NEET-UG row: CBI takes over probe; Bihar police arrests five more for alleged paper leak

On a demand for the cancellation of the exam, ministry officials reiterated that incidents of malpractices were "localised" or "isolated" and it was not fair to jeopardise the careers of lakhs of candidates who cleared the exam rightfully.
CBI Headquarters building in New Delhi.
CBI Headquarters building in New Delhi.

New Delhi/Patna | The CBI on Sunday took over the probe into alleged irregularities in the medical entrance exam NEET-UG following a reference from the Union education ministry, while the Economic Offences Unit of the Bihar Police arrested five more persons for alleged paper leak, taking the total arrests to 18.

With the investigation gathering steam, the National Testing Agency (NTA) cracked the whip against more students, debarring 17 from centres in Bihar after detection of "malpractices".

Amid a demand for the cancellation of the May 5 exam, the ministry officials reiterated the government's earlier stand that the incidents of malpractices were "localised" or "isolated" and it was not fair to jeopardise the careers of lakhs of candidates who cleared the exam rightfully.

In an optional retest held for 1,563 students whose grace marks were scrapped after the matter reached the Supreme Court, only 813 appeared on Sunday.

These candidates were awarded grace marks by the NTA to make up for the loss of time at six centres due to a delay in the start of the examination on May 5. There were allegations that it led to inflation of marks and contributed to six of the grace mark candidates from the same centre in Haryana scoring a perfect 720 marks along with 61 others.

Over 13 lakh candidates out of around 24 lakh qualified in the NEET-UG this year and they will compete for around 1.8 lakh MBBS/dental seats.

In the backdrop of allegations of irregularities as well as "bunching of high scorers", the NTA stated that the top one lakh candidates are spread across 4,500 centres all over the country.

Moreover, nearly two-thirds of these are from rural or semi-rural areas, it stated.

As countrywide protests and litigation continued, the CBI filed the FIR in connection with alleged irregularities in NEET-UG under IPC sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 420 (cheating) among others.

The Bihar Police's EOU had handed over a report to the Education Ministry on Saturday following which the probe was handed over to CBI for comprehensive investigation.

In a statement issued in Patna late Sunday evening, the EOU said the five arrested persons were detained from Deoghar in Jharkhand on Saturday.

They were identified as Baldev Kumar, Mukesh Kumar, Panku Kumar, Rajeev Kumar and Paramjeet Singh. All are originally residents of Nalanda.

Baldev Kumar, associated with the notorious Sanjeev Kumar alias Lutan Mukhiya gang, allegedly received the solved answer sheet of the NEET-UG exam in PDF format on his mobile phone a day before the exam, the statement said.

The statement claimed the members of the Mukhiya gang, accused of orchestrating multiple interstate paper leaks, were the source of the leaked answer sheet.

Further investigation revealed that Baldev and his associates printed and distributed the solved answer sheet to students gathered at a safe house in Ram Krishna Nagar in Patna on May 4 for memorisation. The aspirants were brought there by two previously arrested persons, Nitish Kumar and Amit Anand.

According to the statement, the leaked NEET-UG question paper was allegedly obtained from a private school in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, by the Mukhiya gang.

Investigators matched a partially burnt question paper recovered from the Patna safe house with the reference question paper provided by the National Testing Agency (NTA), confirming the leak's origin, it said.

Standard procedures for handling and transporting question papers, as set by the NTA, were also allegedly disregarded by those involved in the breach, it claimed

The EOU interrogated several persons linked to the custody chain of the question papers, including bank officials and employees of a courier company.

A manhunt is on to nab Mukhiya and his other gang members, it said.

"The NTA also provided roll code of 15 aspirants during the course of investigation for their detailed examination. While four have been examined, the remaining 11 have not turned up before the investigators for their examination," it said.

Now the case is being handed over to the CBI for further investigation, it added.

The EOU had last month arrested 13 people in connection with the case.

"Based on the inputs received 17 candidates who appeared from centres in Bihar were debarred. This takes the number of total candidates debarred from the exam this year to 110," an NTA official said.

The agency had earlier debarred 63 candidates for adopting unfair means in the exam. On Saturday, 30 additional candidates from Gujarat's Godhara were also debarred.

Officials said the ministry alleged in a complaint, now part of the FIR, to the CBI that "certain isolated incidents" occurred in a few states during the conduct of the examination.

"The ministry of education has requested the CBI to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the entire gamut of alleged irregularities, including conspiracy, cheating, impersonation, breach of trust and destruction of evidence by candidates, institutes and middlemen," a CBI spokesperson said.

