NEET 2024 Scam: Stop Playing with the Future of Millions of Indian Youth
Future of Millions of Indian Youth

On 4th June, 2024, as the outcome of the 18th Loksabha election was being broadcast, the future of 24 lakhs NEET aspirants was declared to be marred in yet another corruption. The results of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) that is held for admission to MBBS, Dental and Ayush courses in the medical colleges throughout the country were declared on the same day as Loksabha election results, so that the former does not attract any media attention. It was only after a few days that the angry outbursts of students exposing the scam in NEET 2024 started doing the rounds in social media. Subsequently, the nature of the massive scam came out into the open and students started coming down on the streets against the scam.

The NEET was introduced by the Modi government in 2016 as a singular national level entrance test replacing earlier state level entrance examinations for admission in medical courses. Since its inception, NEET has been questioned by several state governments including Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal due to centralisation of the entrance examination.

Just after the NEET was conducted in May this year, news of paper leaks started pouring in from Bihar to Gujarat. Patna Police arrested 13 persons who demanded Rs 30 to 50 lakhs from aspirants for leaked question papers. Gujarat police busted an entire racket  run by an education consultancy owner involving a school teacher and a BJP leader who were charging Rs 10 lakhs for writing the papers. The National Testing Agency (NTA) that conducts the NEET was aware of the scam and released the results on June 4, ten days ahead of the scheduled date and coinciding with the counting of votes of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The purpose was obvious - to divert attention away from the NEET scam.

The entire process of NEET 2024 has been mired in controversy since the beginning. Firstly, the online registration for NEET 2024 started on 9th February and was extended till 16th March. Suddenly, on April 9, the NTA declared that the registration would be re-opened for two days on ‘stakeholders’ request’ violating all norms of free and fair conducting of the examination. There are also questions being raised about 67 students securing the top position with a perfect mark of 720, six of whom had given the exam from the same centre in Jhajjar, Haryana. Two students have also been given the statistically impossible mark of 719 and 718. Students have also exposed how the mark obtained in their OMR sheets do not match with the final result. The NTA’s clarification that around 1500 students were given grace marks due to delay in the start of the exam has further added to the controversy.

Another major concern being raised by students is that of massive rank inflation. In 2022, the score of 715 had fetched the top rank, even in 2023 it was ranked 4, this year the same score is ranked 225! A score of 700 meant the rank of 49 in 2022, 294 in 2023 and 1,770 this year. Surely the examination is not getting easier with time, or the quality of students appearing for the test recording a quantum jump. The entire system has been thoroughly compromised from within and students and their families are paying the price for this systemic corruption.

NEET had been declared illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013. However in 2016 a five-judge Constitution bench restored the system and in November 2017 the Modi government launched the National Testing Agency under the Ministry of Education as the nodal authority to conduct the NEET examination. This over-centralised 'one nation, one examination' model has an innate bias in favour of the rich and the privileged and with the rise and consolidation of the coaching industry and paper leak mafia, the system has now become highly unfair and opaque. The implications of such an over-centralised, opaque and corrupt system on the quality of the country's medical infrastructure are utterly disturbing. The anti-reservation lobby masquerading as a champion of 'merit' keeps silent about this rampant foul play of money power in an increasingly commercialised education system.

The Tamil Nadu Government had set up a committee under the Chairpersonship of Justice A K Rajan in 2021 ( 5 years after the introduction of NEET) to study the impact of the NEET on students from different social and educational backgrounds. The committee found out that the share of English medium students in admission in medical colleges had increased significantly after the introduction of NEET. In the pre-NEET period from 2010-11 to 2016-17, students from rural areas secured 61.5% seats on average in government medical colleges, and by 2020-21, this figure had fallen to 49.91%. The study also pointed to the growing share of students from higher income backgrounds and from CBSE background at the cost of students from lower income and Tamil medium backgrounds. The Rajan Committee’s findings thus validate the concern raised by several state governments regarding the centralised exam pattern. The Central University Entrance Test (CUET) introduced since 2020-21 meant for admission in all Central Universities is another example of the centralised examination pattern forced upon the students of India hailing from diverse linguistic, regional and social backgrounds by the Modi government. The CUET has, in the same way, systematically pushed out students from different state boards from the Central Universities of the country.

As we await the hearing of all NEET-related petitions by the Supreme Court, we must support the student demand for cancellation of the NEET 2024 results and a fresh conduct of the examination to end all discrepancies. More fundamentally there is a growing demand for the scrapping of the incompetent NTA and the unfair NEET system itself. The perils of over-centralisation, commercialisation and corruption in our system of higher education are too high for the country to ignore any longer.