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The Curious Case of Paper Leaks: How Big is the NEET UG 2024 Exam Mess?

'Not the first time – NEET has been taken up in court almost every year since 2015,' an RTI activist said.

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Days after a Supreme Court bench observed that the 'sanctity' of the NEET UG 2024 exam had been affected, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan claimed there was "no concrete evidence of any kind of rigging, corruption or paper leak". Even as hundreds of students protested across different parts of India, Pradhan on Thursday, 13 June hit out at the Opposition for "spreading confusion" and, in turn, "affecting the mental health of students".

However, First Information Reports (FIRs) filed in at least three different locations – Bihar, Gujarat and Delhi – and petitioners in the batch of pleas filed in the apex court claim otherwise.

The complainants allege that not only was the NEET UG 2024 question paper leaked, but answers were also provided to students a night before, and that the accused took Rs 10 lakh to write answers for candidates.

Moreover, Dr Vivek Pandey, an RTI activist and petitioner in a case, alleged to The Quint that the NEET 2024 question paper “has been leaked on a large scale,” stressing on the need for a re-exam.

What do the FIRs say? And why are activists demanding a probe into the malpractices by National Testing Agency (NTA), the nodal body responsible for conducting NEET?

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'Received Question Paper Night Before Exam, Was Asked to Memorise Answers'

An FIR (accessed by The Quint) filed on the day of the NEET exam, on 5 May, at Shastri Nagar police station in Bihar's Patna by police inspector Amar Kumar states that the NEET UG 2024 paper was leaked, and several students had received the answer key one night prior to the exam.

It further says that members of an organised gang were roaming around an exam centre in a car. On receiving information, at least three members of the gang were apprehended – and photocopies of four admit cards were recovered from their vehicle.

One of the accused Sikander Yadvendu confessed to the police that several students across Patna had received the question paper and the answer key. The police then verified this by questioning a candidate Ayush Raj, whose admit card was recovered from the accused’s car. Raj told the police:

'Not the first time – NEET has been taken up in court almost every year since 2015,' an RTI activist said.

He added that 20-25 other candidates were also given the question paper with answers.

Raj was also arrested by the police. The accused were charged under sections 407 (criminal breach of trust by carrier), 408 (criminal breach of trust y clerk), 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant) and 120-B (punishment for criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.  

During the course of the investigation, 13 people, including four examinees, were arrested by Patna Police. The paper leak gang allegedly took Rs 30 to 50 lakh from candidates, according to a report in Hindustan Times

The Economic Offenses Unit (EOU) of Bihar Police is now probing the case and has sought relevant documents from the NTA.

Meanwhile, the autonomous body, which falls under the Ministry of Education, shared on X that it had "proactively provided" all relevant information and documents to Patna Police, adding that they remain "committed to fully supporting and assisting all investigations and law enforcement agencies involved in this matter."

'Took Rs 10 Lakh to Fill OMR, Asked Candidates to Only Mark Answers They Knew'

Another FIR was filed at Godhra Taluka police station in Gujarat by the District Education Officer Kiritkumar Manilal Patel on 8 May.  

The FIR (accessed by The Quint) names one Tusharbhai Rajinikanth Bhatt, who was a Physics teacher at Jai Jalara School in Godhra, and was appointed as the Deputy Superintendent to conduct NEET exam at the school. 

When the district education department inspected Bhatt’s phone, they found names of 16 students with their roll numbers and exam centres in a WhatsApp conversation with Parshuram Roy, owner of Roy Overseas, and the second accused in the case.

'Not the first time – NEET has been taken up in court almost every year since 2015,' an RTI activist said.

Two lists – one with names of 20 students marked in blue ink and another with names of six students marked in red ink – were recovered from Bhatt. While the former was a list of candidates taking their NEET exam at another branch of the Jai Jalara School, the latter was a list of candidates at the school’s Godhra branch, where Bhatt was present.

Two bags of cash worth Rs 7 lakh were also recovered from Bhatt’s car on the day of the exam and were allegedly given to him by the third accused Arif Vora.

Kiritkumar Patel told The Quint that his team “had successfully foiled the malpractice attempt ahead of the exam on 5 May.”  

So far, apart from these three, two more accused have been arrested, including school principal Principal Purshottam Sharma and education consultant Vibhor Anand. 

Godhra Deputy Superintendent of Police NV Patel told The Indian Express that Anand, based in Vadodara but hailing from Bihar, put students in touch with Roy. “Students from other states had also contacted Anand through his ads on social media – and he had referred some students to Roy,” Patel told the newspaper. 

