The Supreme Court on Monday said the cancellation of the undergraduate National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET-UG) 2024 in its entirety is an “extreme last resort” as it affects over 23 lakh students.

However, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud concluded that the fact that questions were leaked and the sanctity of the exam was compromised was “beyond question”.

“One thing is very clear, the leak has taken place... that the sanctity of the exam is compromised is beyond question. Now how wide is the leak? We have to determine the nature of the leak. Before we order a re-test, we have to know the extent of the leak... a re-test affects the lives of 23 lakh students.

“Cancellation is the extreme last resort. It would be done only if we have no other go… If we cannot separate the wheat from the chaff, re-test would have to be directed,” he observed.

The three-judge Bench, also comprising Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, told the Union government and the National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts the exam, to come out of the “self-denial” and aid the court in finding out the extent of the leak.

But petitioners seeking a re-test, represented by advocates Mathew Nedumpara and Charu Mathur, argued that the credibility of the exam was lost. They said it was not possible to isolate frauds from the innocents.

Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre, said the leaks were an instance of local malpractice.

He countered the “unprecedented” phenomenon of 67 candidates scoring perfect 720/720, saying the top 100 candidates were distributed among 95 sectors in 56 cities across 18 States and Union Territories.

The NTA argued that the NEET syllabus in 2024 was easier than the previous four years when there were a total of only seven perfect scorers.

Systemic or not

“On the basis of the data on record placed before it, a court has to see if the breach is systemic; whether it has affected the integrity of the entire exam process; whether it is possible to segregate the beneficiaries from the untainted students. If segregation is not possible, it would be necessary to order a re-examination. On the other hand, if the breach is confined to specific centres, it may not be appropriate to order a re-examination, especially when it involves over 23 lakh students,” he said.

The court asked the NTA to make a “full disclosure”. It said the time has come for the Centre and the NTA to use technology, common sense and knowledge of law to identify the wrongdoers.

It ordered the NTA to file a reply before Thursday, the next date of hearing, on questions raised by the Bench. The court directed the CBI to file a status report and the material it had unearthed.

The Centre, too, is to file a detailed response on the steps taken to protect the sanctity of the NEET.

The government-appointed committee, chaired by former ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan, was asked to detail the work done so far.

The court said it would consider on Thursday if the entire comprehensive results, except that of candidates under scanner, could be published.