Protests have taken place nationwide amid uproar over questions papers leaked ahead of the testing Students protest outside the Education Ministry over irregularities in the NEET exam on June 20, 2024 in New Delhi, India. © Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Student unions and opposition parties staged protests across India on Thursday and Friday over alleged irregularities in two of the most competitive university exams in the country.

The National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts the examination, announced the cancellation of the UGC-NET (University Grants Commission National Eligibility Test) on Wednesday, a day after it was conducted, explaining that the “integrity of the examination may have been compromised.” The UGC-NET determines eligibility for appointment as an assistant professor, and admission to PhD courses at Indian universities and colleges.

A day later, Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan acknowledged that ahead of the test, question papers had been leaked on the darknet – a portion of the internet that is not visible to the general public via traditional search engines, and which is often used for illegal purposes.

The minister said the government is setting up a high-level committee to improve the testing body’s work and bring in transparency to the examination process. According to reports in Indian media, the matter has been referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The development came as protests continue over a ‘paper leak’ in another nationwide exam – NEET (UG) (The National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test), held on May 5. The exam is for students seeking admission to undergraduate medical courses at all medical institutions throughout the country.

Allegations of paper leaks surfaced when 67 students achieved a perfect score of 720 marks when results were announced on June 4 – in stark contrast to the handful of students who achieved full marks in previous iterations of the exam.

The opposition blamed the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government for the lapses.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury demanded the scrapping of the testing agency and resignation of the education minister. He also said the students who took recent NET and NEET exams must be compensated by the federal government, while the recently adopted system of a mandatory NET score for PhD admissions should be rolled back.

Communist Party of India General Secretary D Raja also demanded the NTA be scrapped. “What’s happening under the Ministry of Education is nothing short of criminal,” Raja said in a post on X.

Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress, the biggest opposition party, alleged that the reason for the paper leak is that the education system “has been captured” by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parent organisation, the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Gandhi, who is expected to be appointed as leader of the opposition in the parliament, vowed to press the government to resolve the issue. “Opposition is simply not going to allow this eyewash that is taking place,” he said.

The Congress has also demanded a Supreme Court-led investigation into the alleged irregularities in the NEET exam. The top court is set to hear a batch of pleas on the case – including calls to scrap the results – on July 8.

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