NEET 2024 Row: A Wake-up Call

by Maguni Charan Behera

The result of NEET 2004 with the scam of irregularities gives a wake-up call to look what happens around:  how the system works, how vested interests try to fish out of troubled water, and how students become victim.  The alleged irregularities in examinations are not new; they are recurring phenomena every year, irrespective of which party forms the government. In fact, it has its roots in the past.

NEET 2024T is alleged to have irregularities due to paper leakage, involvement of mafia, contentious grace mark, improper conduct of test in some centres, increase in cut-off marks, and several toppers from a centre. The last two allegations are trivial, but their solution can have placating effect on the protes. NTA (National Testing Agency) with the help of the SC has addressed the grace mark allegation by conducting re-test of 1563 students whom grace marks were awarded. The Education Minister affirms of non-receipt of any allegation of question leakage.

However, there is no proper reply to other allegations so far which create suspicion in public and among students.  The court has also remarked about the loss of sanctity in the conduct of the test.

Petitions have been filed seeking cancellation of the result, conduct of re-test, and CBI enquiry against the irregularities. Petitioners are a few students, but concernedly, there are teachers of coaching centres. The allegations are supported by other students, probably who could not score as expected, their parents, some media houses, a section of public, and vociferously opposition political parties. The SC has fixed the date of hearing on 8 July 2024. However, it did not cancel the result and counselling.

This has created uncertainty and tension among the students who, by dint of hard work have scored desired marks. The concern is about the re-test for all in case the court orders so.  They are afraid of it as a distress-test. They were fresh at the time of test conducted on 5 May 2004 and there is a gap thereafter and a sense of satisfaction after the result. Normally, the aftermath of hard labour makes one complacent, relaxed and lethargic. The confusion and uncertainty provide an added negative stimulation.

Further, short period for the preparation of question papers, finding impartial paper setters and moderators may be a challenge. It is an open secret that many teachers are directly or indirectly associated with coaching centres. Some of them are authors of study materials. The difficulty level of questions may not be objectively assessed within a short time. Those who could not score or scored unscrupulously have nothing to lose. They will put blame on everything if fail to perform better in re-test. But students with good score by dint of hard labour are shaky and psychologically depressed due to above factors.

The apparent allegations are as serious as other issues that need scrutiny. Will conduct of re-test ensure justice to students who performed by dint of hard labour? Will it take care of their conditions of complacence, uncertainty and apprehension of different types of irregularities?

Undoubtedly, as it is learned through media, some candidates have genuine grievances. Could not these grievances be resolved on their individual merit? A simple simile can justify the logic. When a boil occurs on any limb of the body, the whole body is not dissected. Prudency demands treatment of the boil first, and then the body to prevent reoccurrence of boils further. The SC has been judicious enough so far by upholding the result, counselling, and addressing the grace mark allegation.  Evidently, the allegations, like the boil have their own area of solution. The culprits have to be punished, the grievances of particular nature and at particular centres have to be resolved, and the honest labour of students rewarded. A culprit may escape law but an innocent must not be punished.

As has been mentioned, the test/exam related scams are not new. But why is so much hue and cry now? Where were the media, politicians and other well-wishers of the students? Why did not they try to put the things in order before? Are they real student friends or in search of opportunity to gain from it? The Education Minister has assured students of accountability and transparency.  It is a welcome step indeed. But should one a wake-up to aftermath of the crisis when its nature is recurring?  It learnt that counselling centres are petitioners and behind fueling the fire of student discontent. Has anybody verified how many students from these centres qualified? What are their track records? What is the fee structure? What is their real motive of petitioning and inciting?
The real problem, with the involvement of media, politicians is presented in distorted form. They just incite the students, with false ideas, taking advantage of their emotional crisis.

There are slightly more than one lakh medical seats in the country. Not all of the 24 lakhs applicants will get it. How come the life of 24 lakh students is destroyed? The fact of the matter is that some of the deserving candidates are deprived of the seats due to irregularities, scam, etc. Is not this type of saying a means to mobilise students for mass protest? Does not something smell foul? How come the life of future 24 lakh doctors is ruined?  Will 24 lakh aspiring candidates get seats? Even those found eligible are not admitted to the course yet! By inciting their sentiment in this way it seems to be a design to mobilise the students for mass protest and create instability. When the matter is in the court, then why the protest? Students should be cautious of such forces.

It is reported in media that the examination mafia are paid 10-32 lakh rupees. In addition there are coaching fees, and expenditure during the course. In private medical colleges annual expenditure sometimes go beyond one crore rupees. A huge investment is involved of course. Then such doctors, who invested will not see their profession as ‘social service’ as is in public perception. Private hospitals do not pay them lucratively except to a few.  Doctors investing so much money and not earning upto expectations involve in organ sale or other types of unlawful activities.  Why such issues have not incited mass protests?

The issue of NEET 2024 is a tip of the iceberg. It has several crucial ramifications demanding critical present and future attention. Broadly, it involves two issues: student concerns and a neat image of the NEET. It should be the responsibility of the NTA to come out clean by instituting investigations into allegations. Proofs of irregularities in Bihar and Gujarat are pouring in.  The system of examination involves a network of participation: NTA, Printing Press, packaging team, Courier and Examination Centres. There is every possibility of leakage at any point by anybody, given the examination mafia’s involvement and individual greed for money.  Let the culprits be punished. It is easy, because centres with irregularities have been identified.  The law authority can easily identify culprits at the examination centres: students, parents, and mafia involved.  These students should be rusticated from appearing NEET; parents should be booked under criminal law, and other students of the centre should not be troubled. If questions are distributed late it is a commonsense to extend the time of collection of answer papers. The teachers and examination superintendent of centres that did not do this should be punished and centres should be blacklisted.

In our country, there is a high demand for trained doctors. Realising this, the government is increasing the number of medical colleges. But colleges cannot be established at a short notice to address present crisis.

So, increase in in-take capacity of existing colleges is proposed. The government may bring an ordinance to increase medical seats for one year in exiting colleges as a crisis-management measure. An increase in five seats in each of 783 colleges will give admission to an additional 3915 candidates. This will take care of the allegation of cut-off marks, demand for re-test, and will not disturb the academic session. For accountability and transparency, for the present and future, the government should take strong action against the culprits and mafia.


(The Author is a retired Professor of Tribal Studies & views are his own)

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