Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

NEET Exam Row: Students in Kota helpless, frustrated, angry and confused

Aspirants await Supreme Court decision on ReNEET on July 8 amid controversy about paper leaks. They confess there is no motivation to pursue their dreams or the momentum to study again. And that the uncertainty and financial pressure are taking a mental toll

Anubhuti Matta
Published: Jul 4, 2024 11:10:23 AM IST
Updated: Jul 4, 2024 06:44:28 PM IST

Bihar residents Lakshya Raj, Newton Kumar, and Mayank Shekhar (L-R) came to Kota with the dream of becoming doctors, but now stare at an uncertain future despite giving it their all in this year's NEET examination. Image: Madhu Kapparath Bihar residents Lakshya Raj, Newton Kumar, and Mayank Shekhar (L-R) came to Kota with the dream of becoming doctors, but now stare at an uncertain future despite giving it their all in this year's NEET examination. Image: Madhu Kapparath

Newton Kumar and Lakshya Raj came to Kota two years ago with one aspiration and a single aim—clearing the NEET exam to become doctors. “My only dream was to become a doctor,” says Kumar, 21, a resident of Samastipur in Bihar. His friend, Raj, adds, “My dream was to become the first doctor in my district.”

However, with their current ranks against their NEET scores, they won’t be able to secure a seat in any decent medical college. “The scariest thing in the world is for dreams to die,” says Kumar, referring to the recent education scam that has left NEET aspirants like him in a state of despair.

NEET or The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test is a highly competitive exam conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA) for admissions to courses in medical fields such as MBBS, BDS and AYUSH in government and private institutions in India. According to reports, there are about 1.09 lakh MBBS seats in more than 700 medical colleges in the country. This year, approximately 24 lakh candidates appeared for the world’s biggest medical entrance test on May 5.

However, since the results were announced on June 4, 10 days earlier than scheduled, the exam and its conducting agency have been embroiled in controversies over paper leaks, hidden grace marks, high cut-off scores, inflated ranks, and 67 students scoring full marks—a shockingly high figure in the NTA’s history. In 2022 and 2023, only two students scored 720/720, while there were three such students in 2021.

It is for these irregularities that the Supreme Court will hear a batch of pleas on July 8 from petitioners whose demand is that the exam be held again.

Every year, approximately two lakh NEET and JEE aspirants flock to the country's coaching capital, Kota, to prepare for highly competitive exams, from far-flung villages and cities with the aspiration to make it to the top colleges of the country. Image: Madhu KapparathEvery year, approximately two lakh NEET and JEE aspirants flock to the country's coaching capital, Kota, to prepare for highly competitive exams, from far-flung villages and cities with the aspiration to make it to the top colleges of the country. Image: Madhu Kapparath

But, for students like Kumar, Raj, and over two lakh others who flock to the country’s coaching capital to study for competitive exams, these complications have meant going back to square one. “We dream only one dream,” says Raj, 21, who came from Bhagalpur in Bihar. “No student comes to Kota with a Plan B. Having a Plan B would mean we’ve already lost the battle.”

Also read: No soching, it's still coaching: Why Kota is nothing without its teachers

Restart for ReNEET


Shivshankar Singh Tomar, a 21-year-old student from Gwalior, had taken a holiday after two years to Kedarnath and Delhi after attempting NEET for the second time. “I was happy with my score, but I was shaken when I saw the inflation in ranks," he admits.

His classmate, Vikas Patidar, 21, had thought he would never have to come back to Kota. “Iss nark se jaldi nikalna hai (you must get out of this hellhole as soon as possible), our professors tell us on our first day here.” He adds, “When I got to know my rank against the score, it felt as if I was sinking into the ground.”

At a time when they should have been out of Kota, at home with family, or preparing for counselling, they’re still stuck there battling the uncertainty looming around ReNEET.

For Gwalior resident Shivshankar Singh Tomar, it's back to square one. One day he was celebrating his score and taking a much-needed break in Kedarnath and Delhi's Lotus Temple. Now, it's back to studying for 12 to 13 hours a day in a library until the Supreme Court is back with a verdict on ReNEET. Image: Madhu Kapparath For Gwalior resident Shivshankar Singh Tomar, it's back to square one. One day he was celebrating his score and taking a much-needed break in Kedarnath and Delhi's Lotus Temple. Now, it's back to studying for 12 to 13 hours a day in a library until the Supreme Court is back with a verdict on ReNEET. Image: Madhu Kapparath

“It’s been more than two months since we attempted NEET. Before the exam, we have a rhythm and momentum to study. It’s all lost now,” says Tomar. “So much time has been wasted. We’re confused about preparing for re-examination or taking a drop year to join classes that have already started preparing students for the next year. Will the Supreme Court give us as much time to prepare as the time that has been lost?” he adds.

