NEET-PG exam: A weekend fraud on India?

 Guest article by RSN Singh - a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW. He is the author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan.

Is a scam being perpetrated by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW) this weekend on  future specialist doctors of this country? 

Can the government order a conducting authority to alter the results of an examination after it has been announced? The government has exactly done that. 

Can candidates be given less than 48 hours between the beginning and end of the weekend for counseling? This is exactly what is happening in Delhi to obviate legal intervention.

Any academic examination or even a sporting event is conducted within the framework of rules and parameters. If these are changed after the results have been declared then extraneous considerations and corrupt practices is obvious. This is exactly what has happened with regard to the NEET-PG 2013 (National Eligibility-cum-Entrance) exam conducted by the National Board of Exams in December 2012.  

In December 2012, for the first time the NEET exam was conducted on an All India basis to bring a degree of uniformity, fairness and transparency. A major reason for conducting this national level exam was to prevent the play of money-power in allocation of seats.

After the exams were conducted the private medical institutions approached the Supreme Court with the appeal that the NEET list as stipulated should not be binding on them. The results were to be declared in the end of January 2013, but were withheld on the orders of the Supreme Court.  Even as the matter is subjudice, a sting operation by a national television channel revealed that medical seats were being sold by some private institutions.

Recently, Prashant Bhushan also argued in the Supreme Court that the criteria of minimum 50 percent marks in the NEET entrance examination should be applied to the private institutions, as they can get away by even selling a seat to a candidate with zero percent marks. The Counsel on behalf of private medical institutions argued that the internal exam that they conduct lays a minimum stipulation of 50 percent. What is important however is the emphasis on 50 percent. The matter is subjudice. 

Interim Order
Meanwhile on 13 May 2013, the Supreme Court issued an interim order and allowed NEET to declare the results pending final verdict on the ongoing litigation. Accordingly the results were declared and nearly 49,000 out of 90,000 candidates were declared as qualified on the basis of ‘percentile’ (not percentage) as strictly prescribed by the NEET and approved by the government. 

Conduct of Exam

The NEET exams were conducted online between 23 November and 6 December 2012 on various days referred to as ‘testing windows’, at 33 centers all over India. The rules and the framework of the exam were given in the prospectus as early as 2012 at the time of declaration of NEET exam by the Medical Council of India of 2012. This exam, i.e. the NEET PG, a single exam to determine eligibility-cum-ranking system laid the following stipulations in its prospectus with regard to the passing criteria for various categories of examinees:

•    50% and above percentile for General category.

•    40% and above percentile for SC/ST/OBC.

•    45% and above percentile for PWD.

Percentage and Percentile 

An explanation of the percentile system adopted by the NEET is in order. For example, the 20th percentile is the value (or score) below which 20 percent of the observations may be found. The term percentile and the related term percentile rank are often used in the reporting of scores from norm-referenced tests. For example, if a score is in the 86th percentile, it is higher than 86% of the other scores.

Why Percentile?

This is the most appropriate method suggested when exams are conducted on different set of papers with no negative marking and on different dates and at different centers. As against the percentage system, this is based on relative value and caters to the degree of difficulty of various sets of papers in that particular year. Depending on the degree of difficulty of questions based on general performance a relative weightage is accorded to each question. Hypothetically, it could well be the case that a topper with 99th percentile can have 100% marks in one year and in another year could well have just 50% or 60% or even 30% or below.   This system also ensures that there is not a situation where the difference between the top and the bottom is yawning, say 98% and 40%, an impossible situation for any class, any institution or any teacher. 

The Scam

Intriguingly, once the NEET PG results were declared following the Supreme Court interim order, the government in the first week of this month ordered an amendment. It issued orders, which in effect amounted to making a departure from ‘percentile system’ to ‘percentage system’. Consequently the number of qualified candidates suddenly swelled from approximately 49,000 to 70,000. The motivation to accommodate certain non-qualified students is evident.

In this illegal bid the MoHFW vide its letter (F No. V11025/2/2013-MEP-1 FTS 51298, dated 31st May 2013) quoted a representation from the Schedule Caste Commission. The extract of the letter is reproduced below:

I am directed to refer to the representation of the SC/ST students received from National Commission for Scheduled Caste in which it has been stated that despite of scoring 50% marks or more in NEET-PG, 2013, they are unable to qualify the exam as their percentile is less than 40 as prescribed. This Ministry has examined the result declared by National Board of Examination (NBE) and it has been found that the students securing marks above 40% in case of SC/ST/OBC have not been reflected in the qualifying list.

As per the PG Medical Education regulations amendment dated 15/2/2012, Central Government in consultation with MCI has relaxed the qualifying percentile so that the student of SC/ST/OBC who have secured 40% or above marks, UR/PH 45% or above and UR 50% or above respectively are qualified for admission to Post Graduate courses.

It is therefore requested to declare the result accordingly. The percentile relaxed by the Central Government shall be applicable for admission of PG Courses of this academic year i.e. 2013-14 only.

The underlined portion reflects the fraud perpetrated through this letter. The shift from ‘percentile’ to ‘percentage’ amounts to the very subversion of the concept of the NEET PG exam and the rules and parameters set by it. It is a total miscarriage of mathematical logic in reconciling ‘percentile’ with ‘percentage’. 

Fraudulently the above letter quotes PG Medical Education regulations amendment dated 15/2/2012 as the legal bulwark for reducing qualifying percentages and making a departure from the ‘percentile system’. This amendment was introduced when the pre NEET PG exam was not even conceived and exams were conducted on a single day and importantly there were ‘negative marking’. It may be reiterated that when exams are conducted without negative marking and on multiple days the most fair and transparent method is ‘percentile system’. This letter therefore makes a mockery of both ‘percent’ and ‘percentile’ system. Initially, the affected candidates did not pay much heed to the machinations behind the governments’ declaration to revise the NEET PG results. 

The Weekend Fraud

The revised list was intriguingly issued by Delhi University on Friday, the 14th of June 2013 and the day of Counseling was declared as ‘Sunday’, the 16th of June 2013, leaving only Saturday for all bank and other legal documentation imperatives. Besides many students are away from Delhi. This haste appears to be the biggest part of the conspiracy. Sources involved in the Counseling process have conveyed to this author that they have strict orders to the effect, that come what may, the process of counseling has to be begin on Sunday. Obviously the ploy is to initiate the fraud on a weekend when the courts are closed. 

Is Someone Listening?

The illegal departure by the government from ‘percentile’ to ‘percentage’ system after the declaration of results gives credence to ulterior motives being attributed to government officials at the highest levels. If these are the kind of games the government plays with the youth of this country, India is doomed. Is someone listening?  Will someone cancel the fraudulent counseling on Sunday, the 16th of June, 2013?

The views expressed in this article are of the author and not of PG Times.

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