The government has finalised a legislation to curb and punish organised cheating and fraud in national-level examinations for central recruitments and admissions to college and professional courses by providing jail terms and fines that may, depending on the seriousness of the offense, extend to 10 years and Rs 1 crore.
The bill, which the government hopes to pass soon, focuses on masterminds and organisers rather than students who resort to unfair means. The view in government is that the legislation should not be “anti-student” and rather be in the interests of examinees who prepare for a fair test. Students detected cheating in examinations will be treated in accordance with relevant examination rules that typically bar such individuals from appearing for tests for a certain period of time.
The bill is intended to cover include UPSC (Union Public Service Commission), Staff Selection Commission and Railway Recruitment Board exams and college-university selection tests like NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test), JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) and CUET (Common University Entrance Tests). There are state specific laws but none at the central level. Conducting these tests is a challenge as lakhs of aspirants take the tests in every entrance or recruitment cycle.
The decision to keep students out of the purview draws from state laws that became unpopular because of jail terms and fines for students caught cheating.
The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill is being piloted by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) and draws from the provisions of the newly instituted Bharatiya Nyay Sanchita (BNS) that is an updated version of the colonial era Indian Penal Code. The bill envisages jail time of 1-3 years and fines up to Rs 10 lakh for most crimes detected and prosecuted under the proposed law.
Sources said there had been worrying instances of public examinations being compromised by gangs and mafias that are tech-savvy and breach digital safeguards. They are also adept at discovering vulnerabilities in the system and in one instance registered candidates in exam centres in Nagaland where the test was leaked. It is also felt that honest candidates need protection as they are at risk of losing their seats to those who are selected on the basis of fraud and cheating.
The government has sought to make examinations free of fraud by shortening the examination cycle and introduction of computer based tests while doing away with subjective components like interviews for Group “C” and “D” recruitment. Yet, several states had to cancel examinations or were unable to declare results due the integrity of the tests being breached. In some instances, as in the case of a breach in Jammu and Kashmir, the role of central security personnel came to light.
The government is of the view that there is no specific law at the national level to deal with unfair means which are becoming increasingly sophisticated with the use of technology. The development of AI (artificial intelligence) is posing newer and unchartered challenges and there is a need to prevent criminal elements from playing with the lives and careers of youth who do not seek undue advantages.
The government plans to constitute a high level committee to examine the technical aspects of public examinations by devising methods to prevent digital platforms from being illegally accessed. This will include devising fool proof IT systems and installing electronic surveillance at exam centres.