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OPINION | NEET FIASCO: BUNGLING OR SCAM?

The NEET-UG exam was conducted by NTA on May 5 at 4,750 centres across India and nearly 24 lakh candidates appeared. The results were announced on June 4 in which as many as 67 students scored a perfect 720 marks (100 per cent), unprecedented in NTA’s history.

Written By: Rajat Sharma @RajatSharmaLive New Delhi Published on: June 13, 2024 15:40 IST
Aaj Ki Baat with Rajat Sharma
Image Source : INDIA TV Aaj Ki Baat with Rajat Sharma

The Centre on Thursday told the Supreme Court that the decision to give grace marks to 1,563 NEET-UG candidates has been cancelled and they would be given an option to take a re-test on June 23. A vacation bench of Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Sandeep Mehta was told by the counsel for the National Testing Agency (NTA) that if those among the 1,563 candidates, who do not wish to appear for re-test, will be given their scorecards without grace marks. The results of the re-test will be declared on June 30 and counselling for admission to MBBS, BDS and other courses will begin from July 6. Meanwhile the apex court said, counselling process for other candidates will not be stayed. Taking note of the NTA counsel’s submissions, the vacation bench said, all pleas, including the petition filed by the CEO of an EdTech firm PhysicsWallah over the issue of awarding grace marks, will be taken up for hearing on July 8. Some of the petitioners have sought cancellation of this year’s NEET-UG rankings, alleging question paper leaks and other malpractices. The NEET-UG exam was conducted by NTA on May 5 at 4,750 centres across India and nearly 24 lakh candidates appeared. The results were announced on June 4 in which as many as 67 students scored a perfect 720 marks (100 per cent), unprecedented in NTA’s history. 

These included six from a single centre in Faridabad, Haryana, raising suspicions about irregularities. There were protests by students in Delhi, UP and Tamil Nadu over the results, and it was alleged that grace marks contributed to 67 students sharing the top rank. The Congress party on Thursday demanded a CBI probe into the conduct of the examination. Cases were filed in seven high courts as well as in the Supreme Court. The question still remains, was there any unethical practice by NEET during conduct of exam? In my ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ show on Wednesday night on India TV, I tried to examine in detail the allegations made by the students. Brajesh Maheshwari, director, Allen Institute, alleged that cases of irregularities have begun since the time NTA begun handling NEET exam. He said, between 2020 and 2023, only 7 candidates scored 100 per cent marks in NEET, but this time, it is surprising how candidates from a single centre scored 100 per cent marks. Six students who sat at the exam centre in Hardayal Public School in Jhajjhar, Haryana, scored 100 per cent marks, that is 720 out of 720. NTA Director General Subodh Kumar Singh explained that candidates at this centre and some other centres got less time to solve the paper due to problems in the distribution of question sheets. This was one of  the reasons why 1,563 candidates were given grace marks, he said. But the principal of Hardayal Public School Anju Yadav told India TV reporter that there was utter confusion over the distribution of question papers. The exam coordinator was asked to collect question paper sets from a single bank, but he was later asked to collect from two banks. Candidates were first given two sets of question papers, and later, on direction from NTA, one set of paper was taken away, and candidates were asked to solve the second set. Not only this, the question paper given at this centre was completely different from the paper distributed at other exam centres. 

The school principal mailed her complaint to NTA on the same day. The interesting point is that NTA did not release the answer key for the question paper distributed in her school. Was this irregularity the reason for six candidates scoring 100 per cent marks from that centre? In Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, candidates appearing for English medium exam were given Hindi question set, and those appearing for Hindi medium exam were given English question set. Some question papers had answer sheet attached with them. There was commotion and angry students came out of the exam hall. Police had to resort to lathicharge. NTA had to conduct a fresh test the same evening. Such instances have led to many of the students losing their trust in the transparency and efficacy of those conducting the NEET-UG exam. Both NTA and Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan have ruled out any possibility of a question paper leak. They said, candidates were given grace marks due to loss of time. Since the entire matter is now before the apex court, one will have to wait for a final verdict. There is no doubt that the rankings are mysterious, with eight toppers emerging from a single centre, and six students at a single centre getting 100 per cent marks. In one centre, two sets of question papers were given to each student. Is this an examination or a joke? It shows that  the NEET-UG examination sytem is not foolproof. Candidates and their parents have begun losing trust in those who conducted the exam. NTA chief’s explanations are surprising. Though NTA says it has set up a probe committee and that grace marks have been given as per rules, this is rubbing salt into the wounds of candidates. 

How can one adopt an ad hoc approach to an exam where 23 to 24 lakh students appear on a single day? This is nothing short of criminal negligence. Students who burnt the midnight oil and studied for two to three years at a stretch in order to get admission to a good medical college have found their dreams shattered. Their parents who spent their hard-earned savings for buying costly books and paying exorbitant coaching fees, have lost trust. In Hindi, there is a proverb, Daal Me Kuch Kaala Hai (There is something fishy). When people’s feelings are hurt, anger erupts, people come to the streets to protest. This, of course, is justified. Let us hope that the Supreme Court finds a reasonable way out.

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