NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today paved the way for the declaration of results of a national examination which would decide the fate of around 12 lakh students seeking to join medical and dental colleges across the country.
The apex court stayed a May 24 interim order of the Madras High Court which had restrained the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) from publishing the results of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) of 2017.
The top court said it was inclined to grant a stay on the high court's order which was indirectly "diluting" the schedule for NEET 2017 earlier fixed by the apex court.
A vacation bench comprising Justices P C Pant and Deepak Gupta directed the authorities concerned to proceed with the process of announcing the results, subsequent counselling and admission as per the schedule fixed by the apex court.
However, the bench said the result declaration as well as the subsequent counselling and admission through NEET 2017 would be subject to the decision of the apex court in the matter pending before it.
It also asked the high courts not to entertain pleas in the matters relating to NEET 2017.
"On one ground we are inclined to stay the high court's order. What indirectly this order is doing is that it is diluting the schedule fixed by the Supreme Court," the bench said while posting the matter for hearings after the summer vacation.
The court noted the contentions of Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Maninder Singh, appearing for CBSE, and other petitioners who challenged the May 24 order on the ground that it was against the spirit of the order passed by the apex court in which the NEET 2017 schedule was fixed.
"In view of the above, the interim order is stayed and it is directed that the authorities concerned will proceed further with the declaration of result for NEET 2017 examination held on May 7 subject to the decision of this court," the bench said.
When Singh told the court that various high courts were entertaining pleas in matters related to NEET, the bench "requested" the high courts not to entertain writ petitions in matters relating to the NEET examination held on May 7, 2017.
The high court had on May 24 granted an interim stay on the publication of NEET results on a batch of pleas alleging that a uniform question paper was not given to the candidates, and that there was a vast difference between the ones in English and Tamil.
The apex court also issued notices to the respondents, who had filed the petition in the Madras High Court, on the pleas filed by the CBSE and others.
During the arguments, Singh said NEET examination 2017 was conducted by the CBSE and this year, besides English and Hindi, the test was conducted in eight regional languages under the orders of the apex court. He said around 10.5 lakh aspirants had given the test in either English or Hindi while 1.30 lakh-1.50 lakh candidates had opted for regional languages.
The test papers for English and Hindi were the same, but questions were different in the papers for other languages, he said, but held that the "difficulty" level was the same in all papers.
"There was uniformity in the degree of difficulty of the questions," he said, adding that this had also been certified by experts.
While referring to the NEET question paper leak in 2015, Singh said if the papers in regional languages were leaked this year, around 12 lakh aspirants would have had to appear in a fresh examination.
He said the CBSE was scheduled to declare the results on June 8 but because of the high court's order, the admission process was stalled.
The CBSE had on June 9 moved the Supreme Court seeking an immediate stay on the Madras High Court order.
The board had also sought the transfer of petitions on NEET 2017 from various high courts to the apex court.
The petitioners before the high court had demanded that NEET 2017 be cancelled and a fresh exam with a uniform question paper be conducted.
They had claimed that different sets of question papers had been used at various places, though a common syllabus had been announced.