No denying that NEET papers were leaked: Supreme Court

The SC was hearing over 30 pleas related to the controversy surrounding the medical entrance NEET-UG 2024

A student demonstration in New Delhi against the NEET question paper leak (photo: Vipin/NH)
A student demonstration in New Delhi against the NEET question paper leak (photo: Vipin/NH)

NH Digital

The Supreme Court on Monday said the fact that question papers were leaked in the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (Undergraduate) (NEET-UG) cannot be denied, during the hearing of over 30 pleas related to the controversy surrounding the NEET-UG 2024 medical entrance exam. The hearing in case will continue on 11 July.

The petitions allege irregularities and malpractices in the 5 May test, and seek a directive to conduct the exam afresh. However, the Centre and the National Testing Agency (NTA), which administers NEET-UG, have argued against cancelling the exam.

The bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud and justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said it must be ascertained if the paper leak was widespread so as to decide whether a retest would be required.

“The fact that the sanctity of the exam has been compromised is beyond doubt. It is an admitted fact that there is a leak and the nature of the leak is something that we are determining. If it is not extensive, then there is no cancellation. But before we order a retest, we must be conscious of the extent of leak as we are dealing with 23 lakh students. This concerns costs to be incurred like travelling, and dislodging the academic schedule,” the CJI said.

He added that if the court concluded that the time lag between the leak and the actual exam was limited, there wouldn’t be a re-test.

The SC underscored that it wanted to know the entire exam process, the nature of FIRs, how the leak disseminated, and what actions the Centre and NTA have taken to identify the beneficiaries of wrongdoing. The bench said if the question paper leak was taking place through messaging platforms like Telegram and other electronic means, "it spreads like wildfire".

The court asked the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) to submit a status report on the investigation into the paper leak cases and asked the Union government and the NTA to respond to a few questions.

It asked the NTA to give details of the number of students who scored 720/720 (the maximum marks possible) and if they were beneficiaries of grace marks, students who scored exceptionally high marks in one subject, but abysmally low marks in another subject, and students who registered at one centre but shifted to another centre and scored high marks, and wanted to know results of how many "wrongdoers" were withheld as well as the geographical distribution of such beneficiaries

The court said there were certain "red flags" since 67 candidates had scored 720/720, and set a few parameters based on which it would decide if a retest was required.

The court also said it would scrutinise: (i) whether the breach has taken place at a systemic level; (ii) whether it has affected the integrity of the entire examination process; (iii) whether it is possible to segregate the beneficiaries of fraud from untainted students.

The bench is also hearing a separate plea of over 50 successful Gujarat-based NEET-UG candidates seeking a direction to prevent the Centre and NTA from cancelling the controversy-ridden exam.

The NEET-UG is conducted by the NTA for admissions to MBBS, BDS, AYUSH and other related courses in government and private institutions across the country. Allegations of irregularities, including paper leaks, have led to protests in several cities and sparring between rival political parties.

The Centre and the NTA told the court on 13 June that they had cancelled the grace marks awarded to 1,563 candidates, who were given the option to either take a re-test or forgo the compensatory marks awarded for supposed loss of time.

A total of 67 students had scored a perfect 720, unprecedented in the NTA's history, with six from a single centre in Haryana figuring in the list, raising suspicions about irregularities in the examination. It has been alleged that grace marks contributed to the 67 students sharing the top rank.

The NTA announced revised rankings on 1 July after issuing the results of the re-test held on 23 June, where the number of candidates sharing the top rank was reduced to 61.

As a result of the ongoing controversy, Congress MP and Lok Sabha leader of Opposition Rahul Gandhi wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a debate in Parliament on NEET.

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