When the film 3 Idiots released a decade ago, there was some disbelieving discussion as to how in this age and time a person can impersonate another and take exams and classes on his/her behalf. “It is impossible to pull off such things when there are photo ID cards and documents to be submitted,” was the popular opinion.

10 years later, in 2019, when science and technology to detect identity fraud has got better, a scandal has broken out in Tamil Nadu where a few students seem to have secured admissions in medical colleges by having someone else take the NEET.

Also read: NEET exemption: President withheld assent for 2 Tamil Nadu Bills, Centre tells Madras HC

So, there are indeed real-life Ranchod Das Shyamal Das Chanchads.

The lid on the case, which has stirred another hornets’ nest in the state, was opened after authorities at the Theni Medical College found that the photograph pasted on the admission card did not match the original identity of the student.

The errant student, identified as Udit Surya, reportedly hired a person to write the NEET exam and managed to obtain a seat in Theni Medical College. However, following a tip-off through an anonymous email, the college launched an inquiry and found that it was not Surya who wrote the exam and that he did not attend the medical counselling either.

Surya and his father VK Venkatesan, a senior government doctor in Chennai’s Stanley Medical College, and his mother, were picked up yesterday at Tirupati where they were hiding. The family was being questioned in Chennai this morning by the CB-CID.

Meanwhile, it has also emerged that two other students, pursuing their medical education in a private medical college in Coimbatore, may have also used impersonators to clear the NEET. An investigation is on in their cases too, authorities revealed.

A talk with the medical college circles, especially among the touts, who continue to operate despite claims of increased vigil and centralised entrance exam, reveals that that the system is vulnerable and there are many large-scale malpractices prevalent in the entrance process.
With NEET being the single-window process for medical college admission, it was expected to bring down the malpractices and the rampant capitation fee system. “Quite obviously, it has not been able to stem the rot,” says V Krithivasan, an educationist in Tamil Nadu. “But to be honest, with so many moneyed people going after so few seats, corruption and malpractices are always bound to be there in any system,” he adds.

The impersonation, sources reveal, is the oldest trick in the book. But they say it has come about because the agency in charge of conducting the exam is cut off from the admission process.

The National Testing agency conducts the NEET and gives the results to the Directorate of Health Services. What typically happens is a student gives all his own credentials except for the photo ID. For this, the student provides the image of the person who will take the exam on his behalf.

So at the exam centre, no one suspects anything as the person in the ID is the same as the person taking the exam. But once the results are out, and seat allotted, the original student starts going to college without arousing any suspicion. This is what Udit Surya did.

“Of course, this is not possible without the collusion of some vested interests at the medical counselling centre where they have to cross verify the NEET allotment papers and the bonafide credentials of the student.”

In Udit Surya’s case, as his father was also a senior government doctor, strings could be pulled, and he was able to walk away with the seat.

Similar stratagem must have been employed by the Coimbatore students who are now under a cloud, sources said.  

The authorities have become wise now and are scrutinising the papers of every student admitted now.

“The scandal also underlines the need for better clarity in photos on ID cards and in general on many vital documents like Aadhaar and licences. Many of us don’t look like ourselves on our licences and passports. It can lead to a lot of complications on a bad day,” says a parent of a student whose son has got into medical college this year.

In his school ID, taken around his 10th standard, my son looks young. But in his entrance exam ID, he has a moustache. It can be confusing, he adds.

The whole scandal has, however, given the authorities to shore up the system and clear the cobwebs of corruption.

Medical education cannot afford to give room to fictional Ranchod Das Shyamal Das Chanchads.