The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, Against Cheating

The public examination bill 2024

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Introduction: On February 5, the Lok Sabha introduced the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, is aimed at tackling cheating during exams.

Objectives of the Bill

The Bill, passed on February 6, seeks to enhance transparency, fairness, and trustworthiness within the public examinations system by curbing the employment of unfair means.

Outlined within the Bill are provisions designed to deter and prevent various forms of cheating during examinations, ultimately safeguarding the integrity of the assessment process.

“Unfair Means” in Examinations

Section 3 of the Bill details what constitutes the utilization of “unfair means” during examinations, identifying over 15 actions that qualify as such in public exams, done with the intention of gaining monetary profit or wrongful advantage.

These actions encompass: “the unauthorized disclosure of question paper or answer key, or any portion thereof,” and involvement in such disclosure; “gaining access to or acquiring possession of a question paper or an Optical Mark Recognition response sheet without proper authorization”; “altering answer sheets, including Optical Mark Recognition response sheets”; “offering solutions to one or more questions by any unauthorized individual during a public examination”, and “providing direct or indirect assistance to the candidate” in a public examination.

Additionally, the section outlines the following as illegal acts: “manipulating any document essential for shortlisting candidates or determining the final merit or rank of a candidate”; “tampering with computer networks, resources, or systems”; “establishing counterfeit websites”; and “organizing counterfeit examinations, distributing fake admit cards, or issuing fraudulent offer letters for the purpose of deceit or financial profit.”

Public Examinations” under the Bill

As per Section 2(k), a “public examination” is described as any examination administered by a “public examination authority” enlisted in the Schedule of the Bill, or any other authority designated by the Central Government through notification.

Public Examination Authorities Listed in the Schedule

The Schedule enumerates five public examination authorities:

  • The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), responsible for conducting examinations such as the Civil Services Examination, Combined Defence Services Examinations, Combined Medical Services Examination, Engineering Services Examination, among others.
  • The Staff Selection Commission (SSC), tasked with recruiting for Group C (non-technical) and Group B (non-gazetted) positions within the central government.
  • The Railway Recruitment Boards (RRBs), which oversee the recruitment of Group C and D personnel in the Indian Railways.
  • The Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS), responsible for hiring candidates at various levels for nationalized banks and regional rural banks (RRBs).
  • The National Testing Agency (NTA), responsible for conducting examinations like JEE (Main), NEET-UG, UGC-NET, the Common University Entrance Test (CUET), and others.

In addition to the specified public examination authorities, the new law will also apply to all “Ministries or Departments of the Central Government and their attached and subordinate offices responsible for staff recruitment.” The central government has the power to add new authorities to the schedule through notifications as required.

Penalties for Violations under the Proposed Law

According to Section 9 of the Bill, all violations will be considered cognizable, non-bailable, and non-compoundable. This implies that arrests can be made without a warrant and bail won’t be automatically granted; instead, a magistrate will decide if bail is appropriate. A non-compoundable offense is one where the case cannot be dropped by the complainant, even if they reach a compromise with the accused, necessitating a trial to proceed.

According to Section 10(1) of the Bill, individuals found guilty of resorting to unfair means and committing related offenses may face imprisonment ranging from three to five years, along with a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh. Failure to pay the fine could result in additional imprisonment, as prescribed by the provisions of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023.

As per Section 10(2) of the Bill, a service provider involved in furnishing “support of any computer resource or any material, by any designation,” for the examination’s administration, may face a fine of up to Rs 1 crore, in addition to other penalties.

The Bill imposes harsher penalties for instances of organized paper leaks, characterizing “organized crime” as illegal activities undertaken by a group of individuals collaborating “to seek or advance a shared interest for wrongful gain related to a public examination.”

According to Section 11(1), the punishment for organized crime will entail “imprisonment for a term not less than five years but which may extend to ten years,” along with a fine of no less than one crore rupees.

Government’s Rationale Behind Introducing the Bill

The government has introduced this Bill in response to a significant surge in cases of question paper leaks during recruitment examinations nationwide in recent years. An investigation conducted by The Indian Express revealed at least 48 occurrences of paper leaks in 16 states over the past five years, leading to disruptions in the government job hiring process. These leaks have affected the prospects of approximately 1.51 crore applicants vying for around 1.2 lakh positions.

The aims of the Bill, as articulated in the Statement of Objects and Reasons,

The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill emphasizes that malpractices in public examinations result in exam delays and cancellations, significantly harming the opportunities of numerous young individuals. Currently, there is no dedicated substantive law addressing the use of unfair means or related offenses. Therefore, it is essential to identify and address elements exploiting weaknesses in the examination system through comprehensive central legislation.

“The objective of the Bill is to instill greater transparency, equity, and trustworthiness in public examination systems, assuring young individuals that their honest endeavors will be justly acknowledged and their prospects protected. Moreover, the Bill aims to deter individuals, organized groups, or institutions from engaging in various unfair practices that detrimentally affect public examination systems for monetary or illicit purposes.”

Exemption of Candidates and Model Template Provision

As per the Bill’s definition, candidates are exempt from actions falling under the purview of the Bill and will remain subject to the existing administrative provisions of the relevant public examination authority.”

Additionally, once enacted, the Bill will also serve as “a model template for States to optionally adopt.” This, as stated, “will assist States in preventing criminal elements from disrupting the conduct of their respective state-level public examinations.”

Conclusion

The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, aims to address the widespread issue of cheating and paper leaks in public examinations. By enhancing transparency, fairness, and trustworthiness in examination systems, the Bill seeks to safeguard the integrity of the assessment process and protect the future prospects of millions of young individuals.

Through stringent penalties for violations and provisions for organized crime, the Bill strives to deter unfair practices effectively. Furthermore, by serving as a model template for states to adopt, it aims to prevent disruptions in state-level examinations. Overall, the Bill represents a significant step towards ensuring the integrity and credibility of public examinations in India.

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Frequently asked questions

 
What is the purpose of the Public Examinations Bill, 2024?

The Public Examinations Bill, 2024, aims to address cheating and paper leaks in public examinations by enhancing transparency, fairness, and trustworthiness within the examination systems.

What are the key objectives of the Bill?

The Bill seeks to deter and prevent various forms of cheating during examinations, safeguarding the integrity of the assessment process. It also aims to provide assurance to candidates that their sincere efforts will be fairly rewarded and their future prospects protected.

What penalties does the Bill propose for violations?

The Bill proposes stringent penalties, including imprisonment from 3 to 5 years, fines of up to Rs 10 lakh for individuals resorting to unfair means, and fines of up to Rs 1 crore for service providers supporting such activities.

Will candidates be affected by the provisions of the Bill?

No, candidates are exempt from actions falling under the purview of the Bill and will continue to be governed by the existing administrative provisions of the relevant public examination authorities

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