Wider NEET retest not on the cards: Education minister Dharmendra Pradhan | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Wider NEET retest not on the cards: Education minister Dharmendra Pradhan

By, New Delhi
Jun 15, 2024 04:47 AM IST

On Friday, Dharmendra Pradhan hit back at the allegations, saying a large number of students who cleared the NEET exam this year are from rural areas.

The Union government will not tolerate malpractice and irregularities in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), Union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan said on Friday, but indicated that scrapping the entire entrance examination was unlikely as the sanctity of the process could not be judged by irregularities in a handful of sessions.

Students holding placards protest against the alleged irregularities in the NEET examination, in Bhopal on Friday. (ANI)
Students holding placards protest against the alleged irregularities in the NEET examination, in Bhopal on Friday. (ANI)

Pradhan spoke hours after groups of students protested outside the education ministry and submitted a memorandum asking for a re-exam for everyone, a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the skewed results, and transparency from the National Testing Agency (NTA).

He also met some of the agitating students and their parents, but reiterated that there was no concrete proof to establish the allegations of paper leaks during the exam this year. He also said there were more toppers this year because 300,000 more students appeared for the test and the authorities had rationalised the syllabus.

“I assured the students that their interest will be taken care of. I told them not to judge the sanctity of the exam on the basis of the issues reported at a few centres,” he said.

His comments came a day after the Supreme Court allowed the Centre to scrap grace marks awarded to 1,563 students and conduct a NEET for them amid chaos and allegations engulfing the premier examination that threaten to jeopardise the futures of hundreds of thousands of children.

For weeks, protests have swept across India as thousands of students hit the streets against this year’s process amid allegations of question paper leaks, inflated marking and arbitrary allowance of grace marks, even as opposition parties called for a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the allegations.

On Friday, Pradhan hit back at the allegations, saying a large number of students who cleared the exam this year are from rural areas, including those who did not take any coaching. “Some people are not able to digest this and therefore, they are trying to conspire against the interest of such students,” he said.

Pradhan said 41 petitions were pending currently before different high courts and the Supreme Court, and asked who were behind these petitions. “These petitioners are neither parents nor students… Some people who are insecure about the fact that exams like NEET-UG have reached rural areas and many students from rural areas are clearing these exams. Last year, a state-board student from Tamil Nadu topped the NEET-UG examination,” the education minister said.

His comments came on a day the top court issued notice on a petition seeking an independent CBI probe into allegations of paper leak and sought the response of the NTA by July 8, when the matter will be next heard. The vacation bench of justices Vikram Nath and Sandeep Mehta also issued notice on a set of six other petitions related to paper leak charges and a transfer petition moved by NTA for shifting a petition pending before Delhi high court to the apex court.

“The government is committed to protect the interests of NEET examinees. I want to assure that the government will not tolerate any irregularities and malpractice in the conduct of the medical examination. Anyone found guilty of involvement in such practices will be strictly punished. The ministry will also fix the accountability of the NTA. In case, any lapses are found at the agency’s level, action will be taken. All concerns of students will be addressed with fairness and equity,” the Union minister said

This year’s NEET has been shrouded in controversy after allegations surfaced that in one centre in Rajasthan, students appearing for Hindi medium got question papers in English amid reports of torn OMR sheets and delay in distribution of question papers. A case was lodged in Patna over an alleged paper leak, after which the police arrested 13 people involved in solving question papers and supplying answers as part of a racket. The arrested people include four examinees.

The 1,563 candidates who got grace marks complained that they did not get the stipulated 3 hours and 20 minutes to complete the examination. The NTA grievance committee looked into this aspect and identified the 1,563 candidates from six centres in Meghalaya, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Surat and Chandigarh. The students – which included six toppers who took the test at the same centre in Bahadurgarh, Haryana – lost their grace marks on Thursday.

In all 2.4 million students sat for the examination at 4,750 centres spread across 571 cities around the world.

Pradhan said that some issues had come forward from some centres and investigation was underway. “The issue of 1,563 students has already been addressed by the Supreme Court and the NTA will conduct a re-exam for those students on June 23. Some issues have also come forward from two centres but they are in the Supreme Court. Let’s wait for July 8 and what the Supreme Court says. We have nothing to hide, the government is very transparent,” he said.

The Union minister said that incorrect question papers were distributed at just six centres. On the increase in the number of top scorers – the number of people with a perfect score this year was 67, compared to zero in 2022 and two in 2023 – and inflation of marks, Pradhan said that the number of aspirants had increased, leading to more competition.

“Three lakh more students have appeared for the NEET-UG exam this year in comparison to last year. Besides, the NTA has aligned the question papers with the rationalised NCERT syllabus and also with the syllabus of different state boards. It made the exam even more accessible for students,and we have seen more participation from rural areas as well. Besides, the NTA has also expanded the examination centres to rural areas,” he said.

He also attacked the Opposition’s demands for scrapping NEET.

“It is because some states want to decide who is studying in their colleges. There was no transparent process for admissions in many states. And therefore, the Supreme Court authorised NTA to conduct an all-India entrance. The NTA has been conducting the examination for the last many years. Last year, the topper of the NEET-UG was from the Tamil Nadu state board. What is the need of scrapping the exam?” he asked.

When asked if the government will take steps to bring some reforms in the way NTA conducts entrance, Pradhan said, “NTA is a competent agency. However, no institution is perfect and we work on bringing reforms continuously.”

The government’s response failed to impress the Opposition, which called NEET the next Vyapam scam, referring to a government recruitment examination scandal from Madhya Pradesh a decade ago that affected thousands of aspirants.

Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge alleged a cover-up. “If the paper was not leaked in NEET then – why were 13 accused arrested in Bihar due to paper leak? Did the Economic Offences Unit (EOU) of Patna police not expose the payment of 30 lakh- 50 lakh to the education mafia and organised gangs involved in the racket in exchange for papers?” he said in a post on X.

Pradhan rejected the charges. “The Congress party has taken responsibility for spreading confusion in this country. They have lost the elections, and therefore they are doing this.”

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