NEET UG 2024 Compromised, Extent of Leak Will Determine whether Retest Is Needed: Supreme Court
Debayan Roy (Bar  and  Bench) 08 July 2024
There is no doubt that the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (Undergraduate) exam (NEET ) held on May 5 was compromised by question paper leak, the Supreme Court said on Monday.
However, the Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said it would have to determine to what extent the exam was compromised in order to decide whether a retest would be needed or not.
"The fact that the sanctity of the exam has been compromised is beyond doubt - that there has been a leak ... Now, what is the consequence of that leak would depend on the nature of that leak ... If it is not extensive, then there is no cancellation. Before we order a retest, we must be careful. What is the nature of that leak? We are dealing with the careers of 23 lakh students ... What is the point of time that the leak took place? How was the leak disseminated? These are important questions. And next, very important - what are the actions which the government of India and NTA had taken to identify the wrong-doings and who are the beneficiaries of the wrongdoings?" the CJI remarked. 
The Court also said that if the leak was on social media, then it would have been very widespread.
Hence, it set out the following parameters on the basis of which it would decide whether a retest would be needed or not.
- one, whether the alleged breach took place at the systemic level;
-two, whether the breach is of a nature which affects the integrity of the entire exam process; and 
- three, whether it is possible to segregate the beneficiaries of the fraud from the untainted students. 
If the breach of the exam's sanctity is widespread and if it is not possible to segregate tainted and untainted candidates, a retest may be ordered. But if beneficiaries are identified and limited, then a retest won't be needed, the Court made it clear.
To ascertain the above, the following details were sought from the National Testing Agency (NTA) which conducted the exam.
- When the leak has first taken place?
- The manner in which the question papers leaked were disseminated? 
- Time duration between the leak and the exam on May 5.
The NTA shall also inform the Court about steps taken to identify beneficiaries of the leak, the steps taken by the NTA to identify the centres/ cities where the leak took place, the modalities followed to identify beneficiaries of the leak and how the leak was disseminated. 
The Court further sought a status report from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on its probe into the alleged leak and malpractices.
"We are also of the view that CBI shall file a status report before this court on the status of investigation as on today and material which has come to light till today," the Court directed.
The Court added that the Central government and NTA should inform the Court about whether it would be feasible for the government's cyber forensics unit to use data analytics to identify suspicious cases, to segregate tainted from the untainted students. 
All these details have to be submitted by 5 PM on July 10. The case will be heard next on July 11, Thursday. 
The Court was hearing a batch of pleas relating to the examination, with some students seeking a re-exam and others opposing the same. 
The NEET-UG exam this year was marred by allegations of mass question paper leaks and cheating. 
On June 11, the Supreme Court ordered the National Testing Authority to respond to some of the petitions but refused to halt counselling for admissions of students to medical colleges.
The Central government has argued against the cancellation of the NEET held in May, saying that there was no proof of large-scale breaches of confidentiality.
The government said it has ordered the CBI to carry out a comprehensive investigation into alleged instances of impersonation, cheating and malpractices.
The government also said that a high-level committee has been constituted to suggest measures for effective, smooth and transparent conduct of the examinations by the NTA.
The NTA too filed an affidavit taking a similar stance.
The NTA submitted that cancelling the exam would be detrimental to the public interest and that malpractices were only in Patna and Godhra centres. These were individual instances which do not warrant the cancellation of the exam, the NTA had said. 
Hearing Today
When the matter was heard today, Senior Advocate Hooda submitted on behalf of certain candidates that they were seeking cancellation of the exam and a re-exam. 
He submitted that the question paper for the exam had been disclosed via Telegram shortly before the May 5 exam. He alleged that there was a leak from the bank vaults at SBI and Canara Bank, where the question papers were stored prior to the exam date. 
Hooda also pointed out that an extraordinarily high number of students secured full marks this year.
"I have given a table at the bottom. In 2021 it was only three candidates who got full 720. In 2020 there was only one candidate. This time 67 students got full marks," he submitted.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, however, maintained that all the alleged instances of exam irregularities were not cases involving allegations of paper "leaks." 
In one case, he said that wrong question papers were given, and extra time was provided after the correct papers were given. In another case, a superintendent was accused to tampering with the papers after collecting the answer papers, he said. 
Hooda, however, asserted that the May 2024 exam must be scrapped if the authorities are unable to properly identify who the wrong-doers are. 
"If the integrity of the exam has been compromised, if the beneficiaries of the machinations of fraud at the systemic level cannot be segregated from the untainted, then this court has held that not a single candidate will be allowed to get in by unfair means," he argued. 
The Court took note of the concern, but empahsised that it must be convinced that the exam irregularities were wide-spread before ordering any retest. 
"We have to have some clarity on facts for us to understand whether this was so systemic that we have to order a retest... If the the sanctity of the examination has been lost, if we are not able to identify candidates who are guilty of wrong-doing, a retest has to be ordered ... On the other hand, we are dealing with a situation of 23 lakh students. It would be far-fetched for us to presume that all 23 lakh students or a substantial number of them are involved in the fraud," CJI Chandrachud said. 
The Court, however added that if the leaked question paper was found to be on social media, Telegram or WhatsApp, then it would have been very widespread leak.
"If the modality of the leak is through electronic means, social media, then there is the possibility that the leak is extremely wide," the Court remarked.
Nevertheless, the Court made it clear that it was an admitted fact that leak happened and the extent of leak was what remained to be determined.
The CJI further said that the technology available today should make it easier to identify the culprits by using data analytics etc.
"With the kind of technology we have and the cyber forensic team we have.. cannot we have a detailed data analytics exercise to see the suspicious markers...Let us not be in self-denial and that is only adding to the problem. There should be a sort of a multi disciplinary committee from experts across the country," he remarked.
The Court underscored that medicine is one of the most prestigious branch of study.
"We are dealing with the most prestigious branch of study and every middle class person wants their children to study either medicine or engineering. Assuming we are not going to cancel the exam, how do we identify the beneficiaries and if we can allow the counselling to happen..." he said.
The Bench therefore, urged lawyers appearing for petitioners seeking retest to sit together and prepare a compilation. 
"We want all lawyers of petitioner seeking retest sit together and give us one compilation of 10 pages. same with the respondents. We will appoint a nodal counsel," the Court stated.
5 days ago
High fees and admissions for paid seats in career counseling are concerning trends. Identifying counselors involved in unethical practices, like dummy candidates, is crucial and these may also help for CBI to reach to the culprits involved in present paper leak scam. Examining their income sources and filings can help to identify these councellors and may bridge to identify paper leak scam spread. Let's protect students and uphold ethical standards.
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