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Protests erupt over NEET row, Opposition mounts attack; govt says ‘isolated’ incidents of malpractices shouldn’t affect students

New Delhi, Jun 20 (PTI) The outcry against alleged irregularities in the medical entrance NEET grew louder on Thursday with several student groups staging protests and opposition attacking the Centre even as the government maintained that “isolated” incidents of malpractices should not affect lakhs of students who cleared the exam rightfully.

The cancellation of UGC-NET, amid the raging row over NEET, led to questions being raised over National Testing Agency’s (NTA) capability to conduct exams of larger magnitude.

Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said strict action would be taken against those found guilty, including “top” officials from NTA.

At a press conference here, he also announced that the government will set up a high-level panel to look into the functioning of the NTA.

Ahead of the hurriedly-called press conference, there were strong indications that Pradhan may announce cancellation of the exam and action against NTA DG Subodh Kumar Singh, who was summoned by the ministry earlier in the day.

Pradhan, however, did not respond to both queries affirmatively.

“Be it NTA or any top official or senior person in NTA, strict action will be taken against whoever found guilty in the NEET case. No malpractice will be tolerated and the government is committed to holding zero-error exam,” he said.

“The cancellation of UGC-NET was not a knee-jerk reaction. We have got proofs that the paper had leaked on darknet and was circulating on Telegram. Hence, it was decided to cancel the exam,” Pradhan said.

He evaded repetitive queries on whether NEET will also be cancelled on lines of NET.

He also did not comment on a timeline by when a final decision will be made on the issue which is keeping 23 lakh candidates on tenterhooks.

“It is unfair to hold hostage the career of those candidates who have rightfully cleared the exam because of some isolated incidents of malpractices. We are in constant touch with Bihar police. We have sought a report from them. Once we have it, we will decide future course of action. I take full responsibility and anomalies in the system will be rectified…,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi held a press conference and launched a scathing attack on the government over the alleged irregularities in NEET and cancellation of UGC-NET and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has “psychologically collapsed” post-elections and will struggle to run a government like this.

He said the main reason for paper leaks is that educational institutions have been captured by the BJP and its parent organisation RSS and paper leaks will not stop unless that is reversed.

“It was being said Prime Minister Modi stopped the Ukraine-Russia War and Israel-Gaza war, but he is either not able to stop exam paper leaks or doesn’t want to,” Gandhi said.

He claimed that during his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, thousands complained about paper leaks.

“There has been an expansion of idea of Vyapam to rest of country,” he said of the recent controversy while referring to the Vyapam examination and recruitment scam in Madhya Pradesh.

“Nothing should be done in arbitrary manner, rules that apply to one paper should apply to another,” Gandhi said.

More than two dozen students from different universities and members of various students’ groups were detained on Thursday while they were protesting against the cancellation of the UGC-NET examination and irregularities in the NEET.

The students were detained from outside the Ministry of Education as well as from Pradhan’s residence here in central Delhi.

Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Vijay Kumar Sinha claimed the arrested prime accused in the NEET “paper leak” is linked to officials associated with RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, and demanded an investigation into it.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan urged the Centre to take immediate steps to resolve the crisis in the NTA, saying its “repeated incompetence” in conducting exams such as NEET and the UGC-NET cannot be accepted.

Trinamool Congress MP Saket Gokhale said the examination process in the country has crashed and the lives of students are being destroyed. He accused the NTA of being complicit.

RJD MP Manoj Jha said the NEET exam should also be cancelled.

“You had to scrap NET and you must scrap NEET now as there is ample proof that this examination was compromised. And it is time to acknowledge that the NTA is a fraud,” he said.

The NEET examination was held on May 5 across 4,750 centres and around 24 lakh candidates appeared for it. The results were expected to be declared on June 14 but were announced on June 4, saying the evaluation of the answer sheets got completed earlier.

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. It has been alleged that grace marks contributed to 67 students sharing the top rank.

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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