July 07, 2024
NEET UG Examinations: Tip of the Iceberg

Nilotpal Basu

THE first session of the 18th Lok Sabha has highlighted the confrontation between the government and the energised and obviously much stronger opposition. The major focus of this confrontation centered around the big scam that exploded with the publication of the results for NEET UG Entrance Examination for medical colleges in the country. Starting with the outright denial by the education minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, of any wrongdoing, the facts were out in the open. Large scale manipulation in the examination results was out in the open and went beyond the scope of denial. The government was therefore forced to admit the criminality involved in the conduct of the examination and was forced to order a CBI inquiry. It was also considered an ‘institutional failure’. It is also forced to institute an inquiry committee to go into the circumstances which led to these massive failures. That the government has ‘skeletons to hide’ was clear from the fact that despite repeated impassioned pleas for a full-fledged discussion in the parliament on this issue, it was adamant in its refusal.



The issue of corruption is definitely a major feature of what has happened. Apart from the NEET UG, despite holding the UGC-NET examination, its results now stand postponed. This is bizarre and underlines the pathetic state of affairs in the way the National Testing Authority (NTA) functions.

But to only highlight the criminal aspects could prove to be exposing not just the entrance examination, but the entire higher education sector to grave peril. The government’s commissioning of the CBI is clearly aimed at diverting attention from the policy underpinnings that have led to this disaster. The so-called enquiry committee is also an attempt to cover up, particularly with the NTA chairman, Pradip Joshi, himself being appointed the chairman of the enquiry committee, which is a brazen giveaway.



The central government had established the NTA in September 2018 during Modi 1.0 to set up an agency on the lines of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in the US; a private testing and assessment body that conducts scholastic aptitude tests and graduate record examinations for college and university admissions. Even a cursory view of these developments makes it clear that the emphasis was an attempt to centralise access to professional higher education. This approach is fundamentally flawed. The copy-paste of the US model is bound to fail in the diverse Indian reality. In fact, the Indian Constitution had envisaged a major role for states in higher education, and in the past, admission to state government-led colleges was conducted by the state government and its agency. Therefore, the inevitable has happened.

Apart from the fundamentally flawed conceptual framework, the infrastructure available with the NTA is unequal to the tasks that it is entrusted with. The NTA is tasked to hold 25 public examinations with less than 25 permanent members. While, according to a former education ministry official, the agency was ‘envisaged to be a professional, lean, efficient entity, provided with the force essential for the conduct of only online examinations with competent and credible technical partners’. The NTA was never based on a separate legislative exercise in the parliament and executive order of the cabinet formed this entity under the Private Society Act. In its obsession with professional, lean and efficient entity, accountability and transparency became the biggest casualty. A large part of the activities of the NTA comprised of paper setting, paper distribution and setting up data security protocol with the quantum and the quality of manpower available, this was impossible to achieve. Therefore, most of the tasks were outsourced to individuals and private corporate entities, which is a potential source for undermining the integrity of the examination system.

Another distinct feature is the manning of the NTA officialdom. In keeping with the general pattern of the capture of the hierarchy of higher education and the apex body of governance and regulatory structures, by RSS-connected brass, dogged the NTA. The NTA is now tasked for JEE Main, NEET UG, NET, C-MAT, and GPAT. So, it has actually substituted CBSE along with C-MAT and GPAT as designated by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Therefore, the position of NTA chairman was crucial with purview over several sectors of higher and professional education. Pradip Jain, the first chairman, has been occupying critical positions in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Service Commissions. What is pertinent is Pradip Jain was the chairman of the Madhya Pradesh SSC which was widely held responsible for the extremely infamous Vyapam scam. Pradip Jain’s association with the BJP hierarchy dates back to the days of Professor Murali Manohar Joshi. Pradip Jain was a professor in university in Jabalpur. Later on, he moved to the central level and was appointed as the UPSC chairman during the Modi government’s first tenure. It is significant that though the director general of NTA was removed in the wake of the current NEET UG scam overseen by the NTA, chairman Pradip Joshi remains firmly in his position. Not only that, Jain has also been named for heading the so-called enquiry by the government. Conflict of interest could not have been more pronounced with the agency charged with overseeing the scam is also tasked to inquire into its massive bungling and manipulation. There is no need for a second guess on the outcome of that enquiry!



