Three days before the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET-UG) on May 5, some students received pop-up alerts on Telegram: “Leak paper available, price Rs 5000, message to buy @HQPaper.”
The Supreme Court has now issued notices to the Centre and NTA on these alleged leaks after PILs piled up. But RTI activist Vivek Pandey says he had posted about these ‘leak paper’ offers on social media platforms even before the test.“But it fell on deaf ears,” he says. On May 5, the day of the exam, Pandey felt a sense of deja vu.
But rather than just being happy with his I-told-you-so moment, Pandey has been spending most of his time filing complaints with the Union health ministry on the problems with NEET-UG, seeking updates from Bihar police about investigations into a leak from the state while also petitioning for action against the NTA in the SC. He had earlier filed an RTI seeking clarifications on the grace marks awarded by NTA which later withdrew them.
Discrepancies in exams are personal for him. He attempted to pass the pre-medical test (PMT) in Madhya Pradesh for nearly four years but always ended up in failure. It was only when the Vyapam scam-where students cheated on a large scale to pass the state medical exam in connivance with senior officials, teachers and many middlemen- hit headlines that he realised that he was trying to win a fixed match. Pandey eventually cracked NEET but decided to work towards greater transparency in the medical education system, filing around 1,000 RTIs since 2016. Though no one paid heed to his warnings in May, they are paying attention now.
“When the ‘leak’ stories came out, we had a small group of 50 students who were disturbed by the reports. Now our support group has expanded to 4,500,” Pandey says, adding that there are lakhs who are now up in arms against the NTA.
Like Pandey, Kota-based educator and students rights’ advocate Dr Amit Gupta regularly posts videos sharing the plight of aspirants, amassing nearly 30,000 followers on X (formerly Twitter). Gupta, who completed his MBBS but decided to become a teacher instead, began his ‘activism’ in 2015 after the AIPMT paper leak. “I gathered about 2,000 students, and we decided that enough was enough. Every time the cheaters just get away,” Gupta says. The group held rallies and dharnas, demanding a re-exam. However, they soon realised that taking the judicial route would bear more fruit. Eventually, the SC ruled in their favour.
Since then, 46-year-old Gupta has been fighting for other reforms too. This year, after the NEET results row, Gupta began helping students out to file petitions. Years of experience in fighting legal battles have come in handy as his lawyers help students draft petitions and crowdsource legal fees. “If students take a single exam on one date with a single question paper in offline mode, there are bound to be leaks. Why can’t we adopt the JEE model where multiple question papers are prepared and exams are held on different dates online?” he asks.
Union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan has denied that there have been any leaks calling the allegations motivated. But the turmoil among students and parents has been hard to contain.
Students Islamic Organisation of India too has been vocal in its protests on the exam. The group has about 10 lakh students in their network who look to them for career guidance or funds as many belong to economically deprived backgrounds. SIO national secretary Abdullah Faiz says they received 300 complaints from students related to NEET discrepancies. “Then we saw reports about grace marks being given without a proper explanation, paper leaks in Bihar and Gujarat and six toppers from just one centre in Haryana. We decided to file a petition as we no longer trust the agency conducting the exam.” SIO also conducted a survey among its students and found 64% had encountered problems like delayed start or early finish of the exam while 48% found discrepancies or errors in their scorecard. The most troubling thing, Faiz says, is that controversies surrounding the exam had impacted the mental health of over 70% of students.
Desperate students have hit social media, organised street protests and petitioned influencers and politicians. The recent controversies also prompted Dr Dhruv Chauhan, national council coordinator with the Indian Medical Association Junior Doctors Network, to request a re-examination. “Students have approached me saying they feel helpless. They and their families spend years planning and preparing for a medical career. Their faith has been shaken,” Chauhan says.
Among the other petitioners are coaching institutes such as PhysicsWallah’s Alakh Pandey and students like 19-year-old Andhra student Jaripiti Kartheek who took the exam for the third time. Even with the result of 506, he finds himself at a rank of 200520 which makes state medical colleges out of reach. “So many of the students who sat for the exam are struggling. NTA should change its approach-divide the courses and branches, and conduct different exams for each,” he says.

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