First NEET, now NET: Who will compensate students and fix responsibility?

11 lakh aspirants had registered for the UGC-NET; 24 lakh took the NEET exam. Now the fates of all these candidates hang in the balance. How can the state make it up to them?

Students in Bhopal protest over alleged irregularities in NEET 2024 results (photo: PTI)
Students in Bhopal protest over alleged irregularities in NEET 2024 results (photo: PTI)

AJ Prabal

Over 81 per cent of the 11.21 lakh registered candidates appeared for the UGC-NET exams on Tuesday, 18 June, in over 317 cities.

On 19 June, the ministry of education tersely informed the public that the examination had been compromised and was being scrapped. Another examination would be held at a future date, it added vaguely.

The candidates had travelled long distances, sometimes several hundred kilometres, and had to arrange to stay in hotels to reach the centres on time and take the examination. With the exams cancelled for no fault of theirs, shouldn’t they be compensated?

This is a question that is gaining ground, especially against the backdrop of the NEET eligibility test for admission in medical colleges being also embroiled in a court case on similar grounds.

Both the examinations are conducted by the National Testing Authority (NTA).

“Going to give these exams in the scorching summer with the heat wave taking its toll,” exclaimed a candidate, “is like braving a war for us and yet we are treated worse than cattle…"

"The staff at the centres are rude, incompetent and insensitive. The agency is corrupt. What are we supposed to do?” she exclaimed in frustration.

One of the parents of a candidate was sceptical of the whole palaver, noting that the NET examination was offline and ‘paper-based’, and yet the ministry of education claimed that it had been tipped off by the cyber crime cell in the home ministry that the test was compromised. “If the papers were ‘paper-based,” he wondered aloud, “how could the cyber crime centre get inputs and what are they?”

Then there was the small matter of the content of the examinations.

John Brittas, a CPI(M) MP, pointed his finger directly at the NTA and demanded for the rationale of asking ‘Theatre students’ the exact date of the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, how Hanuman is described in the Ramayana and about sundry shlokas in the Mahabharata in the NET examination.

Another demand which is also gaining currency is that the tests should be decentralised and left to the states. A centralised, nationwide test conducted by a single authority for such a large population and a variety of languages is clearly proving to be a tall order for the NTA.

It has even been suggested as a compromise that states be given the freedom to conduct their own tests or allow students to go for the NTA-conducted tests.

Even as the utility and competence of the NTA is being increasingly questioned, nobody has taken responsibility so far. The government is clearly reluctant to take action and identify the people who may be responsible for the mess.

A credible and independent audit of the NTA may help with course correction, but once again, that is not something this government appears to be keen on.

RJD spokesperson Priyanka Bharati on Wednesday evening (19 June) made the pertinent point in a TV debate that when her party was in power for 17 months from 2022, the Bihar government had successfully conducted tests that led to the appointment of 3 lakh teachers.

There was not a whiff of scandal and no allegation of question paper leaks, such as have been endemic in the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh and several others, where recruitment examinations have routinely suffered from ‘leaks’.

Now, even as students and candidates hold protests on Thursday, 20 June, outside the offices of the UGC, NTA and the ministry of education in New Delhi as well as Jantar Mantar, the testing authority and the education ministry are still guilty of glossing over the glitches that have occurred repeatedly in the past.

Several people wonder how NEET-PG and JEE Advanced examinations have managed to enjoy a relatively smoother history over the years, when tests conducted by the NTA keep seeing candidates directed to appear at the wrong centres, the wrong set of question papers distributed and now whole question papers leaked.

And indeed, after the latest fiasco, the bigger question is why the NEET is not also cancelled if the NET is for similar concerns.

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