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NEET Paper Leak : Cancelling Exam Last Resort

Supreme Court is carefully considering a batch of 38 petitions demanding a re-examination

The government and the National Testing Agency (NTA) counter re-exam demand

Dhirendra Sinha

New Delhi :  Amidst rising controversies surrounding the NEET-UG 2024 examination, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud is carefully considering a batch of 38 petitions demanding a re-examination. The apex court said if sanctity of the examination is lost, then re-test has to be ordered, cancellation of the exam is extreme last resort. The allegations include significant irregularities and a confirmed leak of the examination paper. The petitioners argue for the cancellation of the current results and conducting a fresh test, while the government and the National Testing Agency (NTA) counter these demands.

During the hearing, Chief Justice Chandrachud emphasized the gravity of the situation, highlighting that the leak of the NEET question paper is an “admitted fact.” He noted the challenge of addressing the issue given the massive scale of the examination, which involves 23 lakh students. The Chief Justice outlined three critical parameters that will guide the court’s decision on whether a re-test is warranted.

The first parameter is to determine whether it is possible to segregate the beneficiaries of the fraud from the untainted students. If the fraudulent candidates can be identified, a re-test may not be necessary. The second parameter involves assessing whether the breach of sanctity affected the entire exam. If the integrity of the whole process is compromised, a re-test would be justified. The third and final parameter is to ascertain the systemic level of the breach.

Chief Justice Chandrachud called for full disclosure from the NTA regarding the extent and nature of the leak. The court has asked the NTA and the Centre to identify the candidates involved in the fraud. If the segregation of tainted candidates proves unfeasible, the court might have no choice but to order a re-test.

The NTA informed the court that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is probing the allegations, with six FIRs already registered. This acknowledgment prompted the Chief Justice to state, “So, it’s an admitted fact that the paper was leaked.” The next hearing of the case is scheduled for Thursday, July 11.

During the proceedings, the court discussed the significant implications of a potential re-test. Chief Justice Chandrachud noted the logistical and financial burdens of conducting a re-test, along with the disruption it would cause to the academic schedule. He emphasized the need to understand the specifics of the leak, including its dissemination and the measures taken by the NTA and the Centre to identify the beneficiaries of the wrongdoing.

The petitions, which include demands for the cancellation and re-examination of NEET-UG 2024, argue that the irregularities and malpractices during the May 5 test were extensive. Counsel for some petitioners claimed that the NTA did not follow standard procedures, leading to massive discrepancies at a systemic level. The allegations have sparked widespread protests and political outcry, with suspicions of irregularities exacerbated by the results. An unprecedented 67 students initially scored a perfect 720, and six top scorers hailed from a single center in Haryana, raising concerns of foul play.

In response, the government and the NTA have argued against scrapping the exam, contending that there is insufficient evidence to suggest a large-scale breach of confidentiality. They emphasize the adverse impact such a move would have on thousands of honest candidates. The Union Education Minister, in an affidavit, stated, “It would not be rational to scrap the entire examination and the results already declared in the absence of proof of any large-scale breach.”

The NTA echoed this sentiment, warning that canceling the exam would be “counterproductive and significantly harmful” to public interest and the career prospects of qualified candidates. They maintained that the exam was conducted fairly and securely, dismissing widespread malpractice claims as “unfounded and misleading.”

In a prior hearing, the Supreme Court underscored the need for answers regarding the examination’s sanctity. Justice Amanullah remarked, “Sanctity has been affected, so we need answers,” reflecting the court’s intent to scrutinize the process thoroughly.

As the court continues to review the petitions and the responses from the NTA and the Centre, the future of the NEET-UG 2024 examination hangs in the balance, with potential implications for millions of aspiring medical students across India.

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