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Overview of Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024

Transparency, fairness and credibility is what we all expect when it comes to competitive public examinations and prestigious institutes entrances. Parliament by giving green flag to landmark 2024 Anti-cheating Bill, aims to curb malpractices and irregularities in public examinations which lead to delay and cancellation of examinations adversely impacting the prospects of millions of youths.

What Leads To Follow The Path Of Cheating?

Intensely competitive nature of public examinations and entrance exams where lakhs of applicants vie for limited number of seats, due to which some of them opt for unlawful methods to secure their seats which includes buying question papers, personation or hacking exam centers, this pressure to perform well in examinations can be overwhelming and causes mental pressure over applicants, Other factors may include:
  • High competition: Students must achieve at an unusually high score to succeed because there is a very high competition for the few available places at prestigious institutions and universities.
  • Parental pressure: Parents frequently exert a great deal of pressure on their children to do well in competitive exams. In families where academic achievement has been a family trait, this pressure may be considerably greater.
  • Media pressure: Students are under a lot of pressure to live up to the expectations placed on them by the media, which frequently presents students who do well on competitive exams as successful and bright.
  • Self-imposed pressure: For a variety of reasons, including a fear of failing or a desire to impress their parents, some students place a great deal of pressure on themselves to perform well on competitive tests.

Current Scenario:
Students are becoming more focused on their grades due to intense rivalry, which often leads to cheating scandals. Fear prevents those who are not a part of it from complaining easily.

With the development of technology in exam administration, novel methods of exam cheating have also been documented. Screen sharing or mirroring, impersonation, requesting assistance remotely using software, giving experts screenshots or photographs, and exploiting outside resources were all employed in several of the online exams. In contrast, students typically follow the same practices during offline exams: impersonation, disruptive behaviour, inappropriate calculator use, copying from cheat sheets, etc.

Central Bureau of Investigation, India�s top investigative agency in 2022 arrested a Russian Hacker for breaching the exam for admission to the IITs, the hacker allegedly worked for a coaching institute.

An investigation by the Indian Express found around 40 cases of paper leaks in 16 states over the last 5 years which disrupted the process of recruitment for government post. The paper leaks effected lives of over 1.51 crore applicants for about 1.2 lakh posts.

About the Bill:
Definition of essential terms:
Candidate: person who has been granted permission by the public examination authority to appear in public examination and includes a person authorised to act as a scribe on his behalf in the public examination.

Institution: means any agency, organisation, body, association of persons, business entity, company, partnership, or single proprietorship firm, may whatever name it may be called which is other than the public examination authority and the service provider engaged by such authority.

Competent authority: shall mean the Ministry or a Department of Central Government Administratively concerned with the public examination authority.

What are public examinations?
Public examinations refer to examinations conducted by authorities specifies under the Bill, or notified by the Central Government. These include:
  • Union Public Service Commission
  • Staff Selection Commission
  • Railway Recruitment Board
  • National Testing Agency
  • Institute of Banking Personnel Selection
  • Department of the Central Government and their attached offices

Unfair means and offences:
Chapter II, Section 3 of the Bill specifies the unfair means relating to the conduct of public examinations, these include:
  • Leakage of question paper or answer key;
  • Assisting a candidate during public examination;
  • Tampering with computer network or resources;
  • Tampering with documents for shortlisting or finalising of merit list or rank;
  • Conducting fake examination;
  • Issuing fake admit cards or offer letters to cheat, for monetary gain;
  • It also prohibits:
    • Unauthorised people from entering exam centres to create disruptions;
    • Disclosing exam-related confidential information prior time.

Inquiry and Investigation:
Under the Bill, there will be no bail, no compounding, and cognizable offences only. If it can be demonstrated that the accused acted with appropriate diligence, then no action will be considered criminal. The violations under the Act shall be investigated by a police officer not lower than the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police or Deputy Superintendent. Any central investigating agency may get the investigation from the central government.

Punishment for offences under the Act:
Any person or persons resorting the defined unfair means under the Act have to face imprisonment for term not less than three years that maybe extended to five years and fine up to ten lakh rupees.

In case default of payment additional imprisonment shall be imposed according to the provisions of Indian Penal Code 1860, till Bharatiya Naya Sanhita, 2023 is imposed.

Liability of Service provider:
Service providers are required to notify the relevant examination authority and the police in the event that any of the Bill's provisions are broken. An organisation that supplies computer resources or any other kind of assistance to a public examination authority is known as a service provider. It will be illegal to not report such instances. Should the service provider themselves commit a crime, the investigating authority is required to notify law enforcement.

The Bill forbids service providers from changing the exam location without the examination authority's consent. A service provider that commits an infraction faces a fine of up to one crore rupees. Further they�ll be barred from conducting public examinations for four years and proportionate cost of examination will be recovered as well.

Any Director, senior management, or person in control of the service providers will be held personally accountable if it is proven that they approved or encouraged the commission of crimes involving service providers. They will be fined one crore rupees and imprisoned for a term ranging from three to ten years.

Organised crimes:
Organised crime will have a harsher penalty according to the bill. An illegal conduct carried out by an individual or group of individuals to pursue a common interest for unjust benefit in connection with public examinations is classified as an organised crime. A fine of at least one crore rupees and a prison sentence ranging from five to ten years would be imposed on those who conduct organised crime. If an organisation is found guilty of organised crime, its assets will be seized and confiscated, and it will also be responsible for recovering a share of the investigation's costs.

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