NEET, UGC-NET: Protests in Lucknow, blame game in Bihar

Bihar deputy chief minister claims prime accused in NEET 'paper leak' linked to associates of RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav

Students protest irregularities in NEET and UGC-NET outside Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi (photo: Vipin/NH)
Students protest irregularities in NEET and UGC-NET outside Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi (photo: Vipin/NH)


Members of different student groups staged a protest outside Lucknow University against the Central government over the cancellation of the UGC-NET exam, demanding the resignation of Union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

The students, mostly from the Samajwadi Chhatra Sangh and National Students' Union of India (NSUI), gathered outside the Bhaurao Deoras Dwar of Lucknow University and raised slogans against the University Grants Commission (UGC), National Testing Agency (NTA), and the Union education ministry.

Holding a placard demanding the resignation of Pradhan, one of the protesters told the media, "We worked hard for over a year for the NET exam, which has been cancelled. This is injustice to us and strictest action should be taken against those responsible for it."

The education ministry on Wednesday ordered the cancellation of the UGC-NET (National Eligibility Test) conducted by the NTA following inputs that the integrity of the examination may have been compromised, with the matter being handed over to the CBI for a thorough investigation.

As the protesting students were prevented from entering the university campus by security staff, they sat outside it and continued their protest. Some Samajwadi Party (SP) members also raised slogans at Lucknow's Hazratganj crossing against the exam cancellation and demanded the minister's resignation.

In a shift from earlier practice, the NET was conducted in the pen and paper mode this time on a single day (18 June) with a record 11 lakh students registering for the exam.

Meanwhile, Bihar deputy chief minister Vijay Kumar Sinha on Thursday claimed that the arrested prime accused in the NEET "paper leak" is linked to officials associated with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader and former deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav, and demanded an investigation into it.

Addressing a press conference in state capital Patna, Sinha claimed that the official was in constant touch with Sikander Prasad Yadvendu, the arrested prime accused in the case. "The official associated with Yadav used to arrange accommodation for Sikandar at guest houses in Patna and other places. I have details of messages which the official had sent to the persons concerned for arranging accommodation for Sikandar," Sinha said, adding that he also has the mobile number from which those messages were sent.

"It needs to be thoroughly probed. Why is the RJD leader (Tejashwi) maintaining a stoic silence on this?" he asked. There are reports suggesting that the accused was also associated with RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, when he was in judicial custody in Ranchi, the deputy chief minister said.

The economic offences wing (EOW) of Bihar Police had last month arrested 13 people as part of its investigation into the alleged NEET-UG 2024 paper leak scandal. The arrested included examinees, their parents, and alleged mastermind Yadvendu.

"The entire sequence of events reveals how RJD leaders indulge in corrupt practices. There are reports suggesting that the accused was associated with Lalu Prasad during his judicial custody in Ranchi," the deputy CM alleged. Despite repeated attempts by PTI, no RJD leaders were available for comments on the allegations levelled by Sinha.

Meanwhile, sources indicated that the economic offences unit (EOU), which examined two more suspects on Wednesday, was presented with material evidence during the investigation. The EOU has already recovered post-dated cheques suspected to have been issued in favour of mafia or gang members who allegedly demanded over Rs 30 lakh from each candidate seeking the leaked question paper ahead of last month's exam, sources said.

Earlier, deputy inspector-general (EOU) Manavjit Singh Dhillon had told PTI that six such post-dated cheques had been recovered. "During the investigation, EOU sleuths recovered six post-dated cheques issued in favour of alleged criminals who reportedly facilitated question papers to aspirants before the examination," Dhillon said.

Investigators are verifying details about account holders from banks, he added. Sources added that the EOU has summoned seven additional candidates to join the probe.

NEET-UG 2024, conducted by the NTA, was held at 4,750 centres in 571 cities, in which more than 24 lakh candidates appeared. The results were declared on 4 June. However, immediately after the results were announced, students raised allegations of irregularities when 67 students achieved top scores, amidst claims of question paper leaks in Bihar.

A group of candidates approached the Supreme Court demanding a fresh exam owing to alleged paper leaks and concerns about the test's integrity. "It is suspected that nine aspirants, including four from Bihar who have already been arrested by the EOU, allegedly received the question paper and answers at a 'safe house' near Patna a day before it was conducted on 5 May," sources said.

According to them, police conducted a search at the rented premises and recovered mobile phones, admit cards, and other incriminating documents. "EOU sleuths also retrieved partially burnt question papers from the safe house," he added.

"We have requested reference question papers from the NTA, but have not yet received a response. Once we obtain those, we will send the burnt question papers to the appropriate forensic laboratory for examination," the DIG mentioned.

EOU sources revealed that their investigation uncovered the distribution of NEET-UG question papers and answers to around 35 aspirants before the exam.

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