The role of public servants, if any, connected with the conduct of the examination and also into the entire gamut of events, and the larger conspiracy will also be under the scanner, according to the officials.

Meanwile, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) questioned two teachers who run a private coaching centre in Latur district in connection with the alleged irregularities.

The Centre had on Saturday night removed NTA DG Subodh Kumar Singh and put him on "compulsory wait" till further orders.

The opposition stepped up its attack on the government over the issue, with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on Sunday demanding Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan's resignation.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said the buck stops at the doorstep of the top echelons of the Modi Government and shuffling the bureaucrats is no solution. Party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra alleged the Modi government has handed over the entire education system to the "mafia" and the "corrupt" after the Centre cancelled UGC-NET and postponed NEET-PG and CSIR-UGC-NET.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin said the cancellation of exams was not a one-off event "but the final nails in the coffin of an incompetent and broken system of centralised selection".

The BJP, however, asserted the government has taken on the NEET issue "head on".

"It notified the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024, appointed a high powered committee to look at streamlining exam process and eliminating lose ends, sacks NTA DG, orders CBI probe in NEET (UG), besides postponing several exams, preempting possible compromises, to safeguard student interest," BJP's IT department head Amit Malviya said.

He alleged that the Congress' ally RJD was linked to the paper leak in Bihar and its leaders should not use the issue for their "dirty politics".

The Union education ministry's high-level panel for suggesting exam reforms and reviewing functioning of the National Testing Agency will meet on Monday, sources said.

The ministry had on Saturday notified the seven-member panel headed by former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief K Radhakrishnan to ensure transparent, smooth and fair conduct of examinations through the NTA.

On Sunday, the NTA also clarified that its website and all its other web portals are fully secure, and reports that these have been compromised and hacked are wrong and misleading.

NEET-UG 2024 paper leak case arrested.
NEET-UG 2024 paper leak case arrested.

NTA website, its other portals secure; reports of they being hacked wrong: Officials

New Delhi | The National Testing Agency (NTA) website and all its other web portals are fully secure, and reports that these have been compromised and hacked are wrong and misleading, officials said on Sunday.

The clarification comes amid a raging row over alleged irregularities in competitive exams, including the NEET-UG and the UGC-NET. The education ministry on Saturday set up a panel to review the NTA's functioning, recommend exam reforms and ensure data security.

"NTA website and all its web portals are fully secure. Any information that they have been compromised and hacked is wrong and misleading, a senior official said.

IMA welcomes CBI probe into NEET-UG irregularities

New Delhi | The IMA on Sunday welcomed the government's decision to transfer the probe into alleged irregularities in NEET-UG to the CBI.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) also expressed its gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other key ministers for their prompt response to concerns surrounding the controversies over the exam.

"We extend our gratitude to the Union Ministry of Education for transferring the investigation of the 'irregularities' in NEET-UG to the CBI for a thorough probe," it said in a statement.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed an FIR on Sunday in connection with the alleged irregularities in Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test Undergraduate (NEET-UG) held on May 5 on a reference from the Union education ministry, amid countrywide protests and litigation by students for a probe into paper leak claims.

The CBI action came a day after the ministry announced it would hand over the probe into the alleged irregularities to the central agency, a demand raised by a section of protesting students.

The IMA also said it is thankful to the government for removing the National Testing Agency (NTA) director general.

The NTA conducted a retest for 1,563 students awarded grace marks in NEET-UG to make up for time loss at six centres. 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.

NEET-UG is conducted for admissions to MBBS, BDS, AYUSH and other related courses in government and private institutions.

The IMA statement said, "We appreciate the government for enacting stringent laws to address malpractice and irregularities in competitive examinations. In cases of organised crime involving examination authorities, service providers, or other institutions, offenders may face imprisonment of up to 10 years and a minimum fine of Rs 1 crore."

The students are the future of India and it is crucial that important competitive examinations are conducted with the utmost diligence and confidentiality, it said.

"We trust that the difficulties endured by NEET-PG students are an inevitable corollary of the welcome reforms of the government and we hope for the robust mechanism as promised by the government," the association said.

The health ministry on Saturday postponed NEET-PG, scheduled to be held on June 23, as a "precautionary measure" in the wake of recent allegations on the integrity of certain competitive exams.

The IMA urged the government to take swift action to ensure that counselling for admission in medical, dental, and other courses begins on time.

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