NEET 2024 Row: Supreme Court cancels grace marks, orders re-test for affected students

Second chance or setback? NEET re-test for some, counselling on track
Image: Live Law

The unexpected declaration of NEET 2024 results by the National Testing Agency (NTA) on June 4, ten days ahead of the scheduled date, sparked significant unrest and controversy among students, parents, and the wider public. The premature release coincided with the general election results, amplifying the surprise and scrutiny surrounding the announcement.

With 67 candidates reportedly securing All India Rank (AIR) 1 with perfect scores of 720/720, alongside the improbable scores of 718/720 and 719/720, concerns about cut-off levels and potential malpractice have emerged.

This piece delves into the NEET 2024 controversy, analysing the background, protests, and subsequent Supreme Court intervention, highlighting the critical issues at play.

Background of the Controversy

On June 4, 2024, the NTA released the NEET 2024 results, catching students and parents off guard due to the results being announced ten days ahead of the anticipated date. This early release coincided with the national focus on the general election results, which added to the public’s astonishment. The declaration that 67 candidates had secured a perfect score of 720/720 raised immediate concerns, as achieving such scores is exceptionally difficult given NEET’s negative marking system.

Further suspicions were fuelled by reports that many of the top scorers had consecutive roll numbers, implying they might have taken the exam at the same centre. This raised allegations of collusion and possible exam centre malpractice. The situation was further complicated by reports of candidates scoring 718/720 and 719/720—scores that are impossible under NEET’s marking scheme, sparking confusion and suspicion among stakeholders.

NTA’s Response and Normalization Formula

In response to the uproar on social media, the NTA issued a clarification on X (formerly Twitter), attributing the unusual scores to a normalization formula approved by the Supreme Court. This formula was ostensibly implemented to address time loss issues during the May 5, 2024, exam. However, many remained unconvinced, questioning the normalization process and the integrity of the results.

A subsequent NTA press release on June 6 explained that the increase in the number of high scorers was due to a 14% rise in candidates from 2023 to 2024, as well as revisions in the answer key and compensatory marks. Yet, this explanation did not fully account for the significant increase in perfect scores, leaving many questions unanswered.

Protests and Social Media Outcry

The release of NEET 2024 results triggered significant protests across India. Student organizations and opposition youth wings mobilized, with protests occurring in cities like Delhi, Kanpur, and Bhopal.

Delhi protests (June 9, 2024)

On the day of the new NDA government’s oath-taking ceremony, Delhi witnessed significant protests. Student associations like AISA, NSUI, and Youth Congress workers joined forces to demonstrate, claiming coaching centers were bribing officials to favor certain students.

Kanpur and Bhopal protests (June 7-8, 2024)

Hundreds of students protested in Kanpur and Bhopal, demanding redressal and transparency. The widespread nature of these protests underscored the deep discontent and mistrust among students and their families.

Legal action and Supreme Court intervention

In response to the controversy, multiple Public Interest Litigations (PILs) were filed in the Supreme Court, seeking the cancellation of NEET 2024 and the establishment of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the alleged fraud. The Supreme Court did not stay the NEET results but issued notices to the NTA.

Comparison with CLAT 2018

To understand the complexity of the NEET 2024 situation, a comparison with the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) 2018 is instructive. Both exams faced issues related to time loss and score normalization, but the approaches and contexts differed significantly.

CLAT 2018 was conducted online, allowing precise tracking of technical issues and time loss for each candidate. This precise data enabled accurate adjustments to scores based on a detailed normalization formula. In contrast, NEET 2024 was conducted offline, making accurate determination of time loss more challenging. The reliance on CCTV footage for assessing time lost introduces uncertainty, unlike the precise logs available in an online setting.

For CLAT 2018, the Supreme Court set up a grievance redressal committee to review complaints and created an email account for candidates to submit grievances, ensuring thorough examination and transparency. Conversely, NEET 2024 lacked such a comprehensive grievance redressal mechanism. The NTA mentioned compensating 1563 candidates, but the process lacked transparency and did not provide an open forum for all candidates to report issues. In the NEET 2024, the court held that, only the people who have come to the court with the complaints can take the re-exam and no grievance redressal mechanism is put in place.

