On June 4, counting day, while most eyes were on the Lok Sabha elections, around 2.4 million aspirants were on tenterhooks waiting for the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET UG 2024) results. The results drew immediate attention as an extraordinarily large number of candidates, 67, had got the perfect score.

From there erupted a series of paper leak allegations and refutations, which over a month later led to students storming the office of the National Testing Agency — the examination body responsible for conducting NEET and other exams.

CBI takes over probe from Bihar police, ‘brain’ of op identified, 2 held

After the Education Ministry recommended a CBI probe into the alleged NEET-UG paper leak, following the findings of the Bihar police’s Economic Offenses Unit (EOU), the CBI has registered six FIRs and made its first arrests in the case, taking into custody two persons from Patna for providing accommodation and cheating material to the aspirants, who allegedly mugged up the “solved question paper” a night before the entrance exam.

The EOU has also arrested five people, including Baldev Kumar alias Chintu, who had received a PDF of the solved question paper a day before the exam. Investigators have identified a key suspect, Sanjeev Kumar ‘Mukhiya’, as the alleged linchpin of the “Solver Gang” — an interstate network that sold solved question papers of at least five competitive exams. Mukhiya, a resident of Nalanda, is currently absconding but has filed an anticipatory bail plea.

The CBI has also been tasked with investigating the role of any public servants connected to the conduct of the exam or the larger conspiracy.

Festive offer

Cancellations and postponements

The NEET-PG exam, conducted by the National Board of Examinations in Medical Sciences for postgraduate medical programs, has been repeatedly postponed. Initially scheduled for March 3, it was rescheduled to July 7 and then June 23, only to be postponed again at the last minute.

Similarly, the UGC-NET exam, which allows students to pursue teaching careers and PhD programs, was canceled earlier this week over suspicions of a paper leak. The Center announced the cancellation a day after the scheduled exam date of June 18. The Joint CSIR-UGC-NET, which determines eligibility for research fellowships and assistant professorships, was also postponed last week due to “logistical issues”. The exam was initially scheduled between June 25 and June 27.

The Bihar TET exam for primary, secondary, and higher secondary school teaching positions was also postponed.

Opposition’s take, protests, and storming of NTA office

The ongoing controversy has sparked protests and political accusations amid the cancellation and postponement of different entrance examinations. On Thursday, members of the National Students Union of India (NSUI), the Congress party’s student wing, stormed the NTA office in Delhi.

Days before the incident, amid rampant allegations of mishandling students’ answer sheets for the Central University Entrance Test (CUET UG) 2024, the NTA had to clarify that the boxes seen outside the examination halls were empty and did not contain any sensitive material.

Meanwhile, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of failing to address the issue of NEET paper leaks in the country. Gandhi said, “It was being said that Modi stopped the Russia-Ukraine war. But due to some reasons, Narendra Modi has not been able to stop or does not want to stop paper leaks in India.”

Days later, Gandhi criticized the postponement of the NEET-PG exam, calling it “another unfortunate example that the education system has been ruined.”

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to ‘abolish’ the NEET examination.

What does the Supreme Court say

The Supreme Court has raised serious concerns over the integrity of the NEET-UG 2024 examination. On June 29, the court asked the NTA about the Time limit for grievances Regarding the OMR sheets, after a coaching center filed a petition.

Earlier, on June 12, the court sought the NTA’s response to a petition demanding the cancellation and re-test of NEET-UG 2024, citing “paper leak” and “malpractices.” The judges stated that the NTA’s actions are not “sacrosanct” if the “sanctity has been affected.”

The Supreme Court also refused to stay the re-test proposed by the NTA for 1,563 candidates who had appeared in the NEET-UG 2024 exam or postpone the counseling for medical college admissions slated to start on July 6.

What does the government say

President Droupadi Murmu addressed Parliament on Thursday, asserting the government’s commitment to a fair probe into recent paper leak incidents. In her speech, President Murmu said the government is dedicated to ensuring complete transparency and accountability in the examination process. She underlined that there should be no hindrance, and strict punishment will be meted out to those responsible for the paper leak controversies.