The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside the Madras High Court order awarding 196 grace marks to the NEET-UG 2018 aspirants who had opted to write the test in Tamil language on account of error in translation.
The top court directed that from year 2019-20, NEET-UG examination will be held by the newly constituted National Testing Agency instead of the CBSE.
A bench of justices S A Bobde and L Nageswara Rao said that "the method adopted by the Madurai bench of Madras High Court is manifestly arbitrary and unjustified and cannot be sustained".
"For these reasons, we set aside the impugned judgment of the High Court of Madras dated July 10, 2018. We direct that from the year 2019-20 onwards the NEET-UG Examination will be conducted by the National Testing Agency and the bilingual examination will be conducted after the question paper is translated...," the bench said.
It noted that the list of students who opted to give the NEET-UG, 2018 Examination in Tamil after the addition of 196 marks is "startling".
Referring to the list, the bench said that a student who got 260 marks has been awarded a total of 456 marks and a student with 137 marks becomes entitled to 333 marks and the student who got 92 marks becomes entitled to 288 marks.
"Even students who have 21 marks been entitled to 217 marks. 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 bench said.
The bench further said that the High Court has made no attempt to see whether the students have in fact attempted answers to the questions, which were claimed to be imperfectly translated and has proceeded to award the full marks for 49 questions to all candidates who had opted to write the examination in Tamil.
"We see no attempt in the impugned judgment to have the marks evaluated by an independent expert body instead the High Court resorted to blind allocation of full marks for each of the questions," the bench said.
The total number of students that appeared in the NEET-UG, 2018 was 13,23,672 and approximately 10.5 lakh took the test in English language while about 1.5 lakh opted for regional languages and of them nearly 24,000 candidates had taken it in Tamil language.
"Because of a mistake in translation which could have been detected and avoided by the students, we find it unjust that all the students across the board who took the examination in Tamil have been awarded four marks for all the 49 questions without any reference to the answer of those questions," the bench said.
It said that the consequence is "equally unjust" and "unacceptable" as the students who gave the examination in Tamil were "unduly benefited" only because they opted to give examination in Tamil.
Noting that there were some students who might have otherwise failed but for the addition of marks by the High Court most of the students who opted Tamil language have scored higher than those who gave the examination in English and other regional languages.
"This was mainly due to the blind allocation of 196 marks to every student who gave the exam in Tamil," the bench said.
On July 20, the apex court had stayed an order of the high court awarding 196 grace marks.
It had then said that prima facie it appears that after the judgment of the high court, the students who had opted for the Tamil language are in an advantageous position over others.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) which conducted the examination has challenged the high court order and contended that 24,000 students who had opted Tamil language will now be getting around 750 marks out of 720 marks in total.
The Madras High Court had on July 10 ordered the CBSE to grant 196 marks - 4 marks each for 49 erroneously translated questions - in the Tamil version of this year's NEET-UG examination to the students who took the exam in the regional language.
The high court had directed the CBSE to consequently revise the list of eligible candidates and publish it afresh.
The petitioner, senior CPI(M) leader and Rajya Sabha MP T K Rangarajan, had moved the high court seeking full marks for the 49 questions, saying key words in Tamil questions were wrongly translated from English and this caused confusion among the students.
There were 180 questions with a total mark of 720 in the NEET.
The high court had said that the students who took the NEET for admission to medical and dental colleges in Tamil should be suitably compensated to provide a level-playing ground.
The CBSE conducted the NEET on May 6 in 136 cities in 11 languages, the results of which were announced on June 4.
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