Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024
Feb. 6, 2024

Why in news?

  • Union minister Jitendra Singh introduced the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024 in the Lok Sabha.
  • The bill mandates a maximum jail term of 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 1 crore for malpractices and irregularities in competitive examinations.

What’s in today’s article?

  • News Summary

News Summary: Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024

  • The government tabled the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill in the Lok Sabha to check malpractices and irregularities in competitive examinations

Background against which the bill has been brought

  • About
    • The bill comes in the backdrop of a cancellation of a series of competitive tests such as:
      • the 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.
  • Statistics
    • As per various reports, more than 1.5 crore students have been affected by paper leaks from 2016 to 2023.
    • More than 70 cases of question paper leaks have occurred in the same period.
    • At least a dozen recruitment drives have been cancelled owing to paper leaks in the state between 2018 and February 2023.
    • Since 2014, 615 accused have been arrested in connection with 33 cases of government recruitment paper leaks.
  • No specific substantive law
    • At present, there is no specific law to deal with unfair means adopted or offences committed by various entities involved in the conduct of public examinations by the central government and its agencies.

Key highlights of the bill

  • Objective
    • The objective of the Bill is:
      • to bring greater transparency, fairness and credibility to the public examination systems and
      • to reassure the youth that their sincere and genuine efforts will be fairly rewarded and their future is safe.
  • Applicability
    • The bill is applicable to central recruitment and entrance exams conducted by:
      • the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC),
      • Staff Selection Commission (SSC),
      • Railway Recruitment Boards (RRBs),
      • Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS), and
      • National Testing Agency (NTA).
        • The NTA conducts exams for admission to higher educational institutions, like the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for engineering, National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medical, and Common University Entrance Test (CUET) for undergraduate and post-graduate studies.
      • Apart from these designated public examination authorities, all central ministries and departments, as well as their offices for recruitment, will also come under the purview of the new law.
  • Does not target students
    • The Bill provides punishment for persons, organised groups or institutions indulging in unfair means for monetary or wrongful gains.
    • However, candidates appearing for the exams have been left out of its purview.
      • Candidate shall continue to be covered under the extant administrative provisions of the public examination authority concerned.
  • Punishments
    • The bill mandates a three-to-five-year prison term for involvement in paper leak cases.
    • However, in cases where a link to organised crime is proven it calls for a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
    • It imposes a fine of Rs 1 crore and recovering the cost of conducting examinations from firms.
    • It says a firm also may be barred from conducting public exams for years in case of a conviction.
  • Defines unfair means
    • Section 3 of the Bill defines unfair means.
    • It proposes 20 offences and unfair means including impersonation, manipulation of answer sheets and tampering with documents.
  • Nature of offences
    • Section 9 of the bill states that all offences shall be cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.
  • Investigation
    • The bill proposes that officers not under the rank of deputy superintendent of police or assistant commissioner of police must head up such matters.
    • The government under the bill also holds the power to send the probe to a Central agency.
    • In essence, this frees up to the police to act on its own and arrest suspects without a warrant.
  • High-level national technical committee on public examinations
    • Th bill proposes the formation of a high-level national technical committee on public examinations that will make recommendations to make the computerised examination process more secure.
    • The committee shall look into developing protocols for
      • insulating digital platforms,
      • devising ways and means for developing foolproof IT security systems,
      • ensuring electronic surveillance of examination centres and
      • formulating national standards and services for both IT and physical infrastructure to be deployed for conduct of such examinations.
  • Model draft for states
    • While the provisions will be binding for central public examination authorities, it will serve as a model draft for states.