Wednesday, July 17, 2024

No mass malpractice in NEET: Centre to Supreme Court – N.F Times

New Delhi: The Union government on Wednesday submitted a fresh affidavit in the Supreme Court, firmly opposing the demand for a retest of the NEET-UG 2024 and asserting that a comprehensive report from IIT-Madras refutes allegations of widespread malpractices or illicit benefits to candidates at some select centres.

Hinging on key points from the IIT-Madras data analysis, the Centre underscored the integrity of the examination process and the measures taken to ensure its sanctity so that interests of hundreds of thousands of students, who have attempted the question papers fairly after years of hard work, could be protected.

Supporting this stance, the National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts NEET, also filed an affidavit separately in the top court, maintaining that so far only 47 candidates – 17 in Patna and 30 in Godhra — have been suspected to be indulged in paper leak and irregularities relating to OMR sheets. NTA also told the court that it would be relying on the findings of the IIT Madras report during the proceedings on Thursday.

The agency claimed that the video showing a photo of the NEET-UG exam paper leaked on Telegram on May 4 was fake. “Discussions within the Telegram channel indicate that members identified the video as fake. The timestamp was manipulated to create a false impression of an early leak. Comments and discussions on social media further corroborate that the images in the video were edited, and the date was intentionally modified to suggest a May 4 leak. The screenshots highlight the fabricated nature of the claims made in the video”, the affidavit stated.

According to the Centre’s affidavit, the department of higher education, ministry of education, had requested IIT-Madras to conduct a detailed data analysis of the NEET-UG 2024 results to identify any suspected cases of malpractice and evaluating the spread of top-performing candidates.

IIT-Madras conducted a thorough analysis of the top 140,000 ranks for 2023 and 2024 to detect any abnormalities. This analysis, the Centre said, aimed to identify if any centres or cities showed signs of undue advantage to a large number of students due to malpractices.

The report of the analysis, dated July 10, however, revealed no indications of mass malpractice or any localised set of candidates benefitting unduly, adding the distribution of high marks was consistent across various cities and centres, the government said.

“The analysis shows that there is neither any indication of mass malpractice nor a localized set of candidates being benefitted leading to abnormal scores. There is an overall increase in the marks obtained by students, specifically in the range of 550 to 720 (total score). This increase is seen across the cities and centres. This is attributed to 25% reduction in syllabus. In addition, candidates obtaining such high marks are spread across multiple cities and multiple centres, indicating very less likelihood of malpractice,” stated the affidavit.

The IIT-Madras report, endorsed by its director, maintained that the analysis of the 2023 and 2024 NEET-UG data could lead to an inference “with confidence that there has been no abnormality, which has affected the results”.

The affidavit has been submitted in compliance with the directive of a bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, which on Monday highlighted the compromised sanctity of the NEET-UG 2024 due to a question paper leak but emphasised that the issue of retest would depend on whether the wrongdoers can be effectively segregated in order to prevent the wastage of resources, disruption of the academic calendar and potential damage to the career prospects of millions of honest students.

Fixing the next hearing on Thursday, the court outlined settled parameters for deciding whether a retest is necessary, which included ascertaining if the breach occurred at a systemic level; if the breach affected the overall integrity of the examination process; and the possibility of identifying and segregating the beneficiaries of the fraud from the untainted students. The bench sought details about the nature and extent of the leak, the gap between the leak and the conduct of the exam, the manner of the leak, dissemination of the leaked question papers, steps taken to identify the beneficiaries, and measures adopted to secure the integrity of future examinations.

The Centre’s affidavit outlined the steps taken by the Union government to ensure the examination’s integrity and address any malpractices. Pointing out that the ministry of health & family welfare oversees the counselling process for UG seats, which will begin in the third week of July 2024, the affidavit stated that any candidate found guilty of malpractice will have their candidature cancelled during or after the counselling process.

NTA, on its part, submitted that the options being considered is to replace the mode of conduct of examination from pen and paper mode (OMR based) to computer-based test (CBT) mode.

“Further options are also being explored simultaneously so as to perfectly obviate the occurrence of any malpractices that may affect the sanctity and integrity of the exam,” it said, adding that based on the progress of investigations, as and when the names of suspicious candidates become available, it can also initiate administrative process for debarring such candidates.

It also pointed that not 67 but only 61 candidates had scored the perfect marks of 720 because six of them were given grace marks due to a loss of time and after the retest, those si candidates have not been able to score 720.

To strengthen the examination process, the government said, it has established a high-level committee of experts, headed by Dr K. Radhakrishnan, former chairman of ISRO, and chairman, board of governors, IIT Kanpur. This committee will recommend measures to enhance transparency and robustness in future examinations.

The affidavit underscored the government’s legislative efforts to ensure examination integrity. The Parliament enacted the Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024, which came into effect on June 21, 2024. This Act provides stringent punishments for offences related to unfair means in public examinations, ensuring a robust legal framework to deter malpractices, said the Centre.

“The Union of India is not taking the present litigation in an adversarial manner and is duty-bound to address the concerns of the students who have taken the NEET examination 2024,” the affidavit said.

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