CBSE’s NEET 2017 (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) was held on May 7, 2017. This edition which was held in one day, instead of two phases like in 2016, witnessed a total of nearly 11, 38,890 registered candidates appearing for the examination, including 1,522 NRIs, 480 OCIs, 70 PIOs and 613 foreigners, according to The Times of India. This article discusses NEET controversy of 2017 which started with an attempted paper leak to a stay on the NEET result declaration.
On April 11, 2016, the Supreme Court passed a verdict stating that all admissions to medical colleges would be permitted subject to obtaining a rank in NEET. The second verdict delivered by the SC on May 2, 2016 in response to a case on the Vyapam scandal of Madhya Pradesh, appointed a three-person committee to oversee the functioning of the Medical Council of India (MCI). The reasons behind reviving NEET were obvious: to reduce the multitude of entrance exams (around 35) to the 412 medical colleges in the country, thereby avoiding clashes and the anxiety faced by students who attend multiple exams. Also, the change aimed to curb the corruption and fraudulent activities existing in the admission process, thereby would provide a fair chance to all students.
NEET is conducted for admission to MBBS/BDS courses in India in medical/dental colleges run with the approval of Medical Council of India/Dental Council of India under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, except for AIIMS and JIPMER Puducherry, which are institutions established through an Act of Parliament.
Earlier, CBSE conducted NEET for only 15% of the all-India quota seats and the rest was conducted by states, however now, all AI seats need to secure a NEET ranking. Let’s see how the events led to the infamous NEET controversy of 2017.
NEET controversy 2017
NEET 2017 was received with mixed emotions and is perhaps one of the most controversial, debated and resented examinations held in India. There are number of incidents that would justify the same, but to keep a track of the happenings, we will approach the topic in a chronological order.
In January 2017, it was announced that NEET 2017 would be conducted in 10 languages – English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Bengali, Assamese, Gujarati, Kannada and Odiya in different centres across the nation. Almost immediately after this announcement, the Students Islamic Organization of India (SIO) filed a case with the Supreme Court demanding the inclusion of the Urdu language. Finally, the verdict passed by the apex court ruled Urdu to be included from NEET 2018 onwards.
By the end of January, the Tamil Nadu government introduced a bill to circumvent NEET. “A separate entrance examination to get admitted to higher level course will be an additional burden on students,” C Vijayabaskar, the State minister for health and family welfare, said after tabling the bill. He further argued that the CBSE syllabus and Tamil Nadu Board of Higher Secondary Examination syllbabus are far different from one another, and the students of the weaker section and rural areas do not have the access and funds to prepare for the NEET. Earlier in 2016, the Centre promulgated an ordinance to exclude Tamil Nadu from the common entrance exam. However, the new SC verdict overruled the ordinance including Tamil Nadu in the CET.
In May, before the main exam, CBSE had released a list of DO’s and DON’Ts. The cautious list had additional points, unlike previous years, which were overlooked. Both students and authorities should’ve paid more heed to this list, which would’ve saved a lot of hue and cry.
CBSE had instructed the test centres to not allow any entrants whose apparel set off the metal detector. Candidates were instructed to wear light-colored clothes, half sleeved and only slippers or sandals. The list of proscribed items did mention shoes, long sleeved shirts, pencils, pens, calculators, and jewellery or ornaments of any kind, but failed to include jeans with metal buttons, trousers with pockets or hooked bras. Clearly, the restrictions were severe and in some ways, incredulous.
On the day of the exam, students who were unprepared to face the stringent restrictions were in for a shock.
The media was ablaze with news of a candidate in Kerala who was forced to remove her bra and another candidate reportedly in jeans was asked to change because of the metal detector went off. Similarly in Tamil Nadu, boys who had attended the test wearing full sleeve shirts were asked to change to half-sleeve shirts, leading them to customise their sleeves with the assistance of a scissor.
Candidates wearing shoes had to switch to their parents’ chappals and sandals. Also, girls had to remove hair pins, and bands and ornaments like earrings and nose-pins at the last minute. A girl in Bangalore was unable to remove her earring as the screw was stuck, and had to get it cut by a jeweller before entering the hall. This hassle about dress code left many students drained and depressed, if not only tense before the exam.
While the early doses of drama might’ve seemed enough, little did everyone know that there was al more to suffer and complain about.
