NEET-UG sanctity breached, decision on re-exam will be based on extent of paper leak: apex court

The Uncut

New Delhi. The Supreme Court on Monday said that the sanctity of NEET-UG 2024 has been “violated” and if the entire process is affected, a re-examination can be ordered. The apex court also sought information from the National Examination Agency (NTA) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) about the time and manner of leakage of the question paper as well as the number of wrongdoers so that its impact can be ascertained.

A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Mishra sternly told the Centre and the National Examination Agency (NTA) which conducts the prestigious exam, “We should not remain in denial mode. This will only aggravate the problem.” The bench said, “One thing is clear that the question paper has been leaked. There is no doubt that the sanctity of the exam has been breached. The question is how widespread is the leak?” The bench raised several questions and said that if the breach of sanctity affects the entire process, then a re-examination will have to be ordered. The court said that if the sanctity of NEET-UG 2024 has been “destroyed” and if its leaked question paper has been circulated through social media, then a re-examination will have to be ordered.

The bench said that the extent of the question paper leak and the beneficiaries across geographical boundaries will have to be ascertained, only then can the court order a re-examination in the controversial medical entrance exam held on May 5. The said exam was held at 4,750 centers in 571 cities including 14 foreign cities in which 23.33 lakh candidates appeared. It said that if the violations are limited to specific areas and it is possible to identify the wrongdoers, then it would not be appropriate to order a re-examination in such a large scale exam.

The apex court said it would have to examine whether the alleged violations took place at a “systemic level”, whether it affected the sanctity of the entire examination process and whether it was possible to separate the beneficiaries of the fraud from the untainted candidates who appeared for the exam on May 5.

The bench said, “In a situation where the entire process is affected by the breach of integrity and it is not possible to separate the beneficiaries of wrongdoings from others, it may be necessary to order a re-examination.” The bench said, “One thing is clear that the question paper has been leaked.” The bench also asked the NTA to provide information about the beneficiaries of wrongdoings as well as the method adopted to identify them.

The court directed the investigating officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), who is probing the allegations of malpractice, manipulation of OMR sheets, impersonation of a candidate and cheating, to submit a report giving the status of the investigation by Monday.

The court said that the NTA should disclose the steps taken so far to identify the beneficiaries of the wrongdoings.
The bench sought information from the NTA about the steps taken to identify the centres and cities where the question papers were leaked, the methods adopted to identify the beneficiaries and their number detected so far. The bench said, “Before passing an order for re-examination, we should understand what is the nature of the leak.” It said that it is difficult to ask more than 23 lakh candidates to appear for the examination again.

It said, “In what manner did the leak take place? If the mode of leak is through electronic means like Telegram and WhatsApp…, then it is likely that the leak is widespread.” The bench said, “In this view, the NTA is directed to clarify on the basis of the materials in its possession: (1) when did the leak of the question paper first take place; (2) how the question paper was leaked and circulated; (3) the time period between the incident of leak and the actual conduct of the examination on May 5.” Seeking information on the status of counselling of NEET-UG 2024, which has been deferred for the time being, the apex court also asked the Centre and the NTA about the feasibility of using data analytics from cyber forensic units or other expert agencies to detect suspicious cases in which they may be asked to take the exam again.

Expressing concern over ensuring the purity of NEET-UG, the Supreme Court said that it would be necessary for the government to consider forming a multi-disciplinary team of eminent experts so that such incidents do not happen again in future. The Supreme Court was hearing more than 30 petitions related to the controversial medical entrance exam NEET-UG 2024 on Monday. These include petitions alleging irregularities and malpractice in the examination held on May 5 and requesting for a direction to conduct the examination afresh.

It said if the question paper is being leaked through Telegram, WhatsApp and other electronic means, it will “spread like wildfire.” “There is no doubt that the question paper has been leaked. We are ascertaining the extent of the leak,” the bench said. The bench said there were some “warning signs” as 67 candidates had scored 720 out of 720 marks. “This ratio was very low in previous years,” the bench said. The next hearing on the petitions will be held on July 11.

The Center and the National Examination Agency had recently said in their affidavits in the court that cancelling the exam without any evidence of breach of confidentiality would have a very adverse effect as it could have a “serious impact” on lakhs of honest candidates. The NEET-UG exam is conducted by the NTA for admission to MBBS, BDS, AYUSH and other related courses in government and private institutions across the country. Allegations of irregularities, including paper leaks, led to protests in several cities and a rift between rival political parties.

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