UGC-NET Cancellation: Protesting Students Demand Thorough Probe

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Students called for the resignation of Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and the dismantling of the National Testing Agency; several leaders detained

Mohammad Alamullah | Clarion India

NEW DELHI – The streets of Delhi on Thursday became the epicentre of a massive student protest as thousands demonstrated against the cancellation of the UGC-NET exam and alleged irregularities in the NEET-UG examination.

Spearheaded by the Congress-affiliated National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) and other student organisations, the protests led to large-scale detentions and accusations of a brutal police crackdown.

The Education Ministry’s abrupt decision to cancel the UGC-NET exam, conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA), came after questions were raised regarding the test’s integrity. This move affected over nine lakh candidates who had taken the exam on Tuesday. Protestors not only demanded reinstatement of the UGC-NET but also an investigation into alleged corruption within the NTA.

NSUI members, led by their national president Varun Choudhary, staged a vociferous protest outside the residence of Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. Choudhary’s symbolic act of throwing a bag of fake currency into the air aimed to highlight the alleged corruption within the NTA. As he stood atop a car, Choudhary declared, “I have come here with money for Dharmendra Pradhan. Let him restore my future in exchange for the money.” Shortly afterward, Choudhary and several other protesters were detained.

Another protester exclaimed: “We want justice. The Education Minister can do anything for money. There’s a huge scam happening.” This sentiment was echoed by several students.

Simultaneously, the All India Students’ Association (AISA) demonstrated outside Shastri Bhawan. Visuals from the scene showed intense clashes between the police and protesters, with students being forcibly thrown into police vans. Protesters held up posters reading, “First NEET, then NET! NTA’s hall of shame is full,” calling for a thorough investigation into the corruption allegations.

The Democratic Students’ Federation (DSF), an independent Left student organisation, also joined the fray, demanding to scrap the NTA. In a statement, the DSF described the police action as “brutal” and called for the immediate release of detained students.

Over a hundred students were detained, including prominent leaders such as Ranvijay, AISA JNU President, and Abhigyan, AISA Delhi President. The President of JNUSU, Dhananjay, along with other protesters, blocked the road outside the ministry, demanding the release of all detainees.

“NTA has failed students time and again. We are demanding a complete scrapping of the NTA. Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan must also take responsibility and resign. UGC Chairperson Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar must be sacked for being complicit in all acts of corruption and paper leaks,” said Dhananjay.

The SFI Delhi, leading another protest, emphasised the growing concerns over the NTA’s ability to conduct fair and secure examinations. “They’ve been making a mockery of the entire education system. NTA has been incapable in the administration of these examinations, as evidenced by the paper leak in NEET, the discrepancies in the CUET exam, and the current compromise in the integrity of the UGC-NET 2024 exam,” said Avijit Ghosh, Vice President of JNUSU.

Sooraj Elamon, Joint Secretary of SFI Delhi, added, “So many of us have struggled to prepare for the NET exam and now due to the incompetency of a few, countless students have to suffer. A transparent and independent investigation into the alleged irregularities surrounding the UGC-NET exam is demanded. We also demand to discharge NTA from the responsibility of conducting exams and set up a more accountable and robust examination conducting system under the direct purview of the UGC.”

A press release from the protesting students highlighted the issues at hand: “Hundreds of students led by Students’ Federation of India (SFI Delhi) protested in front of the Ministry of Education (MoE) against discrepancies found in the UGC-NET exam and its subsequent cancellation. Common students who joined the protest were attacked by the Delhi Police. Female students were heckled and manhandled brutally. SFI activists were detained violently and are now being taken to various police stations.”

The cancellation of the NET exam has far-reaching implications, particularly for students aspiring for PhD admissions this year. The protesting students called for universities to conduct separate examinations without relying on the NET as a criterion for PhD positions.

“We are standing here united in our demand for a fair and transparent exam system. The future of countless students is at stake, and the Ministry of Education must take immediate action to address these critical issues,” said a student representative from SFI.

The protests have garnered widespread support from the student community, with many urging the Ministry of Education to engage in a democratic dialogue with student unions and other stakeholders to resolve the crisis.

As the protests continue, pressure has mounted on the Union government and the Ministry of Education to take decisive action. The students’ demands for transparency, accountability, and the dismantling of the NTA reflect a broader call for reforms in the examination system to ensure fairness and integrity. The coming days will be crucial in determining the course of action that the government will take in response to these growing demands.

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