Unscrupulous elements in the country’s medical-education sector appear to be brazenly circumventing NEET by pre-blocking seats for low-ranking MBBS aspirants in exchange for heavy donations, an India Today investigation found.
The National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test, or NEET as it is commonly called, replaced the All India Pre Medical Test (AIPMT) and other individual exams conducted by colleges in 2013. The exam aims to ease mental and financial burden on medical aspirants, prevent malpractices like capitation fee and ensure merit remains the sole criterion for admissions.
But India Today’s special investigation team found how some medical colleges were able to bypass merit.
Meerut’s Mulayam Singh Yadav Medical College’s (not linked to the Samajwadi Party founder) CEO, Dr Himani Agarwal, offered a medical slot in her institute for a donation of Rs 15 lakh per underperforming applicant.
“Here, we are taking Rs 15 lakh from those scoring less than 200 marks (in NEET). The fee structure will be separate,” she told India Today reporters posing as relatives of a low-ranking medical candidate. “This Rs 15 lakh is only for donation. Okay? The rest are fees and annual charges. In total, it’s Rs 16 lakh for the first year, Rs 11 lakh for the second, third and fourth and Rs 5.5 lakh for the final year,” Dr Agarwal explained.
“Listen to me carefully. The admission will be done,” she promised. “That’s why we are taking the money. (After admissions through conselling) we have seats left for the (final) mop-up round. In all, we have 150 seats. We hope 50-60 will be left for the mop-up round. We’ll close down the (pre-booking) of admissions after 30 seats (are sold),” the CEO claimed.
NEET requires qualifiers to apply to designated counselling authorities for recommendation to colleges on merit, government and private alike. The leftovers from the counselling stage can then opt for the final mop-round to secure admissions where the cases are sent to colleges that still have vacancies. And that’s where some institutes like Dr Agarwal’s spin the swindle.
Before the mop-up lists are sent, they have already booked slots for potential bribe givers.
CONNIVANCE WITH CORRUPT OFFICIALS
Dr Agarwal admitted that the scam is executed in connivance with corrupt officials.
“Basically, all this cash is shared with others. This is the procedure,” she confessed.
“Can we book the seat now?” probed the reporter.
“That I will book with cash (in hand). We also will have to forward a lump-sum amount. In order to keep the seat vacant (reserved), we will also have to give away (money). Bribes work everywhere brother. Around 98 per cent of money will not remain with us. Try to understand, we’ll have something (concrete) for us only if we charge in crores,” she replied.
Dr Agarwal told the undercover reporters that as many as 12 seats had already been blocked by donation givers. “Five to six more will be done in a day or two,” she said.
THE VITAMIN C CODE
India Today next investigated Era’s Lucknow Medical College and Hospital in Lucknow’s busy Sarfarzgunj area.
Officials named Waseem Mohsin and Waseem Ahmed at the Era Medical College asked for “Vitamin C” – a code for hard cash or capitation fee to get a NEET underachiever in.
“The process remains the same. Your candidate’s name will be picked, Inshallah. We’ll try. It’s possible to get her in during the first round. Else, we’ll go to the mop-up. God forbid, if it doesn’t materialise, your keepsake (cash) would be returned to you,” Mohsin said.
“How much for the keepsake?” the reporter asked.
“10 (lakh),” Mohsin responded.
“This is Vitamin C,” interrupted Ahmed. “This is the cash part, separate from the fees. You can say donation, medicine. You can say Vitamin C but you can’t mention cash,” he explained.
At the TS Misra Medical College and Hospital in Lucknow’s Amausi area, the team met two officials, Manish Tripathi and Narendra Pandey, who identified themselves as finance officers of the institute.
“That’s what we are sitting here for. We want something, so does the college which has to fill up at least 150 seats,” said Tripathi, recalling the institute charged around Rs 10 lakh on an average from backdoor entrants last year.
“It started with 20 (lakh). Some negotiated it at 15 (lakh), some at 12 (lakh), some at 13 (lakh),” Pandey added.
TRANSPARENT ADMISSION PROCESS
Dr Sarojini Agrawal, president of Meerut’s Mulayam Singh Yadav Medical College, denied the institute was involved in admission malpractices. “I don’t know what you have on your CD. I haven’t seen it,” she told India Today. “But what I know is that the admission process has been completely transparent in our medical college. This is our first batch. All seats were filled through recommendations of counseling authorities.”
She claimed there was no scope of “manipulation” in admissions. “It’s totally baseless to say that students with less than 200 marks could be admitted because the minimum cut-off has been 329. So, it’s misleading to say money exchanged hands for admissions. We don’t have any management quota either. Our process is completely transparent and open to scrutiny.”
Waseem Ahmed of Era’s Lucknow Medical College also denied any wrongdoing. “I never said that admission is possible without proper NEET score. This is the DG Medical Education and the government which can decide on admission. How can we decide on taking admissions?” he claimed. “Everything will be done through the DGME (director general of medical education), counseling, fee, documentation, everything. How we can do this? You tell me how it is possible. We don’t do such kind of practices.”
Responding to the investigation, Minister of state for health Ashwini Kumar Choubey said the government was committed to take stern action against any college found indulging in malpractices.
“If any college is found indulging in malpractices and there is sufficient evidence to prove it, the state governments will take appropriate action. The central government, if apprised of such malpractices, would recommend strong action against such colleges,” he said.
The minister warned that institutes found selling off slots could lose their recognition. “I would like to appeal to all students and their guardians not to get misled by any such colleges. If the state governments recommend action, the central government can very well cancel their recognition. Action could also be initiated against those taking admission by corrupt means. Our government is committed to take strongest possible action against corrupt colleges,” he said.