Hidden Toll of Paper Leaks

Students dedicate countless sleepless nights to prepare for board and competitive exams, but incidents like paper leaks can shatter their hopes and hard work in a snap. The Indian Express investigated over 41 documented instances of paper leaks over the last 5 years in recruitment exams across 15 states, affecting more than 1.4 crore students. In March 2023, over 25,000 students who had taken the examination were impacted by the Telangana Public Service Commission question paper leak. Rajasthan, a state with a major case of paper leaks, has witnessed 14 cases of question paper leaks in several competitive exams from 2015 to 2023. In Uttar Pradesh, there were 6 paper leak incident covers examinations: like Inspectors Online Recruitment Test (2017), UPTET (2021), and Preliminary Eligibility Test (2021). Even higher secondary education was not spared from paper leaks; in March 2023, SEBA (Secondary Education Board of Assam) cancelled the HSLC exams of General Science and English due to leaked question papers. In the same month, a private college in Maharashtra was held responsible for compromising HSC mathematics, chemistry and physics papers. 

From national-level entrances like IIT or NEET to regional-based examinations like BPSC, millions of students lose their career opportunities due to system failure and negligence. Whatever hidden agenda, political or financial, lies behind these paper leak cases, the students always have to pay hefty prices for system defaults. Several questions arise about the integrity of India’s public examination system. Recently, in February 2024, a shocking case came to light where Brijesh Pal, a 28-year-old unemployed man, burned all his education certificates and hanged himself at his residence. He appeared for the police recruitment exam and was upset by an alleged paper leak; eventually, he took his life due to stress and unemployment. Another incident from Uttar Pradesh, where a 22-year-old woman, Varsha, NCC Cadet, was preparing for the UP constable and RO/ARO exam and constantly struggled with several attempts due to paper leaks, at last ended her life. 

Without effective laws and regulations, the rising cases of paper leaks prevail to the level that students or applicants are forced to take their lives. Finally, the Government took upfront action to address the problem; Lok Sabha rolled out the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024 to prevent paper leaks in government recruitment examinations. To drive more transparency, credibility, and fairness, the punishment for violating rules is imprisonment for up to 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 1 crore. Not only does the bill aim to target culprits behind the leaks, but it also digs into institutions that overlook these crimes with the provision of forfeiting their properties and recovery of examination costs. This encompasses formulating preventive measures and taking upfront action to safeguard student’s dedication. However, like any other Indian law, the bill’s effectiveness for the diverse Indian landscape would be too early to comment on its possibility of success. Several hurdles might intervene, such as varied state implementation, loopholes in law sections, lack of clarity on the National Technical Committee, and other potential legal complications. 

Another potential reform is integrating technology to ensure fair and well-structured examinations. The increasing incidents of paper leaks, including unauthorised sharing via WhatsApp and unauthorised access to confidential exam papers, have highlighted the need for robust examination security protocols. A centralised system could be implemented to automate and streamline the examination process, significantly reducing the risk of human error that leads to a scenario of paper leaks. The practice of printing and delivering examination papers can be scheduled online to reduce manipulation. Additionally, technology intervention helps examination authorities to easily track fraudulent activities, aiding in investigations through monitored evidence.

In many cases, the real culprits held were either students and authorised teachers who took the step of paper leak in greed for monetary gains or under political influence. So, the main agenda behind the reform steps should be to improve overall problems rather than focusing on finding the real culprit. The new bill is aimed to fill the void gap in substantive law that deals with unfair means and impacts the public examination system for wrongful or monetary gains. India is a nation where crores of applicants wait for years to prepare for government examinations under prestigious bodies, such as the Union Public Service Commission, Staff Selection Commission, Railway Recruitment Boards, Institute of Banking Personnel Selection, Ministries or Departments of the Central Government, and National Testing Agency. For developing nations like India, it would be unjust to lose smart talents due to unfair and manipulative practices.

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