CBI takes over five NEET-UG malpractice cases, opp demands answers from Centre

Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan addresses a press conference regarding the alleged irregularities in NEET 2024 results and UGC-NET 2024 exam cancellation, in New Delhi, Thursday, June 20, 2024. Photo: PTI.

New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has taken over investigations into five new cases of suspected malpractices in the NEET-UG exam. These cases were previously handled by police in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Bihar. This move comes as pressure mounts on the government, with the opposition preparing to confront them in Parliament over the alleged paper leak issue.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of Maharashtra Police arrested a Zilla Parishad school teacher from Latur and registered a case against four persons after uncovering a racket that helped NEET students willing to pay money to pass the exam.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to consider discontinuing NEET, the national-level medical entrance exam introduced in 2013, and reverting to the system of states conducting the exam, in the wake of the paper leak row. In a letter to the PM, the TMC chief called for strong action against those involved in the alleged irregularities in the NEET-UG exam.

"I strongly urge upon you to consider and take immediate steps to restore the previous system of conducting this examination by the state governments and abolish the NEET examination. This will help restore normalcy and confidence of the aspirant students in the system,” she said.

Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Anil Desai said addressing the NEET-UG row requires more than arresting a few individuals and claimed the involvement of a broader network in the case.

"The entire reputation has been tarnished because of NEET. Simply arresting one or two officers will not resolve the issue. There is an extensive racket at work," alleged the Mumbai South Central MP. Days after Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Vijay Kumar Sinha claimed that an arrested prime suspect is linked to officials associated with RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, RJD MP Manoj Jha claimed proximity between those named for paper leaks and leaders of the JD(U) and BJP.

Several opposition MPs said on the first day of the 18th Lok Sabha that the government will have to answer on the issue in Parliament as it is causing hardship to lakhs of students. As Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan proceeded to take oath in Lok Sabha, members of the opposition shouted "NEET, NEET."

Amid protests and litigation, the Centre had on Saturday shunted out National Testing Agency (NTA) Director General Subodh Singh and handed over the probe into irregularities in NEET-UG to the CBI, which is now probing a total of six cases in the matter.

Pradeep Singh Kharola took the additional charge of NTA on Monday and had meetings with officials of the testing body. The Education Ministry had also set up a seven-member panel headed by former ISRO chief K Radhakrishnan to review the NTA's functioning and recommend exam reforms and it was slated to meet Monday evening.

Pradhan had asserted that it was the first of a series of steps to improve the efficiency of the examination process, put an end to all possible malpractices, strengthen data security protocols and overhaul and reform the NTA.

The Centre on Monday also made public the rules under the recently notified anti-paper leak law, mandating the National Recruitment Agency (NRA) to prepare norms, standards and guidelines for the computer-based tests among others.

The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Rules, 2024 have provisions for "engagement of services of other government agencies by public examination authority", "preparations of norms, standards and guidelines" and "reporting of incidents of unfair means or offences" among others. Officials at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said the central agency has re-registered one case each from Gujarat and Bihar and three cases from Rajasthan as its own FIR. It is also likely to take up another case from Maharashtra's Latur.

Barring the case from Bihar, the other four appear to be isolated incidents of impersonation and cheating by local officials, invigilators and candidates, the officials said. The CBI has already registered its own FIR in connection with the case on a reference from the Union education ministry to conduct a comprehensive probe, they said.

After taking over these new cases, the CBI is now probing six cases of alleged irregularities in NEET-UG. The Economic Offences Unit of the Bihar Police arrested five more persons on Sunday, taking the total arrests to 18. The Centre has drawn flak over alleged irregularities in NEET-UG and UGC-NET.

While the medical entrance exam question paper was allegedly leaked, according to an investigation by the Bihar Police, UGC-NET was cancelled a day after it was conducted following input that the exam's integrity had been compromised. Both matters are now being investigated by the CBI. Two other exams -- NEET-PG and CSIR-UGC NET -- have been cancelled by the government amid the row.
(With PTI Inputs)

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