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The normalisation formula used in CLAT 2018 calculated additional questions a candidate would have attempted without time loss based on their answering efficiency. This method, however, is inappropriate for NEET 2024, given the offline nature of the exam and the lack of precise data on time lost. The discrepancies in the scores, such as 718 and 719, which are not possible under NEET’s marking scheme, demand clear explanation and public scrutiny.

The court has therefore, held that the grace marks will be cancelled, the students who have received grace marks can then sit for a re- examination.

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On June 13, 2024, the Supreme Court of India addressed a significant controversy surrounding the NEET-UG 2024 examination. The issue in question involved the awarding of grace marks to over 1500 candidates due to reduced exam time. This decision was met with multiple petitions challenging the conduct and results of the exam, raising concerns about fairness and transparency.

Hearing Details and Arguments

The matter was brought before a Vacation Bench consisting of Justices Vikram Nath and Sandeep Mehta. The court reviewed several pleas, including demands for the cancellation of NEET-UG 2024 results and objections to the awarding of grace marks. Advocate Kanu Aggarwal, representing the respondents, informed the court of a decision to address the students’ concerns. A committee recommended cancelling the scorecards of 1563 candidates affected by reduced exam time and conducting a re-test for them. Advocate J Sai Deepak, representing one of the petitioners, argued against the arbitrary award of grace marks, stressing that some candidates did not receive the full exam duration, which led to compensatory marks being awarded.

Court’s observations and orders

The Supreme Court clarified that the ongoing counselling process would not be halted. Justice Nath stated, “Counselling will go on, and we will not stop it. If the exam goes, then everything goes in totality, so nothing to fear.” The court scrutinised the National Testing Agency (NTA) recommendations and found inconsistencies regarding the re-test clauses. Justice Mehta emphasized the need to re-draft the clauses, noting, “You can’t declare the result of all 1563 candidates canceled.”

Advocate J Sai Deepak referenced a 2018 Supreme Court judgment in a CLAT matter to argue his case, but the bench clarified that the CLAT judgment did not apply here. Justice Nath remarked, “The CLAT judgment is not being applied here. The circumstances and specifics differ, so we must address this case on its own merits.” The Supreme Court directed that only candidates genuinely affected by the reduced exam time should be eligible for the re-test, scheduled for June 23, 2024, with results to be declared by June 30 to avoid disrupting the counselling process starting on July 6.

Final Verdict and Broader Context

The Supreme Court’s order stated that the petitioner raised concerns about the normalisation formula and the award of grace marks to 1563 candidates. The NTA, after reconsideration, recommended cancelling the scorecards of these candidates and conducting re-exams. Those who opt out of the re-exam will have their actual scores considered without compensatory marks. The decision to cancel the grace marks awarded to 1563 students was communicated by the Centre to the Supreme Court, with these students informed of their actual scores. Advocate Kanu Aggarwal, representing the Union Government, conveyed that the panel’s decision was made to “allay the fears of the students” and address the skewed situation resulting from the grace marks.

Additional Petitions and Ongoing Issues

The court dealt with three primary petitions challenging the NEET-UG 2024 results due to irregularities and the contentious award of grace marks. One notable petition was filed by Physics Wallah CEO Alakh Pandey, who argued that the NTA’s decision to award grace marks was arbitrary, supported by representations from about 20,000 students. Another petition by SIO members, Abdullah Mohammed Faiz and Dr. Shaik Roshan Mohiddin sought a recall of the NEET-UG 2024 results over alleged paper leaks and malpractices, with the court issuing a notice on this matter.

The Supreme Court disposed of the petition challenging the grace marks while keeping pending other grievances. The NTA and the Union Education Ministry had earlier formed a four-member committee to review the results of the candidates awarded grace marks to compensate for the loss of time.

Need for a Grievance Redressal Mechanism

The Supreme Court’s decision to allow re-examinations for the 1563 candidates affected by reduced exam time is a step towards addressing the immediate concerns of fairness and transparency. However, the broader issue of a lack of a comprehensive grievance redressal mechanism remains unaddressed. This controversy highlights the urgent need for the National Testing Agency (NTA) to establish a robust and transparent grievance redressal process to ensure that all students have a fair opportunity to report issues and seek redress.

The other students, who have not approached the court may not have the means to and hence the court must follow the precedent laid down in CLAT 2018, where a grievance redressal mechanism was established in order to give every student a chance to voice their concern.

Supreme Court order can be read here:


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