Scrapping the NEET-UG, 2024 exam in entirety would "seriously jeopardise" lakhs of honest candidates and not be rational in the absence of any proof of large-scale breach of confidentiality, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Friday.

The National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test-Undergraduate (NEET-UG), conducted on May 5 by the National Testing Agency (NTA) for admissions to MBBS, BDS, AYUSH and other related courses, has caused a huge uproar across the country over alleged irregularities like question paper leak and led to mass protests, political slugfest and filing of multiple pleas in courts.

Responding to the pleas which have sought scrapping of the controversy-ridden exam, re-test and a court-monitored probe, the Union Ministry of Education said there was no proof of any large-scale breach of confidentiality in the examination which was taken by over 23 lakh candidates at 4,750 centres in 571 cities.

"It is also submitted that at the same time, in the absence of any proof of any large-scale breach of confidentiality in a pan-India examination, it would not be rational to scrap the entire examination and the results already declared," the Centre said in its preliminary affidavit filed by a director of the Ministry of Education.

It said in any examination, there were competing rights, and interests of a large number of students who take it without adopting any unfair means must also not be jeopardised.

"Scrapping the exam in entirety would seriously jeopardise the lakhs of honest candidates who attempted the question paper in 2024," the affidavit said.

It said the Centre was committed to protecting the interests of lakhs of students who have attempted the question papers fairly and after years of hardwork, without trying to obtain any illegal advantage.

"Therefore, while genuine concerns based on proven facts must be addressed, other prayers merely based on conjectures and surmises, without any basis in fact, must be rejected so as not to cause unnecessary suffering and distress to honest examinees and their families," it said.

The affidavit said there have been some alleged instances of irregularities, cheating, impersonation and malpractices during the exam, and premier investigation agency CBI has been asked to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the entire gamut of alleged irregularities.

"CBI has taken over the cases registered in different states after being transferred to it by the concerned state governments and is undertaking the investigation," the affidavit said.

It said the Ministry of Education has constituted a high-level committee of experts to suggest effective measures for conducting transparent, smooth and fair examinations by the National Testing Agency.

The affidavit said the panel shall make recommendations on reforms in the mechanism of the examination process, improvement in data security protocols and structure, and functioning of the National Testing Agency.

"It is respectfully submitted that the government is committed to ensure the sanctity of examinations and protect the interest of students. To ensure transparency, fairness, and credibility in public examination, Parliament has enacted Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024 on February 12, 2024," it said.

The affidavit said the Act was brought into effect on June 21, 2024 and provides for stringent punishment for offences related to unfair means in public examinations.

It said the Centre is not taking the litigation in an adversarial manner and fully appreciates the concerns of candidates who have taken the NEET-UG 2024 examination.

"It is further submitted that the Union of India, in a matter such as the present one, has adopted a solution-oriented approach," it said, adding the government is committed to conducting all competitive examinations in a fair and transparent manner.

"The Union of India duly appreciates that the confidentiality of the question papers is the utmost priority in any examination and that if due to some criminality at the behest of some criminal elements, the confidentiality has been breached, the Union of India submits that the said person must be dealt sternly and with the full force of law to ensure that they are punished," the affidavit said.

The top court is scheduled to hear on July 8 a batch of pleas, including those alleging irregularities in the examination held on May 5 and seeking a direction that it be held afresh.

The Centre and the NTA had told the court on June 13 that they had cancelled the grace marks awarded to 1,563 candidates. They were given the option to either take a re-test or forgo the compensatory marks awarded for loss of time.

The NTA announced the revised rank list on July 1 after issuing the results of the re-test held on June 23.

A total of 67 students had scored a perfect 720, unprecedented in the NTA's history, with six from a Haryana centre figuring in the list, raising suspicions about irregularities in the examination. It was alleged that grace marks contributed to 67 students sharing the top rank.

The number of candidates sharing the top rank came down to 61 from 67 when the NTA announced the revised results on July 1.

(Except for the headline, this story, from a syndicated feed, has not been edited by staff)

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