Government forms panel to improve NTA as NEET, UGC-NET controversies rage

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New Delhi: The Union government announced on Thursday the formation of a high-level committee to provide recommendations for enhancing the structure, processes, data management, and security protocols of the National Testing Agency (NTA), after two important national-level examinations ran into controversies.

The committee will comprise technocrats, scientists, educational administrators, academics, and psychologists.

Addressing a press conference, education minister Dharmendra Pradhan said, “We take responsibility and are committed to refining the system. Our government is fully dedicated to transparency and to securing a better future for our students. I assure you again that no malpractice or irregularity will be tolerated.”

Also Read | NEET-UG, UGC-NET row: Those guilty won’t be spared, assures Pradhan

However, Pradhan clarified that the government has not yet decided to cancel NEET-UG 2024, unlike the UGC-NET exam, which is organised to determine eleigibility for teaching jobs in universities and colleges. He described issues related to NEET as “isolated incidents” under police investigation. Results of the NEET-UG 2024 have evoked a nationwide furore, after scores of aspirants achieved full marks of 720, suggesting irregularities.

The announcement followed the ministry’s decision on Wednesday to cancel the University Grants Commission–National Eligibility Test (NET) after concerns were raised about the exam’s integrity.

Need for action

In Bihar, four NEET aspirants arrested for their involvement in a paper leak have reportedly confessed that the question paper was leaked on the eve of the 5 May exam. The gang allegedly charged up to 32 lakh for the leaked material. The NEET fiasco has prompted a string of petitions across various courts of the country, including at the Supreme Court.

While some said the setting up of a committee was not enough, others welcomed the move.

“We believe this action is insufficient and merely an attempt to cool down the issue. The SIO demands a thorough Special Investigation Team probe under the guidance of the Supreme Court to ensure a transparent and unbiased investigation…,” said Roshan Mohiddin, national secretary of the Student Islamic Organisation (SIO), one of the petitioners in the case.

“This is a welcome step. However, a balancing act is required. Responsibilities must be fixed and the guilty must be punished. We need to remember that there are lakhs of innocent students who have put in a lot of hard work; they must not be subjected to this ordeal again if leaks are region-specific. In that case, there should be only a limited re-NEET,” said advocate Charu Mathur, one of the petitioners’ lawyers in the case.

UGC-NET cancellation

Regarding the cancellation of UGC-NET, Pradhan stated, “The decision was based on credible evidence of questions being available on the darknet, compromising the exam’s integrity.” According to Pradhan, the question paper that was circulated on the social media platform, Telegram, matched with the original question paper.

On the Bihar incident, Pradhan added, “In the context of the NEET exam, we are in contact with the Bihar government and are receiving updates from Patna. The Patna police are investigating, and strict action will be taken based on credible information.”

SC declined to stay the counselling

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court declined to stay the counselling process for students who cleared the controversial NEET-UG 2024 exam for admissions into undergraduate medical courses. Justices Vikram Nath and S.V.N. Bhatti of a vacation bench stated, “If the exam proceeds, counselling will also continue.”

The Supreme Court also halted proceedings related to paper leak allegations in Rajasthan, Calcutta, and Bombay High Courts, responding to an NTA plea to transfer these cases to the apex court.

The Supreme Court will now hold a comprehensive hearing on 8 July.

Various discrepancies in this year’s NEET exam were highlighted during the hearing. One lawyer highlighted the unprecedented number of 67 students scoring full marks of 720, prompting calls for scrutiny of their academic backgrounds. Other lawyers raised the issue of students losing significant exam time at a Meghalaya test centre and allegations of incorrect multiple-choice questions (MCQs).

Following the release of the NEET 2024 results on 4 June, numerous discrepancies came to light, notably the unprecedented occurrence of 67 students achieving perfect scores of 720/720. Questions were raised regarding the legitimacy of these scores, especially with reports that six students from a single centre in Haryana achieved perfect scores.

In response to these controversies, several petitions were filed. The Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) challenged the results, demanding a fresh examination. Alakh Pandey, CEO of Physics Wallah that coaches aspirants for medical and engineering admission tests, filed a petition contesting the arbitrary awarding of grace marks to approximately 1,500 students.

Other petitions highlighted score discrepancies, statistical anomalies, and called for reevaluation of OMR sheets without grace marks, forensic audits, and nullification of specific NTA announcements. Additionally, there were calls for a CBI investigation into alleged paper leaks, particularly focused on the Jai Jalaram School in Gujarat.

On 13 June, the government informed the Supreme Court of its decision to withdraw grace marks given to 1,536 students, providing them with revised scores and the option to reappear for the exam on 23 June.

Subsequently, on 14 June, the Supreme Court issued notices to the Centre and the NTA in response to a CBI inquiry into the alleged paper leak.

Approximately 2.4 million candidates had participated in the entrance exam held on 5 May across 571 cities, including 14 centres located outside India.

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