Asks Patidar, “Toppers will top, but what about average students who work hard all year only to be told to take a drop year?” He continues, “We can’t even concentrate now when we should have utilised every second preparing for the ReNEET.”

Vikas Patidar came to Kota from Indore to become a doctor. The journey in the city, he says, is not easy. It's a mental, physical, emotional and financial investment. He cycles his way to a coaching centre, stopping on the way for some breakfast as the only form of recreation and exercise on most days. Image: Madhu Kapparath Vikas Patidar came to Kota from Indore to become a doctor. The journey in the city, he says, is not easy. It's a mental, physical, emotional and financial investment. He cycles his way to a coaching centre, stopping on the way for some breakfast as the only form of recreation and exercise on most days. Image: Madhu Kapparath

For some aspirants like Bihar’s Kumar, who has studied in a government school, and wanted to become a doctor to fulfil his father's dream, it’s time to take some tough decisions. “I’m still confused about carrying this journey ahead. I think about giving up multiple times a day,” he confesses. “I don’t think I can attempt the ReNEET with the same potential. I study all day, but keep thinking what if there is another scam.”

And for aspirants who have taken multiple drops, it feels as if life has come to a standstill.

Take Tomar’s roommate’s case for instance.

“It was bhaiya’s seventh attempt. He scored 645, but was still crying inconsolably,” Tomar says.

Last year, with this score, Tomar’s roommate would have an all-India rank between 11,000 and 6,000. However, this year, the same score ranges between ranks 29,000 and 25,000.

Bhaiya hasn’t been home in seven years. He said he would return only if he got selected. Now he’s worried about relatives asking him what he did in Kota for seven years,” Tomar says.

NEET aspirant Shahzad Ahmed (L) draws strength to from his coach, Sunil Nain (R) to keep going. NEET aspirant Shahzad Ahmed (L) draws strength to from his coach, Sunil Nain (R) to keep going. "Preparation main aadmi ki haalat kharab ho jaati hai, phir bhi mehnat ka haqq nahin milta (Preparation takes a toll on students' health, but they still aren't seeing the rewards of their labour)," he says. Image: Madhu Kapparath

For Shahzad Ahmed, a 23-year-old BSc graduate from New Delhi-based Jamia Milia Islamia, NEET was a second chance at having a better life. “I didn’t see any scope for biotechnology in India, so I had to pivot, but I’m nowhere today,” he rues.

Not only did he fight opposition at home for changing streams, but he also studied hard to compete against students who start preparing as early as 16 and 17 along with their board exams for the 12th grade. “Both age and time are not on my side right now,” says Ahmed, sounding despondent. “Paper leak hota hai na, toh hum andar se toot jaate hain (we break from within when exam papers get leaked),” he says.

In the months leading up to the exam, Ahmed says, students prepare for a realistic score of 620 to 630. In the last six months, they studied for 16 to 18 hours. By the end, they feel, “bas selection ho jaaye (all they want is to be selected),” he says. Ahmed appeared for the second time this year and scored 626. “I’m losing the strength to study again. It was my first day back to coaching last week and I feel I’ve forgotten everything. I’m frustrated about being stuck here, and about still having to ask for money from home at 23.”



For guardians, along with time and age, money is a big concern too. On average, a student in Kota can spend up to Rs4 lakh a year on tuition, stay, food and other miscellaneous expenses.

“When you’re a drop year student, a guardian is anyway shattered financially,” Raj says. “A student scores beyond 600, there's a scam and doesn't get selected. The students and guardians feel there is nothing left for them in the world.”

Raj stayed back in Kota at his professors' insistence. “Ek aur baar himmat kar lo (give it one more shot), they told me,” he says, adding that he has started classes again. “But the thought of preparing for exams again despite getting a decent score bites me from within. This is not a small journey… we prepare day and night for this. There’s no time for hobbies or sports. The whole experience has been emotionally damaging for us and our parents.”

Along with students in Kota, their guardians and their siblings live their dreams too. When 24 lakh NEET aspirants get affected, 24 lakh Indian families are impacted, they say. And with it, comes the financial cost of staying afloat in the journey. On an average, a NEET student can spend Rs 4 lakh a year to stay and study in Kota. Image: Madhu Kapparath Along with students in Kota, their guardians and their siblings live their dreams too. When 24 lakh NEET aspirants get affected, 24 lakh Indian families are impacted, they say. And with it, comes the financial cost of staying afloat in the journey. On an average, a NEET student can spend Rs 4 lakh a year to stay and study in Kota. Image: Madhu Kapparath

No hope to offer


The faculty in Kota is popular for their inspiring speeches, motivational lectures, driving students to the last mile to help them achieve their scores, and being their home away from home. But, for the past two months, the same faculty doesn’t have any answers to comfort the students.

Sunil Nain, director and founder of BeWise Classes, a Kota-based coaching centre for chemistry for NEET aspirants, says students are feeling insecure and have no motivation left. “The three hours and 20 minutes of the exam are the toughest in a student’s life after a year of studying. Now they’ll have to take a drop unwillingly and go back to the same life. Are students’ feelings and emotions a joke?” he says.

