The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside the Madras High Court order granting 196 grace marks to nearly 24,000 students who had taken the 2018 NEET-UG examination.
Acting on pleas filed by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and some students, a bench of Justices S A Bobde and L Nageswara Rao said, “The method adopted by the High Court is manifestly arbitrary and unjustified and cannot be sustained” and that “it is clear that the High Court lost sight of the primary duty of Court in such matter that is to avoid arbitrary results”.
The apex court also ruled that from 2019-20 onwards, the NEET-UG exam will be conducted by the National Testing Agency and the bilingual examination will be conducted after the question paper is translated as set out according to the instructions in an affidavit filed by Agency Director Vikas Gupta.
Hearing a writ petition by some students who had taken the test in Tamil language, the High Court had noticed certain mistranslations in the Tamil version for 49 questions and their answers. Consequently, it held that nearly 24,000 students who took the exam in Tamil were entitled to four grace marks for each incorrectly translated question thereby granting each such student a total of 196 marks.
The apex court said, “The result is obviously an unprecedented awarding of marks to a certain section of students who opted for the examination in Tamil, thus securing them higher marks than all the other type of students irrespective of their actual performance in the examination.”
In the High Court, the petitioners had contended that the Tamil translation of the English questions had misled them. The translation, according to them, did not have the same meaning as the English and this had led to incorrect answers.
The apex court noted: “The High Court held that the 49 question in Tamil were ambiguous especially in respect of the students who had throughout studied in Tamil medium and had scant knowledge of English. The High Court further noted that the average knowledge of English even for one who has studied in an English Medium school is just about adequate.”
Disagreeing with this, the apex court in its judgment said: “The Division Bench seems to have lost sight of the fact that the students appearing for the NEET-UG, 2018 Examination applied for admission to the course of MBBS/BDS which is entirely taught in English. The facility of a bilingual question paper was essentially meant for the students who were more familiar in Tamil than in English. Moreover, the expert body which set the examination seems to have contemplated the difficulty that may arise in translation of words from English to Tamil and had taken due precaution by inserting instruction (vi) (supra) that required the students to refer to the English version in case of any ambiguity.”
“This implies that knowledge of the subject in English was considered a requirement and students were expected to resolve any ambiguity by reference to the questions in English Language. We must make note that there is no grievance whatsoever that there was any difficulty about the questions in English language.”
The Supreme Court said the High Court had not made an attempt to see whether the students have in fact attempted answers to the questions, which were claimed to be imperfectly translated and proceeded to award the full marks for 49 questions to all candidates who had opted to give the examination in Tamil.