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

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New Delhi/Patna: The investigation into the alleged irregularities in the medical entrance exam NEET-UG gained momentum on Sunday with the CBI filing an FIR and dispatching teams to states and the Economic Offences Unit of the Bihar Police arresting five persons in a paper leak case, taking the total arrests to 18.

The National Testing Agency (NTA) also cracked the whip against more students, debarring 17 from centres in Bihar after detection of “malpractices”.

Amid demand for the cancellation of the May 5 exam, Union Education 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 the 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.

Against 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, following a reference from the Union Education Ministry.

State Governments of Bihar and Gujarat also issued a notification on Sunday to transfer cases of NEET-UG paper leaks registered by their police to the CBI, paving the way for the central agency to take over the investigation.

The Bihar Police’s EOU 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 it had arrested five people who 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 the 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.

Giving top priority to the case, the CBI has sent special teams to Godhra in Gujarat and Patna, where cases of question paper leaks have been registered by police, officials said.

Meanwhile, 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 loose 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 said its leaders should not use the issue for their “dirty politics”.

On Monday, the education ministry’s high-level panel for suggesting exam reforms and reviewing the functioning of the National Testing Agency will meet, 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.

Press Trust of India

Press Trust of India is lead news agency of India

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