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LS Passes 'Anti-Cheating' Bill: Will It Curtail Paper Leaks in Govt Job Exams?

Lok Sabha passed The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024 on Tuesday.

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The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, introduced by Union Minister Jitendra Singh to prevent question paper leaks in recruitment exams and penalise those responsible for paper leaks, was passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, 6 February. 

While discussing the Bill during the ongoing Budget Session of Parliament on Tuesday, Singh said that the Bill looks to ensure a “level-playing field” for the youth irrespective of their class or financial status.  

Lok Sabha passed The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024 on Tuesday.

Union Minister Jitendra Singh discussing the The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024 in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, 6 February.

(Image: PTI)

“Be it appointment of the youth in government jobs or admission in higher educational institutions, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government has made significant strides for empowering the youth of this country,” said Union Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Jitendra Singh.

However, Ashish Kumar Chaturvedi, a whistle-blower in the infamous 'Vyapam Scam', told The Quint that the Bill will not bring “drastic change” in the situation on ground in the “absence of strict punishment.” 

According to a report in The Indian Express, question paper leaks in recruitment exams across 15 states affected 1.4 crore job applicants applying for over 1.04 lakh posts in the last five years.  

What does the Bill propose? What punishments does it define for culprits? What exams come under its purview? What does the Opposition have to say on it? And will it be effective in curtailing paper leaks? Let’s take a look.

LS Passes 'Anti-Cheating' Bill: Will It Curtail Paper Leaks in Govt Job Exams?

  1. 1. What Offences Does the Bill Propose to Tackle? 

    Section 3 of the Bill defines unfair means and offences as: 

    Snapshot
    1. Leaking question papers or answer keys,

    2. Accessing question papers or Optical Mark Recognition (OMR),

    3. Helping candidates during an examination,

    4. Tampering with answer sheets,

    5. Manipulating seating arrangements,

    6. Deliberate violation of security measures to facilitate unfair means in the conduct of a public exam,

    7. Tampering with documents that decide the shortlist and rank of candidates,

    8. Obstructing the conduct of a public examination,

    9. Creating a fake website to cheat or for monetary gain,

    10. Conduct of fake examination, issuance of fake admit cards or fake offer letters for monetary gain, and other such practices.

    Section 5 of the Bill defines offences for those who have been authorised by the government for conducting public examinations. It states that such people are not allowed to open the question papers before the fixed time for opening and distributing them to the candidates. They are not allowed to leak, possess, solve, or seek help to solve these question papers. 

    If anyone commits any of these offences, the service provider or the public examination authority must report it to the police. It also states that no premises other than the exam centre shall be used for conducting the public examination. 

    Supreme Court advocate and author of Unmasking VIP told The Quint, “Organised paper leaks in government recruitment has created a corrupt chain of babus who are recruited through corrupt means.” 
    Expand
  2. 2. Which Exams Fall Under the Bill’s Purview?

    According to the Bill, the following exams fall under its purview: 

    1. Union Public Service Commission – which conducts Civil Services Examination, Combined Defence Services Examinations, Combined Medical Services Examination, Engineering Services Examination, etc.

    2. Staff Selection Commission (SSC) – which recruits for non-technical and non-gazetted jobs in the central government

    3. Railway Recruitment Boards – for jobs in the Indian Railways

    4. Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS) – for jobs in public sector banks (except SBI) and rural banks

    5. Ministries or Departments of the Central Government and their attached and subordinate offices for recruitment of staff.

    6. National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts JEE, NEET, UGC-NET, CUET, etc.

    However, state government recruitment exams do not fall under its purview and come under the states’ jurisdiction.

    Over 41 instances of paper leaks in exams for government jobs have been documented across 15 states in the last five years. Of these, the maximum number of candidates affected were from Rajasthan, followed by Bihar, according to a report by The Indian Express.

