NTA CONTROVERSY 2024: LATEST ANTI-PAPER LEAK LAW, CBI INVESTIGATION, RE-EXAMS AND CANCELLATIONS

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Introduction 

Amid the ongoing NTA controversy regarding discrepancies in the NEET exam results, another major public exam, UGC-NET is under the lens for alleged mismanagement and paper leak, leading to the postponement of other important exams and the announcement of an anti-paper leak law. Also, investigations by the CBI, Bihar Police, and EOU have led to the arrest of 18 individuals, including aspirants in the NEET paper leak case.

Recent Developments in the NTA Paper Leak Controversy

The National Testing Agency, NTA announced the cancellation of UGC-NET just a day after the exam was conducted for 9,00,000 candidates on grounds of reports regarding discrepancies in the conduct of the exam. 

NTA

Similarly, ‘due to unavoidable circumstances and logistical issues’ CSIR-NET, scheduled to be conducted on June 25-27, was postponed. The NET exams are conducted for eligibility to higher teaching positions and admission to PhD programmes. Just 12 hours before the commencement of the exam on June 23, NEET-PG was also declared postponed citing ‘precautionary measures’ as the reason for the same.

In total, the cancellation and postponement have affected 3.5 million students, the majority of them NEET aspirants, approximately 9,00,000 and 2,00,000 students for UGC-NET and CSIR-NET respectively. All these incidents have led to widespread protests across the country by student bodies, creating a stressful environment for the students who are concerned about the uncertainty regarding their future.

What steps have been taken by NTA?

NTA

Due to concerns regarding the compromising of public examinations and public pressure, NTA had to announce the cancellation of UGC- NET and the postponement of other examinations. The Director General of NTA, Subodh Kumar Singh has also been removed from his post and replaced by Pradeep Singh Kharola, a retired IAS officer. Recently, NTA reconducted the NEET exam for 1,563 candidates who were given grace marks, of which only 813 students (52%) attempted the exam and the remaining 48% were absent. Some of the students who appeared for the re-exam claimed that the exam was more difficult than the paper conducted on May 5.

Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024

The Anti-paper leak law, known as the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act was first presented as a bill in the parliament on February 05, 2024, and was passed in Lok Sabha on 06 February and in Rajya Sabha on 09 February, signed by President Droupadi Murmu, making the bill a law. The current controversy concerning the NTA-conducted examinations has led to the implementation of the law from June 21, 2024.

The bill aims to curb malpractices in conducting public exams and dishonest methods of clearing them. It covers examinations conducted by various bodies such as the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), Staff Selection Commission (SSC), Railway Recruitment Board, Institute of Banking Personnel Selection, National Testing Agency (NTA) etc. 

The following are the offences listed under the law:

  • Gaining or providing unauthorised access to questions or leaking the question papers.
  • Assisting the candidates during the exam.
  • Manipulation of computer networks or documents involved in shortlisting of successful candidates or declaration of rankings.

As per this new law, those convicted of the above-mentioned offences shall face imprisonment of 4.5 years and a minimum fine of ₹01 Crore.

Police and CBI Investigation 

Patna Police arrested 18 individuals including candidates in connection to the NEET paper leak in Bihar. It was a tip-off given by Jharkhand Police to their Bihar colleagues and a search investigation lasting over a month which helped the police to put together pieces of the controversial NTA-NEET paper leak case, leading to a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) beginning June 24.

An overview of the investigation is as follows:

  • The leak’s origin has been traced back to a school in Jharkhand. The Jharkhand Police had informed about a suspicious car to the Bihar Police. 
  • They found three men in the car- Sikander Prasad Yadavendu, his driver Bittu Kumar, and Akhilesh Kumar, father of Ayush Raj, a NEET aspirant. 
  • On interrogation, Yadavendu named two people, an IT engineer, Amit Anand, and a contractor, Nitish Kumar who claimed that the paper leak could be arranged 24 hours in advance.
  • Amit Anand and Nitish Kumar demanded ₹30-32 lakh per candidate, and in turn, Yadavendu demanded ₹40 lakh from each candidate so he could get ₹8 lakh from each candidate for himself.
  • As per Yadavendu, he brought four aspirants to Bihar- Ayush, Anurag Kumar, Shivanandan Kumar, and Abhishek Kumar- where Amit Anand and Nitish Kumar took them to Learn Boys Hostel and Play School.
  • After registering an FIR on May 5, the very evening, the location was raided and it was learned that the aspirants were made to memorise the answers from the solved question paper. The bundle of half-burnt papers was sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory and the booklet number was discovered.
NTA
  • Six days later, the case was handed over to the Economic Offences Unit (EOU), which later arrested 5 more people from Deoghar, Jharkhand in connection to the case- Baldev Kumar, Mukesh Kumar, Panku Kumar, Paramjeet Singh, and Rajeev Kumar.
  • After CBI took over the the case, one more person was arrested, Sanjeev Mukhia, who is reportedly the kingpin of the gang behind the solving of question paper. He was arrested earlier in another examination leak case by Uttarakhand Police in 2016, for leaking a question paper of NEET- UG.
  • CBI also interrogated the principal of Oasis School, Ehsanul Haque in Hazaribagh for several hours and later detained him and took him to Patna for further investigation. The CBI also visited the area’s State Bank of India branch where the sealed boxes of question papers were distributed to the observers of all the examination centres of Hazaribagh.
  • The Bihar EOU also blamed NTA for delaying the investigation as they sent the samples of the question paper requested in May by June 20. On receiving the sample, they were able to match 68 questions of the half-burnt booklet to be the same as the sample question paper provided by NTA and discovered that the burned booklet was from Oasis School, Hazaribagh.
  • The EOU said that the matter has been handed over to the CBI and the collected pieces of evidence will also be handed over to the CBI by Bihar Police.

Protests and Opposition’s Response

Around 20 students were detained by Delhi Police at Jantar Mantar on June 26 for protesting against the irregularities in the conduct of NEET by NTA. Student representatives from All India Students Association (AISA), bscEM, Disha, SIO, and Krantikari Yuva Sangathan gathered at Jantar Mantar for the protest.

The Opposition led by Rahul Gandhi raised slogans in the Parliament joint session during the President’s address. Some members of the Opposition also demanded the sacking of Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and blamed the central government for the paper leak.

Conclusion 

The government, NTA, and other agencies responsible for conducting public exams should be highly responsible and take utmost care while handling exams as the future of millions of students depends on it. The CBI investigation is ongoing and it is highly expected that the miscreants who played with the lives of students must be brought in front of law. The implementation of the anti-paper leak law by the government must be done properly so that no such mismanagement and irregularities ever take place in the future.

-SHIVANGI NAIR 

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