Sunil Nain, the director of BeWise coaching centre in Kota, is like a father figure to hundreds of his students. He has kept the fight on since day one, in the hope that there will be a ReNEET, so his students can move on from a state of limbo. He has continued coaching them, and motivating them in the past two months. Image: Madhu Kapparath Sunil Nain, the director of BeWise coaching centre in Kota, is like a father figure to hundreds of his students. He has kept the fight on since day one, in the hope that there will be a ReNEET, so his students can move on from a state of limbo. He has continued coaching them, and motivating them in the past two months. Image: Madhu Kapparath

Students studied for the exam bearing in mind last year’s cut-off at 609. Nain talks about a student who scored 657 and came to the coaching centre with sweets and gifts. “Now, she won’t even get into the top 50 colleges. Students have distributed ladoos, had their photos printed in newspapers, and are now dealing with society’s taunts like they must have cheated,” says Nain.

The emotional trauma of the NEET scam is not limited to 24 lakh aspirants but is also being borne by the families and siblings who live their dreams through these students.

“A student works for one exam, one college, one dream. And it gets shattered in a moment,” says Triyogi Narayan Mishra, or TNM Sir as he is popularly known across Kota, a professor of physical chemistry at a coaching centre.



On one hand, Mishra is trying to push NEET aspirants to keep revising the syllabus, and on the other, he is managing worried parents. He narrates the story of a student who ended up selling all the study material on scoring 620-plus as he was confident about getting a seat. "He belongs to a farming family from Aurangabad. His father calls me constantly to arrange for books and notes, but I am not in a position to give them any reassurance,” Mishra says. “This year is shocking, sad and frustrating, even for us, because students’ results are our results.”

The students’ situation is like a train that doesn’t have a destination, he adds. “They don’t know what journey to take, or where to end it. The uncertainty isn’t letting them prepare or withdraw. It’s the worst scenario for students to be in. We don’t know which side of the boat we’re on. The uncertainty destroys you.”

His colleague and faculty for organic chemistry at the same institute, Ajit Chandra Divedi, fondly called ACiD sir by his students, says the same aspirants who were celebrating their scores are the ones crying today. "I know students who wanted to give up but stayed back because of us as we saw the potential in them. Now what do we tell them?” Divedi asks.

Triyogi Narayan Mishra (L) and Ajit Chandra Divedi (R) or ACiD sir as he is fondly called by the students, faculty of chemistry at a coaching centre, say students' aspirations have been given a jolt. And they've felt it too, because as they say, students' results are their results. Image: Madhu Kapparath Triyogi Narayan Mishra (L) and Ajit Chandra Divedi (R) or ACiD sir as he is fondly called by the students, faculty of chemistry at a coaching centre, say students' aspirations have been given a jolt. And they've felt it too, because as they say, students' results are their results. Image: Madhu Kapparath

From January to April, students study for the equivalent of eight months. They are ready and highly energised to take the exam. "We wish we weren't at this juncture when all that energy and momentum is lost," Divedi says. "We tallied the answer key along with students, and assured them that they were in a safe zone, but now I’m attending calls of students crying in the middle of the night. They aren’t eating or sleeping.”



A lifetime of dreams are at stake, say the professors. “We say our future will be secure if our present is secure. The students are our future, but their present looks so weak,” he adds.

Nain thinks that if there is no re-examination, we are going to be staring at a country full of Munnabhais, referring to the Sanjay Dutt-starrer Munnabhai MBBS, a film depicting the story of a gangster becoming a doctor. “Fraudsters nahin, doctors chahiye (We don’t want fraudsters. We want doctors),” says Nain and his class full of NEET aspirants.

The results we see are a product of what goes on inside a tiny room in Kota. Students study day and night, with no time to get adequate sleep, pursue hobbies, sports or indulge in any form of entertainment. And it'll all be back to this, should there be no ReNEET, says Dilip Beniwal (sitting, in black tshirt). Image: Madhu KapparathThe results we see are a product of what goes on inside a tiny room in Kota. Students study day and night, with no time to get adequate sleep, pursue hobbies, sports or indulge in any form of entertainment. And it'll all be back to this, should there be no ReNEET, says Dilip Beniwal (sitting, in black tshirt). Image: Madhu Kapparath

His student, Tomar, warns that thanks to such scams, the country will be confused about which doctors to go to after a few decades.

Students are not very hopeful about the possibility of a ReNEET. But they aren’t ready to stop the fight. “For us, the NTA means No Trust Agency or Never Trust Agency. They’re not aware of our sacrifices,” says Patidar. “When a drop year student doesn’t give up on NEET year after year, why will we now? Hum bacche unko jhuka ke hi maanenge. (We will not stop till the NTA accepts its mistake).”