NEET-UG paper leak: SC asks Centre, NTA to file status report, next hearing on July 11

Despite being sure that NEET papers were leaked, the apex court intends to find out if it was so extensive to conduct a retest.
 Supreme Court of India.
Supreme Court of India.(Photo | PTI)

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court in its order on Monday asked the CBI to file a status report on the probe being carried out into the paper leak case pertaining to NEET-UG FIRs by Wednesday.

A three-judge bench of the top court, led by the Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said if the segregation between beneficiaries of fraud and untainted candidates is not possible then a retest has to be held.

The CJI bench fixed July 11, Thursday, as the next date of hearing, while asking the Centre and NTA to answer all its questions. The apex court said a decision on re-test would be taken on the subsequent hearings based on their replies in the case.

During the course of the hearing, the apex court asked several questions to NTA and the Union government as to when were the sets of questions framed. when were they printed, when were they transported and how were they stored before exams. SC said the cancellation of NEET-UG will be the last resort.

It also said that it was clear from the sequence of events that the question paper of NEET-UG was leaked. It, however, added that it has to be find out whether the leakage of question paper was so extensive to order re-examination. "After all we are dealing with the lives and careers of 23 lakh students," CJI Chandrachud said.

"In a situation where breach of sanctity affects the entirety of exam and if segregation is not possible then retest is needed, but if beneficiaries are identified then retest would not be needed which involves students on such a large scale," the bench observed.

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"It has been noted that re exam for 24 lakh students is difficult. If we see that the leak was on social media then it is extremely widespread and if it is through Telegram, WhatsApp then it spread like wildfire and we also have to see the balance with the time of leak like if it was May 5 morning before students went for the exam," the bench observed.

The three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, was hearing more than 35 petitions challenging the irregularities, paper leak and other issues in the NEET-UG examination, seeking various directions including CBI probe and the exam to be held afresh.

These more than 35 petitions have been filed by many students, and various educational institutions. A group of 20 students, who had appeared in the medical entrance exam, filed a plea in the top court seeking a direction for scrapping the NEET-UG exam and an apex court-monitored probe by the CBI or any other independent agency into the alleged irregularities in the test.

The Central government on Friday told the Supreme Court, through an affidavit filed by the Union Ministry of Education, that the exam held on May 5 should not be cancelled, as it would seriously jeopardise lakhs of honest candidates who attempted it. 

It added that the affidavit, filed in the top court, was bonafide and in the interest of justice.

The Union of India (UOI) told the apex court that the genuine concerns by the petitioners, based on proven facts, must be addressed. The prayers raised by many petitioners for cancellation of the exam and the re-test based on "surmises" and "conjectures" must be rejected. The Government is committed to ensuring the sanctity of examinations and protecting the interest of students, the Centre said.

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It further submitted that it was not rational to scrap the entire (NEET-UG) exam in the absence of any proof of large-scale breach of confidentiality. It assured the SC that it was committed towards the conduct of all competitive examinations fairly and transparently. "Stern action will be taken against the criminals if it is found that the confidentiality of the papers has been compromised," the Centre said.

In a similar development in the case, the Bihar government, in its affidavit, said that the police registered FIR in Shastrinagar Police Station in Patna under various sections of the IPC including 120-B (Criminal Conspiracy), 407 (Criminal breach of trust) and others and arrested these 13 accused for their alleged role in the exam.

"The state agencies carried out a detailed and scientific investigation. Some of the accused were found to be involved in other similar offences in the past. Even the candidates were questioned. Four candidates were also arrested who admitted their involvement in illegalities," it said. On May 17, the case was transferred to the Economic Offences Unit, Patna.

It is to be noted that the NEET-UG examination, conducted by NTA, is the process for getting admitted into MBBS, BDS AYUSH and other related courses in government and private institutions across the country.

The NTA (National Testing Agency) which conducts the exam, also filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court opposing the cancellation of the NEET-UG exam. "The alleged malpractices are only in Patna and Godhra centres and the entire exam shall not be cancelled based on individual instances," the NTA said. 

The top court earlier also stayed the proceedings on the batch of pleas filed before various State High Courts in the same issue, after hearing the plea filed by the NTA and issued notice on the agency's plea in connection with this year's NEET-UG exam.

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