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Stakeholder accountability in public examinations needed

opinionStakeholder accountability in public examinations needed

By excluding candidates from punishment, the Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024 unfortunately falls short of removing the deterrent for parents and leaves open the possibility of repeat offences in the future.

Amidst the ongoing controversies surrounding paper leaks, the Central Government has notified the much-needed Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024. This stringent law, which became applicable on 21 June 2024 onwards, aims to prevent the use of “unfair means” in public examinations and to bring “greater transparency, fairness, and credibility” by curbing malpractices and irregularities. The Public Examination Act is expected to ensure transparency, fairness, and credibility in the examination system, by punishing those responsible for derailing the process by indulging in any or all of the 15 corrupt practices (like leaking question papers or answer keys, directly or indirectly assisting candidates, wilfully violating norms or standards, tampering with computer networks or resources, creating fake websites, and more), “for monetary or wrongful gain.”

Delays and cancellations of public examinations negatively impact the prospects of lakhs of youth and it is nobody’s argument to give a clean chit to the government in the NEET fiasco. However, it’s time to ask some tough questions to all the stakeholders including the serial offenders who manage to go scot-free, always. This law will serve as a strong deterrent for public servants, coaching mafias, and criminals involved in organized crimes of cheating, with jail terms of up to 10 years and a minimum fine of Rs 1 crore. These people are no doubt guilty of indulging in unfair means for monetary or wrongful gains and hence worthy of punishment.

The question that arises here is whether the source of this “monetary gain” is identified and held equally guilty. The Act specifically states that “defaulting candidates” will not be punished under this Act. In the NEET-UG paper leak case, the arrested criminals reportedly confessed to the investigating agencies that the candidates paid around Rs 30-32 lakh for the leaked question papers. This money was paid by the parents of the candidates who could afford to buy a seat in a medical college and somehow wanted their wards to get into a profession that is money-spinning or would ensure the continuation of their vocation. To them, it does not matter that by buying a seat for their child they are not only subverting the law by committing an unlawful act but also unethically denying deserving candidates the opportunity to pursue their chosen career.

Therefore, by excluding candidates from punishment, the Act unfortunately falls short of removing the deterrent for parents and leaves open the possibility of repeat offences in the future. An amendment to the Public Examination Act should stipulate strict punitive and pecuniary actions such as blacklisting, life-long debarment, and fines for any candidate found to be using unlawful means while taking a public exam.

This tendency of mis-parenting was also recently witnessed in the case of a Pune teen crashing a race car in an intoxicated state and killing two software engineers. The parents of the teen manipulated evidence and bribed doctors and the police, allowing the teen to almost escape with a ridiculous punishment—a 300-word essay for homicide—until country-wide shock and public outburst resulted in the revised FIR being filed. Such cases of parental deceit and dishonesty make one wonder how to guide such parents who connive with dubious elements, gloss over the delinquency of their children and, ostensibly out of misplaced love, become a party to heinous crimes.

While political parties are indulging in street protests and politicising the NEET paper leak case for petty political gains, parents must recognize their role not only as supporters of their children but also as conscientious citizens of the nation. To ensure that children, society, and nation grow together and not at the cost of each other, the parents must also become ethical guides, imparting values of honesty, integrity, and hard work to their children. Emphasizing the importance of fair competition and equal opportunities based on merit will help us nurture a generation capable of facing challenges with integrity and resilience.

Thousands of candidates have suffered due to the irresponsible actions of a few who pay to secure seats for their children. These individuals are an integral part of our community, and simply ignoring or shunning them is not a viable solution. Instead, they need to be counselled to realise the wrongdoing in their thought and actions. This counselling should come from appropriate forums and senior leaders, gurus, and mentors whose lives serve as examples for the rest of us. The mandate of the high-level seven-member committee headed by former ISRO chief, Dr K. Radhakrishnan could probably include these issues as well.

Rashmi S. Chari is a former Member of ERIC, MHRD, & former Director of Academics & Training, Bharatiya Shiksha Board (BSB).

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