the Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar,” RJD said in the post.

“The so called powerful minister who was felicitated by the accused has deleted all his photos with him from his social media handles, but don’t worry, we have them all. Send this to your worried counterparts the other Deputy Chief Minister,” the party added.

This comes a day after Bihar’s other Dy CM Vijay Kumar Sinha on Thursday claimed that one of the arrested accused, an engineer, is linked to Tejashwi Yadav’s PS, and demanded an investigation into it. He said he had the mobile number from which those messages were sent. Sinha said, “It needs to be thoroughly probed. Why is the RJD leader (Tejashwi Prasad) maintaining a stoic silence on this?”

The Economic Offences Unit (EOU) of Bihar Police had last month arrested 13 people as part of its investigation into the alleged paper leak in the NEET-UG 2024. The arrested accused included six examination mafias, four students and three parents.

Meanwhile, the NTA has released the admit cards for the 1,563 students taking re-test to be held on June 23 and has changed six centres for the re-test. One of the centres that has been changed includes Haryana’s Jhajjar from where six students had secured a perfect 720.

The exam is being held again for 1,563 candidates. Officials from the NTA and the Education department will be present at all the examination centre to closely keep an eye on the exam process.




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