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NEET UG controversy: What went wrong, why are students upset and why are authorities saying there was no paper leak

Multiple arrests made in Bihar and Gujarat alarmed the NEET aspirants who alleged that paper leaks and cheating undermine the credibility of the exam and the fairness of the results.

The NEET UG 2024 results have sparked widespread controversy and debate, with suspicions of inflated marks and other anomalies. Following the release of the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET-UG) results on 4th June, which announced that as many as 67 students received a perfect score of 720/720 marks to share the All-India Rank (AIR) 1, a large number of medical aspirants and their parents raised numerous concerns about glitches, alleged malpractices, ambiguous implementation of grace marks, above all an alleged paper leak. It is notable that 23,33,297 candidates from all over India appeared for the prestigious exam this year.

Why are candidates dissatisfied with the NEET UG 2024 results

Many candidates are concerned that the mark inflation in the NEET UG 2024 results will make it more difficult to get into medical school this year. Several students have taken to social media to demand that the results be cancelled and a re-examination be held.

It has been reported that 44 of the 67 students achieved a perfect 720/720 score with the highest score being 99.997129 percentile. Questions have also been raised over multiple candidates from one exam centre of the same series roll codes getting AIR 1 and consecutive ranks.

The scorecards of two students achieving 718 and 719 are being posted on social media, with parents and many educators claiming that getting such a score in the NEET exam is impossible since each NEET question carries four marks, with one mark for negative marking.

The perceived lack of transparency in the scoring process and the final results has further fuelled dissatisfaction among students.

Even before a controversy erupted over marks and 67 candidates getting AIR 1, NEET UG candidates were outraged over an alleged paper leak. Last month, Bihar Police arrested 14 solvers posing as candidates, for cheating and alleged paper leaks. 14 people were arrested, including eight from Katihar, four from Purnia, two from Vaishali, and one each from Gopalganj and Patna, for allegedly taking the tests instead of registered candidates. It was reported that separate FIRs were filed against the accused solvers. It was alleged that the gang members paid solvers Rs 5-10 lakh each to appear on behalf of genuine candidates at many exam centres. 

Police in Patna nabbed two examinees at an examination centre as they were solving question papers with seized answer sheets. On 5th May, Patna Police arrested Nitish Kumar and Amit Anand.

Later, the Economic Offences Unit (EOU) took over the investigation, which revealed that the brokers received between Rs 30 lakh and Rs 50 lakh from several aspirants in exchange for providing them with NEET UG 2024 question papers. EOU later searched accused Nitish Kumar and Amit Anand’s flats and confiscated several documents including roll numbers of candidates, bank cheques, etc.

In fact, around 35 arrested aspirants, during interrogation confessed that the question paper in the exam was similar to the one they got from the broker a day before the exam. EOU Deputy DIG Manavjit Singh Dhillon revealed that accused Amit Anand ran a educational consultancy firm claiming to help students in NEET-like competitive exams. The accused used to connect with aspirants and their parents over messaging apps. Notably, the police had also arrested a broker named Sikander Yadavendu who was in touch with Amit Anand. Yadavendu, a junior engineer had burnt the question papers at his Ram Krishna Nagar rented flat.

Officer Dhillon even said that the purported NEET paper leak was akin to the Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC) and Teacher Recruitment Exam paper leak.

Other than Bihar, three persons Tushar Bhatt, Parshuram Roy and Arif Vora were arrested and booked in Godhra district of Gujarat for allegedly receiving money for helping some candidates get good marks in the NEET exam. Tushar Bhatt, a school teacher and deputy centre superintendent confessed that he along with accused Parshuram and Airf struck a deal for Rs 10 lakh. The Police seized 7 lakh rupees from Bhatt’s possession. The police said that Bhatt received 7 lakh rupees in advance and it was decided that he would fill those OMR sheets before sealing them. The 6 candidates involved in the scam were asked to attempt only those questions they surely knew the correct answer of and leave others for Bhatt. Evidence on Bhatt’s mobile phone was found during an investigation by a team that included the district additional collector and the district education officer. The retrieved list of 16 candidates, in addition to their details, was given to Bhatt’s WhatsApp by co-accused Roy.

Moreover, in New Delhi, the police arrested a coaching centre owner and two medical students for running an alleged NEET-paper-solving racket. The two medical students were allegedly caught with mismatched biometric data at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Mehta Vidyalaya on the exam day (5th May). The arrested students told the police during interrogation about their handlers Prabhat Kumar and Kishor Lal. These handlers identified brilliant students and offered them money to influence the admission process. The Police said that the accused handlers charged Rs 25 to 30 lakh for arranging proxy test takers.

Although the National Testing Agency (NTA) initially denied these allegations, subsequent evidence and arrests have confirmed some of these incidents, leading to further unrest. Multiple arrests made in Bihar and Gujarat alarmed the NEET aspirants who alleged that such paper leaks and cheating undermine the credibility of the exam and the fairness of the results.

National Testing Agency issues clarification over inflation of marks and cut-offs, refutes paper leak claims

As the outrage over NEET UG 2024 results mounted, the National Testing Agency (NTA) issued a statement addressing the issue. In response to a question about how the grace marks were provided and to how many candidates, the NTA clarified that the agency granted grace marks to students based on the loss of examination time as determined using CCTV footage, and such candidates were compensated with marks based on their answering efficiency and loss of exam time. The circular also said that 1,563 candidates had been compensated, and their revised marks ranged from -20 to 720. Due to compensatory marks, the two candidates received scores of 718 and 719, respectively.

