Bhubaneswar: The Supreme Court on Monday favoured cancelling the 2017 SSC examination, whose declaration of results it had stayed in August, and holding it afresh by the National Testing Agency (NTA) or the CBSE "in the interest of students".

The top court observed it was difficult to ascertain the real beneficiaries of the irregularities in the "tainted" examination and hence it should be scrapped.

It refused to agree with the contention of Centre that the examination held in February this year got "tainted" due to a technical snag and a fresh examination of one paper had been conducted thereafter.

The examination papers of the SSC CGL were allegedly leaked, leading to huge protests from job seekers for several days. Amid the protests, the SSC had recommended a CBI probe into the allegations of paper leak following the demands by the protesting job aspirants.

A bench of Justices S A Bobde and L Nageswara Rao asked the Centre to go through the status report and file its reply by November 13.

"We had stayed declaration of results for the examinations as there were prima facie material. It is in the interest of students that whole thing is scrapped and held afresh," the bench said.

The court said that even after the CBI probe or investigation by any agency, there was no mechanism by which it can be determined who all were tainted and who all were innocents.

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"Sometimes a hard decision has to be taken to send a message to those involved that these kind of activities would not benefit and everything can be washed off," it said.

The bench said it understands that sincere students have studied night after night but the court cannot allow the beneficiaries of paper leak to get into the system.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner Shantantu Kumar who had sought cancellation of the examination, said that contract of private company Sify Technologies Pvt Ltd, which had conducted the examination, is now over.

Bhushan and advocate Govind Jee said that the court can now order the Staff Selection Commission or any other government agency to conduct the examinations.

The bench said then it may ask the National Testing Agency or the CBSE to conduct the examinations. "We want such agency to conduct the examinations which cannot be approached," it said.

Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the problem happened in only one examination paper, held on February 26, and it was due to some technical snag.

He termed the allegations of paper leak as "bald and in general" and opposed the contention for scrapping of entire examinations.

The bench asked Mehta whether he has seen the status report because it says "something else".

Mehta said he has not seen the CBI report as it was filed directly in the court.

"It will be better, if you go through the status report of CBI. We cannot give the report to the petitioner side but we can give it to the Centre. You file the reply with respect to the CBI's report," the bench said while posting the matter for November 13.

The court observed that it may ask the Centre to cancel the examination and appoint any agency to conduct the examination.

On August 31, the apex court had stayed the declaration of results of the Staff Selection Commission (SSC) Combined Graduate Level (CGL)and Combined Higher Secondary Level (CHSL) Examination held in 2017, in which lakhs of students had appeared, saying it seemed that the entire test and the system was "tainted".

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It had the pulled up a law officer, appearing for the CBI for taking a stand 'different' from the status report implicating the SSC, officials of private vendor Sify and some students.

The SSC is a government body which conducts examinations to recruit staff at multiple levels in various ministries and departments. Several lakh students appear in the SSC examination each year and enter government services in Group C and D Categories of jobs once they qualify.

Earlier, the top court had asked the petitioners to approach the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) secretary and give an appropriate representation.

The petitioner had said that the CGL Examination of 2017 was outsourced to a private vendor, which had allegedly been accused in connection with the Satyam scam.

It was argued that there was a high probability of cheating and malpractice as the private vendor entrusted to conduct the exam by the SSC has further outsourced the work, in some centres.

The SSC Combined Graduate Level exam has a four-tier system, in which tier I and tier II are computer-based, while in tier III and IV, job applicants take up a descriptive paper and a computer proficiency test or skill test.