In many states, candidates complained of mix up in question papers. In Warangal, at St Peter’s Central Public School in Hanamkonda area, candidates were allegedly given English and Hindi question papers instead of Telugu ones.
Maharashtra and West Bengal received maximum regarding variance in the Marathi and Bengali papers in terms of question paper difficulty and exam pattern. Usually, when an exam is conducted in different languages it is required to be translated word to word to ensure fairness. Complaints registered stated that the questions in Marathi and Bengali were different (about 85%) from the English paper, while some stated the difficulty level of the paper was higher in these other language papers, the others felt it was easier.
Education activist Dr. Amit Gupta’s in his social media post stated, “It appears like CBSE didn’t bother to translate English questions in regional languages and just copy pasted questions from whatever question bank they had available in regional languages otherwise there appears no reason to give different questions in different regional languages.”
Apart from the issues regarding the uniformity and fairness of the paper, medical and dental seat aspirants who studied the pre-university syllabus, found NEET 2017,a compulsory to securing admissions to medical and dental seats, and homoeopathy and ayurveda courses, very tricky and difficult. Students were ironically, more stressed after the exam ended.This aggravated the NEET controversy even more.
While parents, students, teachers and educational bodies were debating over the variances and scope of syllabus, a new crisis surfaced- allegations over attempts to leak the question paper and impersonators.
Five peopl including two medical students, were arrested in Patna for attempting to leak question papers of the NEET examination. During interrogation, the accused confessed that they had struck a deal with the centre superintendent of an examination centre to help them acquire the question paper. They had planned to get the paper photocopied somewhere en route and then would distribute among candidates. The Goa police arrested four youths from two different examination halls in the state for impersonating.
Scrap NEET 2017, Demand for retest
Owing to the discrepancies in the NEET 2017, languages bias, difficulty levels, paper leaks and impersonations, CBSE was requested conduct NEET 2017afresh. On May 10, protests were held in Uttar Pradesh, even in front of the CBSE headquarters in Preet Vihar, New Delhi.
Response from the authorities
After the demands and fights put up the students, Medical Council of India received a notification to revert to the queries regarding NEET 2017. CBSE Director and Union Health Department. had to file counter affidavits as a reply to the filed petitions. As the days passed, the high number of petitions against NEET 2017 became cumbersome to handle. Finally, authorities agreed to having an amicable settlement with the students.
NEET Controversy – The Stay on results
The NEET results were proposed to be announced on June 8, 2017. But the declaration of the results was stayed by the apex court based on the existing petitions filed by the Madras Court on May 24 , 2017. However, CBSE recommenced the process for declaring the NEET 2017 results after the Supreme Court gave a go-ahead to the board to their results, preventing the NEET controversy to catch up further. The OMR answer sheets and responses were released on June 13, 2017 for challenge. NEET 2017 result was declared on June 23, 2017.
…and the rest is history.
NEET 2017 captured the attention of the entire world, and sadly, for the wrong reasons. What was supposed to be a step towards a “fair and calm” examination, turned out to be a nightmare. Lakhs of students now might feel they were denied a fair chance, and perhaps are pondering about their future. It is obvious that the medical stream in India provides a stiff competition, and rightly so. There can be no compromise with regards to the standards and quality of doctors. To ensure the same, rigorous and tough exams need to be conducted to select the best of the lot. Arguments that the students should have the aptitude and competence, hence these exams need to be a notch complex also stands valid. It has become an inherent fact among students that any question can feature in your paper, so it is better to be well prepared, so the syllabus scope, a tricky dilemma, is easily handled like this. What we don’t realise is that, the education system is insufficient and not at par with what the industry needs, or expects. Let’s leave that topic alone, we never wish to address the elephant in the room.
However, after the NEET controversy of 2017, what remains hard to digest is the lack of efficiency and responsibility of CBSE. The language bias totally rendered the exam unfair, and in spite of the security checks, impersonators could attempt the exam. Mistakes on such a large scale are hard to forget. Even though the protests delayed the results, and perhaps avoid some hastiness in the announcement process, it changed nothing.
But, it should change one thing. Our awareness. Students should now read the Dos and DON’Ts with more caution, the media and students should remind CBSE of its responsibilities, and the Board and Council should remember to remember and avoid such and new mistakes. If anything goes wrong, it is the students and parents that bears the brunt of it, so students should understand that when the tough gets going, the going gets tough. If possible, students should grow up, sooner than they were told to.