    In fact, the Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers (REET) 2021 was at the centre of the biggest paper-leak scandal in the state in the last decade. Conducted after a gap of four years after 2017, the state government had listed over 31,000 vacancies to fill teachers' posts, for which 16 lakh aspirants appeared. The exam was eventually cancelled, nullifying the hard work and shattering the dreams of 16 lakh aspirants. 

    As a result, several states, including Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, have enacted anti-cheating laws for competitive exams. 

    Expand
  3. 3. What Punishment Will Be Given to the Offenders? 

    All offences under this Bill are cognisable (which means the police can arrest the offender without a warrant), non-bailable, and non-compoundable (parties cannot enter into a compromise to drop the charges).  

    The Bill proposes to punish any person who has indulged in paper leaks with a jail term of 3-5 years and a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh.  

    Meanwhile, a service provider, which can be any organisation or company that provides computer or any material resource for conducting a public examination, is liable for a fine of Rs 1 crore and shall be barred from holding any such exams for a period of four years. 

    Any person or service provider found to be engaged in “organised crime” can be punished with a jail term of 5 to 10 years and a penalty of Rs 1 crore. An officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) or Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) shall investigate any violations of the provisions of this Bill. 

    “The intention of this Bill is good. However, previous experience shows that police and investigating agencies nab the small players involved in the solver gang or forwarding of paper leaks.  Paper leaks are happening in state PSC's and Army examination also. It is not possible without the involvement of higher officials. Paper leak is an organised crime which is running due to blessings of senior officials and leaders.”
    Virag Gupta, Supreme Court advocate and author of 'Unmasking VIP'

    The Bill states that members, officers, and employees of the public examination authority will be deemed as public servants who will be protected against any legal proceedings for any action taken in “good faith.” However, Chaturvedi said that this provision may dilute the Bill. 

    “Those who are involved in these scams are more often than not part of the system. If you remember the Vyapam Scam, it involved politicians, senior officials and businessmen,” he asserted. 

    The alleged scam in Vyapam or the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) took place in 2013, when it was revealed that candidates had bribed officials and rigged exams by using imposters to write their answer sheets. 

    Expand
  4. 4. 'No Provision To Compensate Lakhs of Candidates Affected By Paper Leaks:' Whistle-Blower

    Although the Bill acknowledges that malpractices in public exams lead to delays and cancellations, which adversely affect the job prospects of lakhs of youth, Congress MP from Kerala Kodikunnil Suresh pointed out that the rather long process to reschedule examination forces many applicants to not sit for next attempts as they don’t have age or situation by their side.    

    “I suggest that the government holds examination within three months of date of cancellation of the exam and makes sure that a window for re-examination is defined in case of a cancelled exam,” Suresh said in Lok Sabha on Tuesday.  

    Chaturvedi too lamented that though the Bill protects a candidate from any punitive action, it has no provision to compensate for the lakhs of deserving, meritorious students who are affected by these scams. 

    Further, Suresh appealed to the Union government to distribute the quantum of punishment not just to the direct culprits but also to intermediary agents.

    “The teaching and coaching centre mafia, which is linked with colluders, including political leadership, local agents and corrupt staff of various public service commissions must not be let off the hook and punishment be awarded to them as well," he said.

    Expand
  5. 5. 'Fast-Track Trials, Convictions, Special Central Agency Needed To Curtail Paper Leaks:' Experts

    Even though the Bill stated that it is aimed at effectively and legally deterring those who indulge in unfair practices during public examinations for monetary or wrongful gains, Chaturvedi labelled it as a “smokescreen as far as getting justice is concerned.

    “The Bill is welcome as far as documentation is concerned. But in effect, it won’t lead to any systemic change until the bureaucrats implementing it fulfill their moral duty sincerely,” Chaturvedi said.

    The Bill should incorporate stricter punishment, fast-track trials, and convictions to deter people, he added.

    Meanwhile, Anand Rai, a whistle-blower of the Vyapam Scam, told The Quint that a “specialised central agency that deals with exam-paper scams” is needed to check paper leaks in recruitment exams.

