Recently, the Lok Sabha has passed the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, aimed at curbing malpractices and organized cheating in government recruitment exams.

Background of the Bill:

The bill was introduced in response to the frequent cancellation of competitive tests, such as: 

  • Teacher Recruitment Exam in Rajasthan;
  • Common Eligibility Test (CET) for Group-D posts in Haryana; 
  • Recruitment Exam for junior clerks in Gujarat and 
  • Constable recruitment examination in Bihar following question paper leaks.

Data on Paper Leak:

  • In the past years, it is approximated that over 15 million students have faced the repercussions of numerous instances of question paper leaks occurring in different states.
  • There have been over 70 occurrences of question paper leaks across the country during the past years, significantly impacting the prospects of hundreds of thousands of students. 

No specific law: Currently, there is no specific substantive law addressing unfair means or offences related to the conduct of public examinations by the central government and its agencies.

Key features of the Bill:

  • The Bill seeks to prevent the use of unfair means in public examinations. 

Public examinations refer to examinations conducted by authorities specified under the Schedule to 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, and
  • Departments of the central government and their attached offices for recruitment.

Offences about public examinations:

It prohibits collusion or conspiracy to facilitate indulgence in any unfair means. It specifies unfair means to include:

  • unauthorised access or leakage of question paper or answer key,
  • assisting a candidate during a public examination,
  • tampering with computer networks or resources
  • tampering with documents for shortlisting or finalising of merit list or rank, and
  • conducting fake examinations, issuing fake admit cards or offering letters to cheat, for monetary gain.

It also prohibits:

  • disclosing exam-related confidential information before time, and
  • unauthorised people from entering exam centres to create disruptions.

Above offences will be punishable with imprisonment between three and five years, and a fine up to Rs 10 lakh.

Responsibilities of service providers:

In the event of a violation of provisions of the Bill, service providers must report to the police and the concerned examination authority. Failure to report such incidents will be an offence.

In case, the service providers themselves commit an offence, the examination authority must report it to the police.  The Bill prohibits service providers from shifting the exam centre without permission from the examination authority.

An offence by a service provider will be punishable with a fine of up to one crore rupees.  The proportionate cost of examination will also be recovered from such a service provider.  Further, they will also be barred from conducting public examinations for four years.

  • If it is established that offences involving service providers were committed with the consent or connivance of any Director, senior management, or persons in charge of the service providers, such persons will be held personally liable.
  • They will be punished with imprisonment between three years and 10 years, and a fine of one crore rupees.

Organised crimes:

  • The Bill specifies a higher punishment for organised crimes.
  • Persons committing an organised crime will be punished with imprisonment between five years and 10 years, and a fine of at least one crore rupees.
  • If an institution is held guilty of committing an organised crime, its property will be attached and forfeited, and a proportionate cost of the examination will also be recovered from it.

Inquiry and investigation:

  • All offences under the Bill will be cognisable, non-bailable, and non-compoundable.
  • No action will count as an offence if it is proved that the accused had exercised due diligence.
  • An officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police will investigate the offences under the Act.
  • The central government may transfer the investigation to any central investigating agency.

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INS Sandhayak