Centre Removes Exam Body Chief, CBI To Probe NEET-UG Irregularities

Subodh Kumar Singh, who was the director general of the National Testing Agency, has been replaced by retired Indian Administration Service (IAS) officer Pradeep Singh Kharola.

The move came hours after a committee was constituted to give recommendations to improve the agency.

New Delhi:

Facing protests in several parts of the country as well as attacks from the opposition, the Centre has removed the chief of the National Testing Agency (NTA) from his post amid the controversy over the alleged irregularities in NEET-UG and the cancellation of the UGC-NET Exam.

In a statement on Saturday, the Ministry of Personnel announced that Subodh Kumar Singh, who was the director general of the NTA, has been replaced by retired Indian Administration Service (IAS) officer Pradeep Singh Kharola. Mr Kharola is the Chairman and Managing Editor of the India Trade Promotion Organisation and has been given additional charge as the director general of the NTA "till the appointment of a regular incumbent or until further orders".

The move comes hours after the government constituted a committee which will give recommendations to improve the functioning of the agency and a day before around 1,500 students who had been given grace marks for NEET-UG are scheduled to take a retest.

The CSIR UGC NET exam - scheduled to be held from June 25 to June 27 - also had to be postponed due to "logistical reasons" on Friday and the NEET-PG exam, slated to be held on Sunday, was rescheduled late on Saturday.

Capping a day of fast-moving developments, the government also handed over the probe into the alleged irregularities, including the paper leaks, in the NEET-UG exam to the CBI on Saturday. The agency is also probing the alleged leaks that led to the cancellation of the UGC NET exam.

Sources have told NDTV that the repeated allegations of leaks in exams conducted by the NTA and the inconvenience caused to students, as well as the outpouring of anger among them, had made Mr Singh's position tenuous. Pressure from a resurgent opposition as well as adverse remarks by the Supreme Court against the NTA also played a role in the decision to remove the exam body chief. 

The move is also part of a promised overhaul of the National Testing Agency, which has been spoken about by Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan as well. Sources said that, at a recent Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked Mr Pradhan to take action, and the crackdown has now begun. 

Punishing The Guilty

The priority for the government now, they said, is to get to the bottom of the alleged paper leaks and bring the guilty to book. This is especially important since the NTA organises several key examinations, including the NEET and JEE, in which lakhs of students appear. The Supreme Court is also scheduled to hear petitions on the issue on July 8.

Earlier on Saturday, the government constituted a seven-member committee to look at ways of improving the functioning of the NTA. The panel will be led by Dr K Radhakrishnan, a former ISRO chief and the current chairperson of the board of governors of IIT Kanpur, and will have former AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria as one of the members. 

After the committee was formed, Mr Pradhan said it was the first in a series of steps to improve the efficiency of the examination process. 

"Transparent, tamper-free and zero-error examinations is a commitment. Setting up of the high-level committee of experts is the first of a series of step to improve efficiency of the examination process, put an end to all possible malpractices, strengthen data security protocols and overhaul and reform the NTA. Student interests and their bright future will always be our govt's top priority," he posted on X. 

Mess Gets Messier

Nearly 24 lakh students had appeared for the NEET-UG 2024 for undergraduate medical courses, which is conducted by the National Testing Agency, on May 5. The results were announced on June 4, 10 days before schedule, but allegations of question paper leaks and grace marks to over 1,500 students triggered protests. Cases were also filed in courts, including the Supreme Court, which has rapped the NTA. 

On Wednesday, the Education Ministry had cancelled the UGC-NET exam, also conducted by the NTA, just a day after it was held. Over 9 lakh candidates had appeared for the exam, which is held for Assistant Professor posts in universities and colleges and to determine eligibility for junior research fellowships. Mr Pradhan had said the UGC chairman had received information from the cyber crime team in the Home Ministry about questions being on the darknet.

The CSIR UGC NET - similar to the UGC NET, but for science students - was postponed on Friday and NEET PG was pushed back on Saturday.

The INDIA alliance, which won 232 seats in the recently held Lok Sabha elections and kept the BJP from winning a majority on its own, has also been attacking the Centre relentlessly over the issue. 

On Saturday, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is gearing up to make her electoral debut, posted on X: "Under the BJP government, NTA has become a No Trust Agency and examinations have become a terrible tragedy. Lakhs of hardworking children and parents of the country are becoming victims of this tragedy brought about by the BJP and the Education Ministry is playing committee-committee. When will responsibility be decided? When will action be taken?"

The examination row is also likely to be taken up strongly by the opposition in Parliament after the first session of the 18th Lok Sabha begins on Monday.