Saturday, July 20, 2024

Paper Leak: High Time for ‘Pariksha Pe Charcha’


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By Dr. Brajesh Kumar Tiwari

The Ministry of Education has abruptly canceled the UGC-NET June 2024 examination, a mere day after it was administered. The CBI has taken on responsibility for the case and will now look into it more. Concurrent with the debate over the NEET-UG and UGC-NET tests, Subodh Kumar Singh has been removed from the post of Director General of the National Testing Agency (NTA). The UGC NET exam is administered to facilitate admission into PhD programs, as well as to determine eligibility for the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) and the position of Assistant Professor in universities throughout the nation.
The Supreme Court has recently issued a notice to the Center and the National Testing Agency (NTA) in response to a petition requesting the cancellation of the NEET-UG 2024 exam due to an alleged paper leak. The upcoming court session for this case is scheduled for July 8. The NEET-UG medical entrance exam was administered by the National Testing Agency on May 5. Patna Police has asserted in court that the question paper for NEET-UG has been compromised. A staggering number of 2.3 million candidates have registered for NEET-UG this year, setting a new record. The issue of paper leakage is not novel; even esteemed examinations such as IIT JEE in 1997 and All India Pre-Medical Test in 2011 have experienced instances of leaked papers. The issue of paper leak has exacerbated over time. Media reports indicate that over the past 7 years, more than 70 examinations in various states of the country have experienced paper leaks, resulting in adverse consequences for approximately 20 million young individuals.
Laws to stop leaks of papers and its loopholes: The Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024, also known as the anti-paper leak law, has been implemented in the country. The notification from the central government was issued precisely at midnight on Friday, June 21. The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act was enacted by the Lok Sabha on February 6 and subsequently approved by the Rajya Sabha on 9 February of the current year. The bill was approved by President Draupadi Murmu on February 12 and subsequently enacted into a law. Even before the Central Government makes laws, many states have made strict laws at their own level. The question is also that even after the accused are caught, how do they get away easily when there are strict provisions for punishment under the law.
The Act has certain loopholes which need immediate resolution. The offence of paper leak of public examination affects the public at large as well as it creates a huge financial burden on the State Exchequer. The recently passed Act prescribes a minimum term of imprisonment (minimum as prescribed is three years but should be at least ten years) however the amount of punishment prescribed under the Act does not match with the gravity of offence. There is no provision of time bound investigation. The Act does not provide any fixed time period within which the re-examination must be conducted again.
Along with additional terms of imprisonment in case of default of payment of fine for an offence under the Act the provision of forfeiture of property of the offender should also be included. The candidate involved in taking advantage of unfair means should be disqualified for any future examination.
In accordance with this Act, only officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) or Assistant Commissioner of Police are authorized to investigate instances of unfair means in public examinations. Given that the offenses addressed by the Act are not ordinary or common offenses but rather impact a whole group of candidates, it may be necessary to establish a Special Investigation and Regulation Authority to conduct thorough investigations into cases involving the offenses specified in the Act. Invigilators and administrative officers lack knowledge of the appropriate procedures and protocols for conducting the examination. Under such circumstances, these organizations require specialized training to ensure that individuals who are conducting their work with integrity do not become ensnared.
Actions Needed: However, mere provision of strict punishment will not provide any effective solution to this problem. The morale of the students who were honestly preparing for competitive exams is now at its lowest ebb. Today there is despair within them and this despair is also breaking the morale of their families. If any examination is to be held, preparations for leaking the paper start months before it. Can’t such an institution be formed which conducts pure examinations at a fixed time like the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). Institutions like UPSC should become role models. Moreover, appointments of people with political connections in the recruitment commissions should be completely stopped and the examination commission should have its own printing press or the soft copy should be sent directly through code lock one hour in advance and should be sent to the examination center. It should be printed and distributed to the candidates present there. With this method, question papers will certainly be a little more expensive than press printing, but will be safe and leak-proof. There is a need to identify and expose dubious middlemen enjoying political patronage. Also, within a month of the arrest of the paper mafia, the punishment should be given within a stipulated time in the fast-track court. If any coaching institute is found involved, action should not be taken only against the concerned accused, the coaching institute should also be closed.
Engaging external agencies promotes the occurrence of unethical practices. From the initial preparation of paper sets to their distribution to the examination center, a large number of individuals are involved. Each person has a clearly defined responsibility, creating a hierarchical structure. Question papers undergo multiple stages of handling during the process of drafting, printing, and transportation to the examination centers. In such a scenario, it is imperative to prohibit the use of mobile phones by all individuals involved, and to enforce a strict limit on the number of devices allowed, to the greatest extent feasible. In order to closely monitor the entire process, it is advisable to install closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at the examination centers starting from the paper setting stage.
The problem of paper leak should not be viewed through the lens of politics. The escalating instances of paper leaks have cast a shadow of uncertainty over the prospects of students throughout our nation, spanning from the northern to the southern regions. This issue is not specific to any particular state or political party; rather, it pertains to the future of India’s young population, making it a crucial topic.
(The writer is Associate Professor, Atal School of Management (ABVSME), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi @bkt_brajesh. Views expressed are personal)


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