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Leaking Future

The present paper leaks are a manifestation of misuse of technology, rather than misuse of State power. In most such instances, a copy of the question paper is obtained surreptitiously, much before the commencement of the examination, and is disseminated on social media to thousands of examinees within minutes.

Devendra Saksena |

According to reliable statistics, more than 30 lakh Government jobs are lying vacant. At the same time, the numbers of educated unemployed are burgeoning; according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, as of today, the unemployment rate for graduates and above is 17.79 per cent with more than ten million graduates being unemployed. 

The Government may have its own reasons, budgetary and otherwise, for not filling up vacant positions and hiring contractual workers instead, but such shortcuts result in poor service to the public and denial of respectable employment opportunities to youth. 

Whenever elections in northern States that provide the bulk of Government employees are announced, or when the clamour for jobs reaches a crescendo, high visibility preparations are made for bulk recruitment to lower-level Government posts. For example, the Railways announced a mega- recruitment drive in 2018; 2,83,747 vacancies were notified, for which more than 40 million applications were received and 1,32,000 appointments were made. The balance appointments have not been made even after four years; apparently, the recruitment drive fizzled out, after the conclusion of General Elections 2019 and Bihar Legislative Assembly Elections, 2020. 

The twists and turns in the recruitment process for 35,000 odd vacancies in Non-Technical Popular Categories (NTPC), for which around 12.5 million candidates had applied, are indicative of the way mega recruitment drives pan out. To recapitulate: Tests were conducted in late 2020 and early 2021, and results were declared in December 2021 and January 2022, after which, instead of being issued with appointment letters, candidates were told that the tests they had appeared in were the first stage and another round of tests was to follow, which led to massive protests in January-February 2022. The NTPC tests drew so much infamy that the National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd. wrote to the Railways, asking them not to use the abbreviation NTPC for their exam. 

Many questions remain unanswered. Most of the applicants were from poor backgrounds and vacancies were for lower Group C posts carrying paltry pay, so, should the recruitment process have been spread over three years with more than one level of testing? Should not the railways fill up their vacancies annually instead of having mega-recruitment drives? In light of the fact that the railways collected thousands of crores 0f rupees from applicants, by charging fees be- tween Rs 500 to Rs 2,500, should not the railways have hired some competent agency for conducting the recruitment test? 

The latest blight on the hopes of unemployed youth is leaked question papers of competitive examinations which delay the recruitment process indefinitely. The stakes are extremely high; young men and women eagerly wait for the Government to announce the commencement of recruitment for any Government post; more tellingly, the premium for the lowliest Government job runs into many lakhs of rupees. No examination seems to be untouched by this malaise, be it constable recruitment tests in Rajasthan and Himachal
Pradesh, the BPSC examination in Bihar or the head clerk examination in Gujarat; leaks are being reported regularly from almost all States, for all levels of examinations. Naturally, candidates feel cheated when recruitment tests are cancelled because of question paper leakages. 

Irregularities in Government recruitment are nothing new; a former Chief Minister of Haryana, Om Prakash Chautala, underwent ten years’ imprisonment for illegally recruiting more than three thousand junior basic teachers. A decade ago, the Chairman of the Punjab Public Service Commission was arrested for running an Rs100 crore job racket. Then there was the Constable Recruitment Scam in UP, in which around 22,500 constables were illegally recruited in UP Police during 2004-06. 

The single-member enquiry committee, appointed by the succeeding State Government, found that many successful candidates had actually failed in their written papers but their total marks had been increased in the cross sheets. Many candidates had used fake mark sheets and certificates to become eligible for appearing in the recruitment test. In a shocking dereliction of duty, interview boards had cleared hundreds of candidates after interviewing them only for a few seconds. In most cases, no explanation could be provided for such irregularities. The Committee concluded that the then Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, his brother Shivpal Singh Yadav and two ex-DGPs had masterminded the scam. The Committee recommended the dismissal of 18,000 illegally recruit- ed constables and the initiation of proceedings against more than 70 police officers including some IGs and DIGs. Ultimately, through court orders, the dismissed constables were reinstated, and after a change in Government, in which the alleged perpetrators came back to power, the scam was given a quiet burial. 

Similar was the denouement of the infamous Vyapam scam. To recapitulate: Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal), popularly known as “Vyapam,” is a self-financed autonomous body incorporated by the MP Government, which is responsible for conducting examinations for recruitment to Government jobs and admissions to educational institutes. After repeated complaints, investigations revealed that between 2009 to 2013, Vyapam officials, aided by politicians, had facilitated the commission of all kinds of malpractices e.g., employment of imposters to write papers, manipulation of examination hall seating arrangements and substitution of forged answer sheets for actual ones, to ensure selection of unworthy candidates. The enormity of the scam can be judged by the following; more than 2,000 people have been arrested, including the erstwhile Education Minister, and more than 40 persons connected with the scam have died unnatural deaths. 

However, the present paper leaks are a manifestation of misuse of technology, rather than misuse of State power. In most such instances, a copy of the question paper is obtained surreptitiously, much before the commencement of the examination, and is disseminated on social media to thousands of examinees within minutes. 

Endless variations depend- ing on the technical expertise of the scamsters have been tried. A young IPS officer, posted as an assistant superintendent of police, took a cell phone, a Bluetooth- enabled miniature camera in a shirt button and wireless earpieces into the UPSC examination hall; these devices were being used to communicate with his wife, who was sitting in a coaching institute. Surprisingly, this person had scored very high marks both in his Ethics paper and interview ~casting serious doubts on UPSC’s evaluation process. 

Another instance is of impostors in UP who cloned fingerprints of actual candidates on plastic, which were worn by impostors on their fingers. To be sure, not all such instances have been detected and there would be quite a few unworthy scamsters adorning Government offices. 

Leaking question papers have added another level of complication to the already complex Government recruitment process, bedevilled as it is by complicated rules and myriad quotas. Probably, the time has come to revamp and modernise the plethora of Government examining bodies which are still organised on outdated lines and which follow centuries-old procedures. Probably, Government bodies can emulate the IITs and IIMs that examine a large number of candidates for admission every year and have not been besmirched by any controversy so far. 

Looking at the problem from another perspective, question papers get leaked because of manual intervention at all stages. Right from paper setting, to paper moderation, to question paper delivery, all processes are manual and vulnerable to leakage. 

The best the authorities have done so far is to pass anti-copying laws and suspend the internet at examination venues, which is like trying to kill a mouse with a sledgehammer ~ with full chances of the mouse running away. Technological solutions to counter-question paper leakages may be required; several universities now do the entire paper setting and distribution process online on secure computers with the final question paper being provided at the examination centre in an encrypted format, maybe an hour before the examination. 

All candidates are required to be present in the examination hall half an hour before the commencement of the examination ~ the encryption key is shared at the examination centre only afterwards. 

Thereafter, the question paper is printed securely, silently without being displayed on the computer screen, minutes before the examination. Software that can detect mobile devices and flag exam-related conversations in the examination hall is used to discourage cheating. 

In the final step, marks obtained at the examination are analysed to detect anomalous trends, which would indicate cheating at certain centres or by certain candidates. The above procedure can provide a template for conducting public examinations. Definitely, it is time that Government examining bodies woke up and ensured that no more question papers were leaked.