Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024

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  • Context (IE I TH I LM): The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, (PEB) was introduced in Lok Sabha.
  • At present, there is no specific law to deal with unfair means adopted or offences committed during Public examinations.

Why is a comprehensive law need of the hour?

  • The leaks derailed the schedules of 1.4 crore applicants.
  • More than 70 cases of question paper leaks have occurred in the period from 2016-23.
  • Malpractices in public examinations lead to delays and cancellation of examinations, adversely impacting the prospects of youth.
  • In most cases, months and years have gone by without action and accountability.
  • Various state governments have introduced their legislation and ordinances, but the laws have not been effective in curbing the malpractice.

Exam leaks in India data

Objective of the Bill

  • To bring greater transparency, fairness and credibility to the public examination systems.
  • To fairly reward and reassure youth as per their sincere and genuine efforts.
  • Legally deterring persons, organised groups or institutions that indulge in various unfair means and adversely impact the public examination systems for monetary or wrongful gain.
  • The Bill will serve the vital function of being a model draft for States to adopt at their discretion.

Provisions of the Bill

Unfair Means- Offences in relation to public examinations

  • The Bill lists 15 actions as unfair means. These acts include:
    1. Leakage of question paper or answer crucial or part thereof and colluding in such leakage;
    2. Taking possession of question paper or an OMR sheet without authority;
    3. Tampering with answer sheets, including Optical Mark Recognition response sheets;
    4. Providing a solution to questions by any unauthorised person during a public examination;
    5. Directly or indirectly assisting the candidate in a public examination.
    6. Creation of fake websites to cheat or for monetary gain.

Public examinations

  • A “public examination” is any examination conducted by:
    1. A “Public examination authority” listed in the Schedule of the Bill or
    2. Any “such other authority as may be notified by the GOI”.
  • The schedule lists five public examination authorities:
    1. Union Public Service Commission (UPSC),
    2. Staff Selection Commission (SSC),
    3. Railway Recruitment Boards (RRBs),
    4. Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS) and
    5. National Testing Agency (NTA).
  • Departments of the GoI and attached offices for recruitment will also come under the new law.

Service provider

  • Definition: Any agency, organisation, and provider of support of any computer resource “which is engaged by the public examination authority for conduct of public examination”.

Responsibilities of service providers

  • Service providers must report to the police and the concerned examination authority in the event of a violation of provisions of the Bill.
  • Failure to report such incidents will be an offence.
  • Service providers are prohibited from shifting the exam centre without permission from the examination authority.

Candidate

  • A person who has been granted permission by the public examination authority to appear in a public examination
  • It also includes a person authorised to act as a scribe on his behalf in the public examination.
  • He/she shall not be liable for action under the proposed legislation.

High-level national technical committee on public examinations

  • To make recommendations on making the computerised examination process more secure.
  • The committee shall look into developing protocols for
    1. Insulating digital platforms,
    2. Devising ways and means for developing foolproof IT security systems,
    3. Ensuring electronic surveillance of examination centres and
    4. Formulating national standards and services for both IT and physical infrastructure to be deployed for the conduct of such examinations.

Punishment and Penalty

  • Punishment for “any person or persons resorting to unfair means and offences” can be three to five years in prison and a fine up to Rs 10 lakh.
    • If the convict fails to pay the fine, “an additional punishment of imprisonment shall be imposed, as per the provisions of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023.
  • PEB makes “threatening the life, liberty or wrongfully restraining persons associated with the public examination authority or the service provider or any authorised agency of the government; or obstructing the conduct of a public examination” as a punishable offence.
  • PEB bars any person who is not entrusted with the work pertaining to the public examination or its conduct or who is not a candidate from entering the premises of the examination centre with the intent to disrupt the conduct of the test.

Service Provider

  • An offence by a service provider will be punishable with a fine of up to one crore rupees.
  • 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.

Organised crimes

  • It is defined as an unlawful act committed by a person or a group of persons to further a shared interest for wrongful gain in relation to public examinations.
  • The Bill specifies a higher punishment for organised crimes-
    1. Individual: Imprisonment up to five and ten years; A fine of at least one crore rupees.
    2. Institution: Property will be forfeited; A proportionate cost of the examination is to be recovered from the Institution.

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 GoI may transfer the investigation to any central investigating agency.
  • An arrest can be made without a warrant, and bail will not be a matter of right; instead, a magistrate will determine whether the accused is fit to be released on bail.
  • A non-compoundable offence is one in which the case cannot be withdrawn by the complainant even when the complainant and the accused have reached a compromise, and a trial must necessarily follow.
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