“The Committee considered the grievances/representations on the basis of factual reports of the functionaries and CCTV footages from concerned exam Centres. The loss of examination time was ascertained and such candidates were compensated with marks based on their answering efficiency and time lost, as per the mechanism/ formula established by the Hon’ble Apex Court, vide its judgment dated 13.06.2018 in W.P. 551 of 2018. 1563 candidates were compensated for the loss of time and the revised marks of such candidates vary from -20 to 720 marks. Amongst these, the score of the two candidates also happens to be 718 and 719 marks respectively due to compensatory marks. On the analysis of the CCTV footage, it was ascertained that the integrity of the examination was not compromised at these Centres,” the NTA said in its statement. However, there was no clarification on how many grace marks were given to such candidates.

Notably, the decision to grant grace marks came after several aspirants moved High Courts of Punjab and Haryana, Delhi and Chhattisgarh over loss of time at exam centres.

Saying that the number of candidates who appeared in 2023 was 20,38,596, while the number of candidates who appeared in 2024 increased to 23,33,297, the NTA said that the increase in candidates “naturally led to an increase in high scorers due to a larger pool of candidates.” However, an increase of 3 lakh candidates does not appear to be that high a number that such an inflation in ranks can be justified.

Other than compensatory marks for loss of time at examination centres, the NTA said that changes in the NCERT textbooks also caused and an increase in marks of 44 candidates out of 67 candidates who received the perfect score. NTA said that as there were differences in old and new editions of NCERT textbooks, Physics subject experts decided that two options for that particular question be deemed correct instead of one option. It is pertinent to note that aspirants heavily rely on NCERT books for their NEET UG exam preparations.

NTA informed that it received 13,373 challenges to the provisional answer key of one question in Physics. “Due to the differences in the old and new editions of the NCERT textbook, the Subject Expert(s) held that two options be taken as correct in place of one option for this Question. Out of the 67 candidates who got 720/720 marks, 44 are on account of the revision in one Answer Key of Physics and 06 are on account of compensatory marks for loss of time,” the NTA said.

Addressing concerns raised over increased cut-offs, the Agency said that the increase in cut-offs “reflects the competitive nature of the examination and the high standards achieved by the candidates this year.”

Notably, the cut-offs for NEET UG 2024 for the unreserved category this year went up to 164, while last year it was 137, in 2022, it was 117, in 2021, it was 138 and in the year 2020, it was 147.

It is pertinent to mention here that although the NTA clarified that the increase in marks and numerous students securing perfect scores due to grace marks for the above-mentioned reasons, several students and educators are not satisfied. Many such people have argued that NTA should have compensated for the loss of time with time instead of grace marks. Questions are also being raised over why the NTA announced NEET UG 2024 results 10 days prior to the scheduled date.

The 2018 Supreme Court judgment based on which NTA gave grace marks

Many people have argued that the last-minute awarding of grace marks was “unfair” and also questioned which 2018 apex court order was the NTA talking about. Moreover, reports say that several parents have also questioned why the policy of grace marks was not clarified beforehand in the NEET UG 2024 information brochure.

In its statement, the National Test Agency mentioned that it gave compensatory marks to some candidates on grounds of loss of time based on the supreme court judgment dated 13.06.2018 in W.P. 551. It should be noted here that writ petition (w.p.) NTA mentioned pertains to the 2018 Disha Panchal versus Union of India case.

On the 13th of June 2018, the Supreme Court bench comprising justices UU Lalit and Deepak Gupta ordered NUALS to award compensatory marks to candidates who lost time during the 2018 Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) due to technical glitches. The formula suggested by V. Giri, Senior Advocate for Respondents 2&3, NUALS, and core committee CLAT 2018, will be applied. Qualified students will be included in the second round of counselling. Compensatory marks are awarded based on the total number of correct and incorrect answers provided by the candidate during the online test.

It is pertinent to note that the NUALS advocate V Giri had informed the court about the formula used to compensate affected students saying that the number of questions attempted by an aggrieved candidate in the allotted time of 120 minutes is used to compute how many questions such a candidate would have attempted if malfunctions had not occurred. It was also determined how many of the attempted questions were right. The final score is derived by multiplying the pro rata ratio of correctly answered and incorrectly answered questions by the number of questions granted for the lost time.

Notably, while the NTA’s statement explains why it gave grace marks to some candidates, some aspirants in online forums have highlighted that the same sequence of roll numbers for some of the high-scoring candidates on the NTA’s declared merit list suggests that they all took the test at the same exam centre. How come candidates with the same sequence roll number scored the same marks? This seems unusual and raises concerns.  The NTA should come up with a clarification on this.

Although the NTA noted that some cases have been registered against impersonators by the Agency and state police, and the outcome of the investigation in such cases is awaited, the Agency “categorically denied any case of paper leak and that the “integrity of the examination was not compromised”.

What next?

The NTA should come up with a more detailed explanation on how come 67 candidates got AIR 1, just because over 3 lakh more aspirants appeared for the exam this year than last year. Also, it should clarify why students should not suspect scams when the same sequence of roll codes of some of the high-scoring candidates from the NTA suggests that they appeared for the test from the same centre. This pattern raises questions. As some students are calling for a re-examination to ensure that everyone is assessed on an equal footing, NTA should seriously look into the allegations of malpractice and paper leaks. The future of a significant number of students is at stake and thus greater transparency in the entire examination and result declaration process including evaluation criteria and handling of discrepancies should be ensured.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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