    “What is needed is intent from the government and law enforcement agencies. Just proposing a Bill is not enough to check paper leaks. A central agency, specialising in cracking down on the paper leak mafia and comprising officers with knowhow of cybercrime as well as a special legal team, on the lines of CBI and ED is the need of the hour.” 
    Anand Rai, Whistle-lower of Vyapam Scam

    Additionally, he said that the special agency could eliminate delays occurring over jurisdiction issues in case a scam runs across different states.  

    Chaturvedi lamented that though the Bill protects a candidate from any punitive action, it has no provision to protect or compensate for the lakhs of deserving, meritorious students who are affected by these scams. 

    Next, the Bill will be presented for discussion in Rajya Sabha before it’s sent to President Droupadi Murmu for her nod to make it an Act.  

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Offences Does the Bill Propose to Tackle? 

Section 3 of the Bill defines unfair means and offences as: 

Snapshot
  1. Leaking question papers or answer keys,

  2. Accessing question papers or Optical Mark Recognition (OMR),

  3. Helping candidates during an examination,

  4. Tampering with answer sheets,

  5. Manipulating seating arrangements,

  6. Deliberate violation of security measures to facilitate unfair means in the conduct of a public exam,

  7. Tampering with documents that decide the shortlist and rank of candidates,

  8. Obstructing the conduct of a public examination,

  9. Creating a fake website to cheat or for monetary gain,

  10. Conduct of fake examination, issuance of fake admit cards or fake offer letters for monetary gain, and other such practices.

Section 5 of the Bill defines offences for those who have been authorised by the government for conducting public examinations. It states that such people are not allowed to open the question papers before the fixed time for opening and distributing them to the candidates. They are not allowed to leak, possess, solve, or seek help to solve these question papers. 

If anyone commits any of these offences, the service provider or the public examination authority must report it to the police. It also states that no premises other than the exam centre shall be used for conducting the public examination. 

Supreme Court advocate and author of Unmasking VIP told The Quint, “Organised paper leaks in government recruitment has created a corrupt chain of babus who are recruited through corrupt means.” 
ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Which Exams Fall Under the Bill’s Purview?

According to the Bill, the following exams fall under its purview: 

  1. Union Public Service Commission – which conducts Civil Services Examination, Combined Defence Services Examinations, Combined Medical Services Examination, Engineering Services Examination, etc.

  2. Staff Selection Commission (SSC) – which recruits for non-technical and non-gazetted jobs in the central government

  3. Railway Recruitment Boards – for jobs in the Indian Railways

  4. Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS) – for jobs in public sector banks (except SBI) and rural banks

  5. Ministries or Departments of the Central Government and their attached and subordinate offices for recruitment of staff.

  6. National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts JEE, NEET, UGC-NET, CUET, etc.

However, state government recruitment exams do not fall under its purview and come under the states’ jurisdiction.

Over 41 instances of paper leaks in exams for government jobs have been documented across 15 states in the last five years. Of these, the maximum number of candidates affected were from Rajasthan, followed by Bihar, according to a report by The Indian Express.

In fact, the Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers (REET) 2021 was at the centre of the biggest paper-leak scandal in the state in the last decade. Conducted after a gap of four years after 2017, the state government had listed over 31,000 vacancies to fill teachers' posts, for which 16 lakh aspirants appeared. The exam was eventually cancelled, nullifying the hard work and shattering the dreams of 16 lakh aspirants. 

As a result, several states, including Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, have enacted anti-cheating laws for competitive exams. 

0

What Punishment Will Be Given to the Offenders? 

All offences under this Bill are cognisable (which means the police can arrest the offender without a warrant), non-bailable, and non-compoundable (parties cannot enter into a compromise to drop the charges).  

The Bill proposes to punish any person who has indulged in paper leaks with a jail term of 3-5 years and a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh.  