The basic data on medical education underline the massive privatisation/commercialisation of the sector. Currently, the total number of medical colleges in the country is 706 with 1,08,906 seats. Of these, 382 colleges with 52,325 seats belong to the government. There are 1,180 seats under central universities and 10,250 seats under deemed universities. 42,350 seats are in private colleges.

The expenditure differential is also clear from the pattern of these and the total expenditure incurred by the student from the available data. The fee and expenditure are lowest in central universities. Annual fees and total expenditure in central universities are Rs 23,000 and 3.5 lakhs, respectively. In state government institutions, these are Rs 75,000 and Rs 6 lakhs, respectively. For private colleges, these are Rs 12.75 lakhs and Rs 80 lakhs, respectively. The fees and expenditures are highest in deemed universities – Rs 20 lakhs and Rs 1.2 crores. It is quite apparent from these data that the amounts are much less in government institutions and therefore, that much more affordable. With 48 per cent of the seats already available in the private sector colleges and are subject to influence of money power with extreme levels of commercialisation and commodification. Obviously, the greater drive for commercialisation is aimed at encroaching into more affordable government colleges and their seats. It is here that the extremely centralised admission process under the NTA is creating an avenue for access by manipulating the entrance examination through money power. Obviously, securing admission is so lucrative that the massive coaching industry has emerged.

The annual revenue of coaching institutes was a whopping Rs 24,000 crore, according to a 2015 estimate by an expert committee set up by the education ministry (then-Union Human Resource Development ministry). The current market revenue of the coaching industry in India is Rs 58,088 crore, according to Infinium Global Research, a consultancy firm based in Pune. The coaching industry’s growth is projected to reach Rs 1, 33,995 crore by 2028. With the pressure of these private corporate entities, there is a clear incentive for rigging the NEET examination.

Another set of data relates to the year-wise cut-off marks for qualification and corresponding numbers of qualified examinees who are eligible for admission.


NEET Exam Data

Year            Qualification cut off       Qualified

2021           138                                8,70,000

2022           117                                 10,00,000

2023           137                                11,00,000

2024           164                                13,16,268

No rocket science is needed to understand as to why for fulfilling approximately 1,10,000 seats, 13,16,128 candidates are deemed to have qualified; that many more qualified candidates are around to secure those few seats. Therefore, that is the bigger incentive for all concerned to manipulate and corrupt the process. In a way, what has happened in the NEET UG was an in fact waiting to happen.


In the wake of extremely strong critical reaction on the NEET examination, the education minister has reiterated that more vigorous implementation of NEP 2020 will be the thrust of the first hundred days of the NDA government. It is necessary to understand what this means. In the light of the discussion and criticism of NEP 2020, it has been repeatedly brought out that the central thrust of the NEP would be commercialisation, centralisation, and communalisation of education. If one could call these the defining triad, they could be the triad of assaults on education and students per se. NEET UG examination has brought these out in the most defining and definitive manner. The centralised admission test has given a go-by to the states playing a role in the admission process. In fact, the Tamilnadu government has been raising its opposition to the NEET from the very outset. The diverse reality in India and the differing socio-economic situations demand a process that is in keeping with the aspirations of economically and socially vulnerable sections. But the slogan of uniformity has been promoted to precisely undermine this. The prime minister's approach on addressing the concerns of these sections is being termed as ‘tushtikaran’ (appeasement). He goes on to proudly reiterate that this government is for ‘santushtikaran’ (satisfaction) – a euphemism for securing the opportunities of the moneyed sections. Therefore, the NEET UG scam was inevitable.

There are reports about questions asked in the UGC NET examination which had strong communal bias. With RSS-linked key functionaries, the communalisation process is another obvious outcome. Fighting the triad is a necessary policy imperative for the people. It is therefore all the more necessary to go beyond the immediate criminal aspects of the NEET scam and expose the policy underpinnings which have created the conditions for this unsavoury development.


It is heartening that wide sections of students, teachers, and public opinion have strongly expressed their resentment, and immediate demands of scrapping this year's NEET exam and holding it afresh, have been raised. The dismantling of the NTA and the resignation of the education minister who has not only failed to stop this from happening, but even now is advocating more vigorous implementation of the policy drive which enabled the scam in the first place, is an important demand.

But it is necessary to go beyond immediate issues and fight for reversing the key elements of the NEP. It is heartening to see a broad-based student movement emerging on such a course of action. With the election results showing that despite the setback that the people have forced on the BJP and the NDA, BJP retains the capacity to regroup and relaunch their policy campaign. This makes the need to mobilise the widest sections of the people for popular action to stop that from happening.