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SC Notice to NTA, Centre on CBI or Court-Monitored Probe into NEET

SC Notice to NTA, Centre on CBI or Court-Monitored Probe into NEET

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, June 14: The Supreme Court on Friday issued notices to the National Testing Agency (NTA) and the Central government to respond to the demands for an immediate investigation by the CBI or a court-monitored committee into the allegations of paper leak, discrepancies in the results and other irregularities in the NTA-conducted National Eligibility cum Entrance Test Undergraduate (NEET-UG) 2024, even as the government suggested that the hue and cry over the alleged irregularities were only being made by the Coaching Institutes whose students have relatively done poorly this year.

Petitioners appearing before a Vacation Bench of Justices Vikram Nath and Sandeep Mehta urged the “imminent need for a CBI investigation.” But the court issuing formal notice to the NTA and the Centre asked them to file their replies in two weeks. The petitions were scheduled for hearing on July 8, along with several others filed earlier. A slew of petitions have been filed in the apex court on the NEET-UG exam, including the award of grace marks.

In view of the nation-wide uproar over alleged irregularities and favouritism to some candidates, sources in the government are suggesting that the row been fanned by coaching institutes that stand to lose due to reduced syllabus and easier question papers this time and said the coaching Institutions whose students performed poorly compared to those who did not take any private coaching were at the forefront of the uproar.

The union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Friday met students who appeared for the NEET-UG exam to address their concerns. He also assured them that no injustice would be done to the students. Pradhan said the government was committed and that it can assure students that a transparent process related to the NEET exam would be followed.

“Students who wanted to meet us today, I called them, their parents also came, I met them. I heard their side, and I made them feel better. The government is committed, and all students should have this assurance that a transparent process will be followed,” Pradhan said.

In the apex court, the vacation bench asked “Can a CBI investigation be ordered ex parte today? Is that your submission? We are not rejecting your relief, but let them file their response,” Justice Nath addressed the lawyers appearing for a clutch of petitioners.

One of the petitions, represented by advocate Charu Mathur, said there was a growing demand, even within the Indian Medical Association (IMA) Junior Doctors Network, for a CBI probe into the “record number of students scoring perfect scores.” The petition represented by Ms Mathur highlighted that the Opposition and other leaders of the country have demanded a probe into the NEET results.

“This clearly shows there has been illegality and arbitrariness in the evaluations and results of the examination which need to be taken cognisance of and probe needs to be carried out,” petitioners Aarsh Samir Vyas and others pointed out. They alleged irregularities like students receiving different marks on their scorecards compared to their OMR sheets; unprecedented inflation of cut-off and average marks resulted in an unprecedented 67 candidates achieving a perfect score of 720/720; six of these toppers were from the same exam centre in Haryana; students having scored 718 and 719 marks, which is “statistically questionable”; no disclosure of method/criteria adopted for grant of compensatory marks for loss of time, etc.

The NTA has also separately approached the apex court to transfer petitions pending in various High Courts to the Supreme Court. The Bench issued notice in NTA’s transfer petitions. The top court, however, remained firm by its stand against changing the counselling date from July 6. A lawyer wanted it to be shifted to July 9, a day after the apex court hearing on July 8. “No… that (to change the counselling date) has already been considered and dismissed,” Justice Nath told the lawyer.

The NEET (UG) examination, which is under a cloud, was conducted by the NTA on May 5 at 4750 centres in 571 cities (including 14 cities abroad) for more than 24 lakh candidates.

Raising an accusing finger against the coaching institutes, the sources in the government said certain coaching institutions were whipping up doubts over the entire examination, though there is no evidence of a paper leak.

Sources said coaching institutions whose pupils performed poorly in the NEET (UG)-2024 examination have lost face among their student groups despite the exam being relatively easy, and are at the forefront of the protests. They also claimed that other coaching institutions were keeping quiet. This time, the NEET (UG) exam saw a reduced syllabus by almost 15%, there was an increased number of applicants at about 23.3 lakh, and the question paper was relatively easier.

The sources said the real losers with an easy question paper and reduced syllabus are the coaching institutes that thrive on the complexity and breadth of the syllabus, as students then seek their services. A simpler curriculum as in the case of NEET (UG)-2024 hits the coaching institutes as fewer students feel the need for extensive coaching, government sources said. The cut-offs this year were higher as 20 extra minutes were allotted to complete the exam.

Sources said with a smaller syllabus, students could complete their studies well in time, allowing ample time for thorough revision and this led to better performance and higher scores. There is also no upper age limit for appearing in the examination coupled with unlimited attempts, resulting in higher scores in subsequent attempts by experienced candidates. The sources said a difficult question paper benefits the coaching industry but rural students who cannot avail of expensive coaching won’t be able to compete in such a scenario.

The government has also enacted the stringent Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act this February, which has brought detailed guidelines encompassing several key aspects of coaching institutions. The Act defines coaching centres, specifying conditions and necessary documents for registration, issues related to fees, outlining infrastructure prerequisites for establishing coaching centres, establishing a code of conduct for coaching centres, laying emphasis on the significance of mental well-being, advocating for prioritisation of counsellors and psychologists’ support within coaching centres, no batch segregation, and maintenance of records.

Sources said this may have irked coaching institutes that are now trying to run down the credibility of the NTA through the NEET-2024 controversy.

Mr Pradhan said 24 lakh students applied for the NEET exam this year of which 23 lakh 30 thousand students took it. “Whatever doubts come to their minds, some issues came to mind that some irregularities in the centre were noticed, due to lack of time for grace marks, some objections were raised in the formula used for giving grace marks, that was also rectified.”



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