Preserving Fairness: Insights into the 2024 Exam Integrity Bill

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Preserving Fairness: Insights into the 2024 Exam Integrity Bill

On February 15, 2024, President Droupadi Murmu gave her assent to the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, marking a significant step towards upholding the integrity of public examinations conducted by various governmental bodies. This legislation, having passed through both houses of Parliament during the recent Budget session, addresses the pressing issue of unfair practices plaguing examinations conducted by entities such as the Union Public Service Commission, Staff Selection Commission, Railway Recruitment Board, National Testing Agency, and other central government departments.

Unfair means, as outlined in the bill, encompass a range of activities detrimental to the integrity of examinations. These include unauthorized access to question papers or answer keys, providing assistance to candidates during exams, tampering with computer networks, orchestrating fake examinations, issuing counterfeit admit cards and offer letters, among others.

Key Provisions of the Bill:

  1. Punishment for Cheating: Individuals caught attempting to cheat in public examinations now face stringent penalties, including imprisonment ranging from six months to two years, along with fines ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 5 lakh.
  2. Ban from Taking Any Tests: Those found guilty of engaging in unfair practices are subject to a ban from appearing in any national or state-level examination for a period of six months to a lifetime, depending on the severity of the misconduct. This ban extends to professional course entrance tests as well.
  3. Applicability to Exam Officials & Coaches: The legislation extends accountability beyond students to include chief invigilators, independent representatives, paper setters, and solution providers. These individuals may also face imprisonment for up to two years and fines for abetting cheating through leaks of question papers, answer keys, or other illegal collaborations.
  4. Authorized Test Conducting Entities: The bill encompasses all physical mode examinations conducted by the National Testing Agency and various other testing bodies operating state and national-level eligibility tests.

Current Realities Addressed:

  1. Addressing Digital Age Grey Areas: The legislation aims to address emerging ethical misconduct facilitated by technological advancements such as spy cameras, earpieces, and online remote assistance, which have undermined the credibility of academic assessments.
  2. Curbing Coaching Mafia Menace: Additionally, the bill seeks to deter the activities of coaching mafias involved in facilitating cheating through imposters, solvers, or collusion with corrupt insiders.

Challenges in Implementation:

  1. Monitoring Infrastructure Overhaul Needed: While the legislation establishes robust deterrence measures, there is a recognized need for significant upgrades in monitoring infrastructure and protocols. This includes the implementation of surveillance analytics, data mining, biometrics, and forensic technologies for nationwide enforcement.
  2. Concerns Over Ambiguous Provisions: Educational experts have raised concerns regarding certain ambiguous provisions, such as the imprisonment of minors and the applicability to teachers. Clarity and guidance are deemed necessary to prevent over-policing and safeguard student welfare.

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