'Scrapping NEET UG in entirety to seriously jeopardise lakhs of honest candidates,' Centre tells SC

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Union government has told Supreme Court that in the absence of any proof of any large-scale breach of confidentiality in a pan-India examination, it would not be rational to scrap the entire examination and the results already declared

The Union government has opposed before the Supreme Court a plea to cancel the NEET UG 2024 held on May 5 for admission to undergraduate courses in medical colleges across the country, saying scrapping the exam in entirety would seriously jeopardise the lakhs of honest candidates.

In an affidavit, the Education Ministry submitted the Union government is committed towards conduct of all competitive examinations in a fair and transparent manner. 

The response comes just ahead of the Supreme Court's scheduled hearing on July 8 on a batch of petitions seeking re examination of all India test.

It also said the Ministry deals with the policy matter only and it has constituted a specialised body, the National Testing Agency in 2018 as an independent, autonomous, and self-sustained premier organisation, which has been conducting NEET UG since May, 2019.

However, after the conduct of the examination, some alleged instances of irregularities, cheating, impersonation, malpractices during the conduct of NEET(UG) 2024 Examination have been reported, it noted.

As regards these alleged instances, the Ministry said it has asked the premier investigation agency, Central Bureau of Investigation which functions at national level, to conduct a comprehensive probe into the entire gamut of alleged irregularities including conspiracy, cheating, impersonation, breach of trust, destruction of evidence by the candidates/institutes/middlemen. CBI has registered the case on June 23, 2024 u/s 120B, r/w 420, 419, 409, 406, 201 IPC and Sec 13(2) r/w 13(1)(a) of PC Act. 

The CBI has taken over the cases registered in different States after being transferred to it by the concerned State Governments and is undertaking the investigation, it added.

It also submitted that in any examination, there are competing rights that have been created whereby the interests of a large number of students who have taken the examination without adopting any alleged unfair means must not also be jeopardised.  "Scrapping the exam in entirety would seriously jeopardize the lakhs of honest candidates who attempted the question paper in 2024," it said.

Among other measures, the Centre said, the Ministry of Education has constituted, after the present examination, a High-Level Committee of Experts to suggest effective measures for conducting transparent, smooth and fair conduct of examinations by the National Testing Agency. 

The government has also maintained it is committed to ensure the sanctity of examinations and protect the interest of students. 

"The Union of India duly appreciates that the confidentiality of the question papers is the utmost priority in any examination and that if due to some criminality at the behest of some criminal elements, the confidentiality has been breached, the Union of India submits that the said person must be dealt sternly and with the full force of law to ensure that they are punished," it said.

As many as 56 NEET qualified candidates from Gujarat have also approached the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Centre and the National Testing Agency to restrain from cancelling the all India test held on May 5, 2024 and take action against only those who indulged in unfair means or any illegal activity.

A petition has also been filed before the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the National Testing Agency (NTA) not to pass any order amounting to cancellation of NEET-UG 2024 examination.

On June 14, the Supreme Court of India had also issued notice in a plea seeking CBI probe into the alleged leak of NEET UG entrance paper. Court sought responses from both NTA and Central government while clarifying that it is not going to stop the ongoing counselling process.

In another plea, Central government had informed the Supreme Court that the grace marks given to candidates who got less than the allotted time to write the NEET undergraduate exam 2024 have been cancelled.

A vacation bench of Justices Vikram Nath and Sandeep Mehta has further been told that these aggrieved candidates will be given the option to retake the exam if they wish to.

The Supreme Court has been flooded with pleas over the NEET UG 2024 examination. A fresh plea was also filed by Alakh Pandey, questioning the NTA's decision to award grace marks to 1563 candidates due to time loss in NEET -UG examination, leading to shooting up of overall merit list.

While dealing with a writ petition filed by Shivangi Mishra and others over the alleged leak of the NEET UG paper, a bench of Justices Vikram Nath and Ahsanuddin Amanullah also issued notice to the National Testing Agency's (NTA) seeking its response saying the "sanctity of the exam seemed to have been affected".

Another plea has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking a fresh examination of NEET, held on May 5, 2024 for admission to medical colleges across the country, in view of alleged paper leak and other malpractices.

The court, however, had refused to stay the ongoing counselling for admissions. The plea seeking a direction for a fresh examination to admission to undergraduate courses in medical colleges across the country has also been fixed for hearing on July 8, when another such plea is scheduled to come up for consideration.

Cause Title: Shivangi Mishra & Ors Vs National Testing Agency