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NEET row: NTA DG shunted out; Centre orders CBI probe

Source: PTI
Last updated on: June 23, 2024 09:21 IST
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Facing flak over alleged discrepancies in competitive exams, the Centre on Saturday shunted out National Testing Agency (NTA) Director General Subodh Singh and handed over the probe into irregularities in medical entrance exam NEET-UG to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

IMAGE: NTA Director General Subodh Singh. Photograph: Sanjay Sharma/ANI Photo

The Education Ministry also set up a seven-member panel headed by former ISRO chief K Radhakrishnan to review the agency's functioning and recommend exam reforms.

It postponed the NEET-PG entrance, the fourth entrance exam to be impacted in recent days.

"We stand for transparent, tamper-free and zero error examination. A panel has been formed on exam reforms, strict action has been taken against officials and the case has been handed over to CBI," Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said.

"Students' interest will be safeguarded at any cost,” he said after a flurry of decisions amid litigation and protests in different parts of the country on the issue of alleged irregularities in entrance exams.

The opposition hit out at the government, with the Congress alleging that the education system has been "ruined" under the Modi government.

According to officials, NTA DG Subodh Kumar Singh has been put on "compulsory wait" in the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) till further orders.


India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) Chairman and Managing Director Pradeep Singh Kharola has been assigned additional charge of the NTA till the appointment of a regular incumbent.

"Certain cases of alleged irregularities, cheating, impersonation and malpractices have been reported in NEET-UG which was conducted on May 5.

"For transparency on the conduct of the examination process, it was decided after a review that the matter be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for comprehensive investigation," the Ministry of Education said announcing the late-night decision.

The Union Health Ministry also announced the postponement of NEET-PG entrance, a night before the entrance exam, as a "precautionary measure" in the wake of recent allegations on the integrity of certain competitive exams.

The move comes a day after the June edition of the Joint Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and UGC-NET was postponed. The Joint CSIR-UGC-NET is a test conducted to determine eligibility for junior research fellowship and assistant professor and admission to PhD in science courses.

Pradhan, however, denied any leak of CSIR-NET paper and said the exam was postponed due to logistical reasons.

He also asserted that anybody involved or responsible for any irregularity in NEET-UG will not be spared.

The UGC-NET was cancelled on Wednesday, a day after it was conducted following inputs that the integrity of the exam was compromised. The matter is being probed by the CBI.

Bihar Police on Friday night detained six more people from Jharkhand's Deoghar district in connection with the alleged leak of NEET paper in the state, an official said. Its Economic Offences Unit last month arrested 13 people, including prime suspect Sikandar Yadavendu, in connection with the alleged paper leak.

The EOU is also exploring the "possibility of conducting narco analysis and brain mapping tests" of the accused, sources said.

They also indicated that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) might investigate the money laundering aspect.

A fresh plea was filed in the Supreme Court seeking directions to the CBI and the ED to investigate the alleged irregularities in the NEET-UG.

The petition, filed by 10 students who had appeared for the exam, has also sought a direction to Bihar Police to expedite the investigation in the case and file a report before the apex court.

The top court had earlier sought responses from the Centre, the NTA and others on a slew of petitions, including those seeking scrapping of the NEET-UG 2024 exam and a court-monitored probe. The apex court had also stayed further proceedings on similar pleas pending before different high courts.

The Education Ministry notified a seven-member panel headed by former ISRO chief K Radhakrishnan to ensure transparent, smooth and fair conduct of examinations through NTA.

The Centre has also operationalised a stringent law that aims to curb malpractices and irregularities in competitive examinations with provisions entailing a maximum jail term of 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 1 crore for offenders.

Nearly four months after President Droupadi Murmu gave her assent to The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024, the Personnel Ministry on Friday night notified the law.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, however, termed it as a "whitewash" and asserted that the BJP cannot evade its responsibility in "promoting corruption and education mafia".

In a post in Hindi on 'X', Rahul Gandhi said, "Now NEET-PG is also postponed. This is another unfortunate example of the education system that has been ruined under the rule of Narendra Modi."

"Now it is clear -- Modi, who used to silently watch the spectacle every time -- is completely helpless in front of the paper leak racket and education mafia," the former Congress chief said.

Education Minister Pradhan asserted that setting up the high-level committee of experts is the first of a series of steps to improve the efficiency of the examination process, put an end to all possible malpractices, strengthen data security protocols and overhaul and reform the NTA.

The panel includes former AIIMS Delhi director Randeep Guleria, Central University of Hyderabad Vice-Chancellor B J Rao and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Civil Engineering at IIT Madras K Ramamurthy.

People Strong co-founder and Karmayogi Bharat board member Pankaj Bansal, IIT Delhi Dean of Student Affairs Aditya Mittal and Ministry of Education Joint Secretary Govind Jaiswal are also among its members.

Earlier in the day, the Education Minister had said that the "top leadership" of the National Testing Agency is under the scanner over alleged irregularities in competitive exams NEET and NET.

The minister said he is the custodian of students' interests and has to take that into account before taking any step. Pradhan had said earlier this week that he cannot jeopardise the careers of the lakhs of candidates who cleared the exam rightfully.

Asked about any inquiry into the NTA's role, Pradhan said, "I have already said there has been an institutional failure. I have taken responsibility. NTA's top leadership is under several types of questions. But I have to safeguard students' interests first. I am a custodian of their interests."

Earlier this week, the ministry sought a report from the Bihar Police's Economic Offences Unit, which is investigating the allegations of a paper leak in NEET.

"The report has not been received yet... But it is certain that nobody involved or responsible for any irregularity will be spared," he said.

On alleged irregularities in Gujarat's Godhra, the minister said the issue in Godhra was not of a paper leak but of organised cheating and 30 students have been debarred.

"Gujarat case is not of leak... police took preventive action, a few telephone conversations were intercepted.

"There were attempts to cheat, 30 students who have been found involved have been debarred. They are in addition to 63 students from across the country who were debarred from NEET for using unfair means," he said.

The examination was held on May 5 across 4,750 centres and around 24 lakh candidates appeared. The results were expected to be declared on June 14 but were announced on June 4.

As many as 67 students scored a perfect 720, unprecedented in the NTA's history, with six from a centre in Haryana's Faridabad figuring in the list, raising suspicions about irregularities.

There was also a controversy over grace marks awarded to students to make up for the loss of time at six centres. The Centre later told the apex court that the grace marks were being scrapped and these 1,563 students would be given an option of a retest.

The NTA will on Sunday conduct the retest for these students.

The NEET-UG examination is conducted by the NTA for admissions to MBBS, BDS, AYUSH and other related courses in government and private institutions across the country.

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