Large parts of the country have risen in protest over the failures of the NEET ecosystem. The virus of corruption has infected all centrally controlled examinations. People’s anger has reached the highest democratic body of the country, where the government tried to silence the opposition’s voice, violating the provisions of the parliamentary rulebook.

In Rajya Sabha, 22 notices, including one by this author, to discuss the lapses in the NEET examination were summarily rejected by the Chairman. Lakhs of students and their families are in deep crisis, emotional and material.

A faulty system
In the last couple of years, central government ministers have been singing NEET’s praises. We all know the saying: “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” This is proven by the people’s resistance to the government’s ways.

The BJP government, guided by ideas of centralization and thoughts of anti-federalism, was forced to retreat from its earlier position. Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had to confess that papers were leaked, after initially refusing to accept that there were malpractices. This confession, too, is not free of the BJP’s double standards. Pradhan said that “the NEET paper leak affected only a limited number of students,” while rejecting the loud demands of reexamination. An entire nexus of paper leaks has been traced since then and it is clear that paper leaks and corruption affected a large number of students.

In light of this, the Education Minister’s statement was grossly inadequate. The remedy suggested by the government is to form a committee headed by former ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan. This is nothing but an attempt by the Ministry of Education and the National Testing Agency (NTA) to hide their failures behind one of the country’s most eminent scientists and his illustrious career. This committee has also been asked to submit its report in two months.

Festive offer

BJP must take accountability
Despite the damage caused to so many students, no one at the helm of affairs was booked or even summoned.

This debacle is not an accident. It was built into the exam’s very structure. The NEET exam, as conceived by the BJP, serves their obsession with centralization and commercialization of education. NEET was imposed on students despite vehement opposition from many states for its anti-federal character. The twin objectives of improving the quality of medical education and putting an end to the donation system lie in tatters. The private coaching industry became the biggest beneficiary of the NEET exams, effectively making medical education an exclusive club for the rich and affluent. Students from poor and rural backgrounds, with a lack of time and resources, were naturally left behind in this race.

Next comes the execution — for NEET and other centralized examinations like the UGC-NET and CUET. The Union government entrusted the future of lakhs of student aspirants to the NTA. The NTA is not a statutory body; it is merely a society registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, a private entity for all intents and purposes. This should be contrasted with the Union Public Service Commission and State Public Service Commissions which derive their mandate directly from the Constitution under Article 315. The University Grants Commission, which oversees the functioning of universities in the country, came into existence through an Act of Parliament. in 1954.

In stark contrast with these bodies, the NTA was foisted on lakhs of students as a private, irresponsible and unaccountable body. Further, the number of staffers working permanently with the NTA is an astonishingly low 25. That this organization was made responsible for conducting more than 25 central exams speaks volumes about how serious the BJP is about the future of the country. Amongst these thousands of private vendors, every single one has the potential to compromise the integrity of the examination by indulging in paper leaks, awarding grace marks and influencing evaluation, without any accountability to the people.

What next?
To sum up, enough evidence is already stacked against the BJP’s centralization spree and its disastrous consequences for students and the education ecosystem of the country. The BJP government must engage in serious consultation with all stakeholders, including state governments, to formulate comprehensive and decentralized models for education and entrance exams. People have cut them to size through elections but the BJP refuses to learn anything from the verdict. This time, the rejoinder will come from the streets. The INDIA bloc will raise the voices of those affected. The NTA has completely lost its credibility and must be scrapped immediately.

Further, the brains behind these moves must also be indicted. Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has claimed “moral responsibility” for the NEET scam but his office stands tarnished because of his calls. To reinstate people’s trust in the Education Ministry and to avoid any kind of interference with the investigation, Dharmendra Pradhan must resign. An overhaul of the education system is long overdue. The BJP’s inefficiencies will not be without checks, we will ensure that.

The writer is secretary, CPI national council and leader of the party in Parliament