While seeking remand for Roy, the police informed the court that of the 26 students named in the lists, at least 16 hailed from Odisha, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Karnataka, but had chosen Godhra’s Jai Jalaram School as their exam centre.

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'Two MBBS Students Impersonated as Candidates'

A third FIR was registered at the Tilak Marg police station in Delhi a day after the exam was held. The complainant, Ajay Bhardwaj, was appointed as the Centre Superintendent for a NEET exam centre at Delhi’s KG Marg.

'Not the first time – NEET has been taken up in court almost every year since 2015,' an RTI activist said.

According to a report in The Times of India, both Kesharwani and Mandoliya are medical students pursuing their MBBS degree from colleges in Uttarakhand and West Bengal, respectively. They were roped in by one Kishor Lal, who ran a counselling agency in Rajasthan, and were offered Rs 7-10 lakh to write the exam.

The police have arrested the three so far – and an investigation regarding involvement of ‘paper solver gangs’ is underway.

In separate impersonation incidents in Delhi during the NEET 2024 exam, the police arrested three others from Malaviya Nagar and Ambedkar Nagar.

After the allegations of paper leak surfaced, the NTA maintained:

'Not the first time – NEET has been taken up in court almost every year since 2015,' an RTI activist said.
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Not The First Time That NEET Has Landed in Court

Talking to The Quint, RTI activist Dr Pandey said, "Over 24 lakh students took the NEET exam this time, competing for 1.09 lakh seats. Awarding grace marks to 1,500+ students cannot cause the ranks of other candidates to fall by thousands. This points to malpractices which should be probed.”

Dr Pandey was referring to another aspect of the allegations into the NEET 2024 exam apart from paper leak – that of awarding of grace marks.

The NTA, citing a 2018 SC judgment, awarded compensatory marks or grace marks for loss of time to around 1,563 students without revealing how it was calculated.

Even as students slammed the NTA for no prior information on the same, experts claimed that the 2018 order was for the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), which is an online exam (and so loss of time takes into account any software glitches) and cannot be applied for an offline exam such as NEET.

As of Thursday, 13 June, the NTA told the top court that the score cards of the 1,563 candidates who were given grace marks will be cancelled, with an option to take re-test on 23 June.

Meanwhile, Dr Pandey pointed out that this is not the first time that NEET has been under scanner.

'Not the first time – NEET has been taken up in court almost every year since 2015,' an RTI activist said.

We look at a brief timeline: 

  1. Vanshika Yadav vs Union of India: The petitioner had demanded a stay on results, and re-exam alleging NEET 2024 question paper leak. Though the SC agreed to entertain the PIL on 17 May, it refused re-exam and a stay on results. 

  2. In 2022, the Rajasthan High Court had sought a response from NTA over a plea seeking revaluation of marks NEET 2022. The petitioner had claimed discrepancy in marks scored by him. 

  3. In 2021, several aspirants had sought cancellation of the NEET-UG exam conducted on 12 September alleging paper leak and malpractices. The SC had, however, dismissed the plea saying it will affect lakhs of students who took the exam. 

  4. In 2021, the SC had issued notice to the National Board of Examination (NBE) on a petition, which alleged serious discrepancy in the result of NEET-PG 2021 exam. Over 400 aspirants claimed that the number of attempted questions reflected at the end of the computer screen is not the same as the marks reflected in the score card. The petitioners sought release of the question paper, answer key and option of revaluation in case of discrepancy.

  5. In 2017, the SC had refused to nullify the NEET-2017 exam, revoking the interim stay on publication of results ordered by the Madras High Court after petitioners argued variation in question papers formed in vernacular languages.

  6. In 2016, the SC had refused to entertain a petition, which sought a court-monitored probe into allegations of question paper leak of NEET phase II exam conducted on 24 July. The court had then observed: 

“No, we will not. We do not want to monitor any probe. The courts are not meant for that. It is the duty of the police and CBSE to examine the issue, ensure there is no hanky-panky and take a decision.” 

  1. In 2015, the Supreme Court had cancelled All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT), which was the precursor to NEET and then conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). The exam was cancelled as the question paper and answer key was leaked at different exam centres across 10 states. 

(The Quint has reached out to the NTA for their response on the FIRs. The story will be updated once they respond. With legal inputs from advocate Tahini Bhushan, Partner at Tatvika Legal.)

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