New Delhi: Disposing off the plea alleging discrepancies in NEET 2020 Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) sheets, the Supreme Court has ordered the National Testing Agency (NTA) to consider providing the original OMR sheets to students if a representation is made for the same.
The Bench of honourable justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi was hearing a petition filed by 19 NEET candidates under Article 32 contending that the OMR sheets uploaded by the NTA do not tally with the actual answers given by them. They had also challenged an NTA circular that mandated an amount of Rs 1,000 to be charged per question for reassessment. This means that for 180 questions in the MBBS entrance test, it would require them to pay Rs 1.8 lakh for a reassessment.
In their petition, the candidates alleged that there was a huge apprehension of tampering with the answer sheets. Various discrepancies were noticed including tampering of roll number, booklet number, signatures, the difference in scores reflected from the expected score, blank OMR sheets, the difference in scores initially uploaded and the revised scores, the difference in the number of questions shown to be attempted as opposed to those actually attempted etc.
They submitted that umpteen efforts were made to reach the NTA to no response. One petitioner, however, received a response on October 11 wherein it was indicated that the OMR sheet appeared fabricated.
It was contended that the process to challenge the responses in the OMR sheet, as per the October 5 notice, is unjust and manifestly arbitrary. The payment of Rs 1,000 per question accumulates to a huge sum, which is beyond the financial capacity of the petitioners and similarly placed students. For instance, the petitioners paid substantial amounts, including Rs. 91,000 by one petitioner, to challenge the OMR sheet.
The petitioner candidates further argued that any kind of tampering, manipulation or fabrication with the OMR sheets will dilute the transparency in the evaluation mechanism itself. To address the complaints, NTA should verify the uploaded OMR sheets with the carbon copy of the original OMR sheets retained by it after the exam’s conduct.
Further alleging discrepancies in NEET results, the petitioners submitted that they have had a great academic record and the present inconsistencies in the OMR sheets have traumatized them.
They further presented the reported instances of candidates dying by suicides after witnessing glaring discrepancies in their OMR sheets. In October, a girl was reported to have died by suicide after received 6 marks out of a possible 720 marks. However, when a reevaluation of her OMR sheet was conducted, it was seen that she had in fact scored 590.
The counsel appearing for the petitioner candidates argued that NTA’s actions have entailed in a sheer violation of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15 and 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution. It has shaken the confidence of the students. The October 5 NTA notice (regarding the payment of Rs 1,000 per question challenged in the OMR sheet and answer key) is irrational and manifestly arbitrary and undoubtedly deprives the valuable right to know of thousands of students who seek to challenge the OMR sheet. Petitioners are placed at a heightened disadvantage as they do not have access to any direct documentary evidence in respect of events that transpired during the exam. The evidence is solely with the Respondents. Therefore, the NTA should be made accountable to produce a carbon copy of the original OMR sheet and verify the material, reports Bar and Bench.
Presenting the aforementioned submissions, the petitioner candidates prayed the apex court to issue directions to the NTA to produce the original OMR sheets and verify the same with the carbon copy retained by the agency after the NEET’s conduct, in the presence of concerned officials. It was further prayed that a High Powered committee should be constituted to examine the complaints regarding possible tampering of OMR sheets to ensure transparency of evaluation and Appropriate regulations should be issued by NTA to ensure free, fair and smooth evaluation. The NTA should recalculate and rectify the OMR sheets of the petitioners.
The petitioners further sought quashing of NTA notices regarding OMR and answer key along with the NEET 2020 results released on October 16th, reports Bar and Bench.
Considering the contentions of the petitioner NEET candidates, the Supreme Court bench, while disposing of their plea, said that the grievances of individual students cannot be addressed by the court. However, it then directed that the NTA shall consider the representation preferred by some of the petitioners for furnishing the original OMR sheets.
“More than 15 lakh students have taken the undergraduate examination for the academic year 2020-2021 and even the second round of counselling has been completed. The grievances of individual students cannot be addressed by us in a petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. However, NTA shall consider the representation preferred by some of the petitioners for furnishing the original OMR sheets. Any further grievance of the petitioners relating to the procedure prescribed for challenging the answer key and the OMR sheets can be raised by filing a Writ Petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.”