Meanwhile, a service provider, which can be any organisation or company that provides computer or any material resource for conducting a public examination, is liable for a fine of Rs 1 crore and shall be barred from holding any such exams for a period of four years. 

Any person or service provider found to be engaged in “organised crime” can be punished with a jail term of 5 to 10 years and a penalty of Rs 1 crore. An officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) or Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) shall investigate any violations of the provisions of this Bill. 

“The intention of this Bill is good. However, previous experience shows that police and investigating agencies nab the small players involved in the solver gang or forwarding of paper leaks.  Paper leaks are happening in state PSC's and Army examination also. It is not possible without the involvement of higher officials. Paper leak is an organised crime which is running due to blessings of senior officials and leaders.”
Virag Gupta, Supreme Court advocate and author of 'Unmasking VIP'

The Bill states that members, officers, and employees of the public examination authority will be deemed as public servants who will be protected against any legal proceedings for any action taken in “good faith.” However, Chaturvedi said that this provision may dilute the Bill. 

“Those who are involved in these scams are more often than not part of the system. If you remember the Vyapam Scam, it involved politicians, senior officials and businessmen,” he asserted. 

The alleged scam in Vyapam or the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) took place in 2013, when it was revealed that candidates had bribed officials and rigged exams by using imposters to write their answer sheets. 

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

'No Provision To Compensate Lakhs of Candidates Affected By Paper Leaks:' Whistle-Blower

Although the Bill acknowledges that malpractices in public exams lead to delays and cancellations, which adversely affect the job prospects of lakhs of youth, Congress MP from Kerala Kodikunnil Suresh pointed out that the rather long process to reschedule examination forces many applicants to not sit for next attempts as they don’t have age or situation by their side.    

“I suggest that the government holds examination within three months of date of cancellation of the exam and makes sure that a window for re-examination is defined in case of a cancelled exam,” Suresh said in Lok Sabha on Tuesday.  

Chaturvedi too lamented that though the Bill protects a candidate from any punitive action, it has no provision to compensate for the lakhs of deserving, meritorious students who are affected by these scams. 

Further, Suresh appealed to the Union government to distribute the quantum of punishment not just to the direct culprits but also to intermediary agents.

“The teaching and coaching centre mafia, which is linked with colluders, including political leadership, local agents and corrupt staff of various public service commissions must not be let off the hook and punishment be awarded to them as well," he said.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

'Fast-Track Trials, Convictions, Special Central Agency Needed To Curtail Paper Leaks:' Experts

Even though the Bill stated that it is aimed at effectively and legally deterring those who indulge in unfair practices during public examinations for monetary or wrongful gains, Chaturvedi labelled it as a “smokescreen as far as getting justice is concerned.

“The Bill is welcome as far as documentation is concerned. But in effect, it won’t lead to any systemic change until the bureaucrats implementing it fulfill their moral duty sincerely,” Chaturvedi said.

The Bill should incorporate stricter punishment, fast-track trials, and convictions to deter people, he added.

Meanwhile, Anand Rai, a whistle-blower of the Vyapam Scam, told The Quint that a “specialised central agency that deals with exam-paper scams” is needed to check paper leaks in recruitment exams.

“What is needed is intent from the government and law enforcement agencies. Just proposing a Bill is not enough to check paper leaks. A central agency, specialising in cracking down on the paper leak mafia and comprising officers with knowhow of cybercrime as well as a special legal team, on the lines of CBI and ED is the need of the hour.” 
Anand Rai, Whistle-lower of Vyapam Scam

Additionally, he said that the special agency could eliminate delays occurring over jurisdiction issues in case a scam runs across different states.  

Chaturvedi lamented that though the Bill protects a candidate from any punitive action, it has no provision to protect or compensate for the lakhs of deserving, meritorious students who are affected by these scams. 

Next, the Bill will be presented for discussion in Rajya Sabha before it’s sent to President Droupadi Murmu for her nod to make it an Act.  

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Lok Sabha   Budget Session   UPSC 

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