A silver lining amidst chaos

The Public Examinations Act, 2024 is a welcome step towards curbing the use of unfair means that sabotage the future of candidates undergoing the grueling process of job-centric exams

A silver lining amidst chaos

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

--Henry Ford

With the ringing alarms in the early hours of the day, an aspirant starts his day. This world is full of competition, right from getting admission into a school to getting a job, a person has to face fierce competition. It is rightly said, it is the fight of the fittest, if at any time you feel weak, the same moment you are out of the race.

Each year, lakhs of aspirants give various competitive exams conducted by public examination authority for entrance to universities, for jobs and so on. An aspirant not only has the baggage of fear for clearing the examination but also of the expectation of the family, society and peer pressure. After a few attempts, if the candidate is unsuccessful, at times, he is criticised for his discussion or blamed for not being serious, without realising how difficult it is accepting the failure and restarting the journey again. The pressure on the minds of the aspirants is so high that there are cases where even the candidates have committed suicide. It is an aspirant only who can understand the pain of preparing dedicatedly for an examination and then reading the news informing that the examination has been cancelled due to an alleged unfair means used by someone. To deal with such cases, where unfair means have been used in a public examination, the Government of India has brought the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act 2024.

The Act of 2024 aims to prevent unfair means in the public examination. Section 3 of the said Act elaborately discusses the term ‘unfair means’. It is an inclusive definition which gives scope to add other parameters which may be termed as unfair in the due course. The definition is wide in itself to include acts of leaking the question paper or answer keys, in any way tampering with the Optical Marks Recognition response sheet (commonly known as OMR), assisting any candidate unauthorisedly, tampering with any document relevant for selection of the candidate, manipulating the seating plans, dates or shifts of the examination. The definition also includes acts of threatening life or liberty or wrongfully restraining the persons associated with the examination. Since some of the examinations are now conducted online using computer resources, the Act of 2024 also covers tampering of computer networks or resources engaged in the conduct of examination. Moving a step ahead, the Act of 2024 covers creating fake websites or conducting fake examinations, issuing fake admit cards or offer letters under the definition of unfair means.

Section 2(1)(a) of the Act defines the term candidate as, “a person who has been granted permission by the public service examination authority to appear in public examination and includes a person authorised to act as a scribe on his behalf in the public examination”, while Section 2(1)(k) defines the term public examination, as, “any examination conducted by the public examination authority as specified in the Schedule or conducted by such authority as may be notified by the Central Government.”. Also, Section 2(1)(l) defines Public Examination

Authority as, “an authority specified by the Central Government by a notification, from time to time for conducting public examination.”

Section 5 of the Act of 2024 discusses the provisions relating to disruption in conducting the public examination wherein it disallows any person not connected with the conduct of public examination to enter any place reserved for the conduct of examination and also disallows the persons who has been authorised to access the place for conducting examination to break open the seal of question paper before time or in any way attempt to leak the question paper or its related documents.

As per Section 9 of the Act of 2024, all offences under this act are cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable (cognisable offences are offences where the police has powers to investigate and arrest without the orders of the court, non-compoundable offences are offences which cannot be compromised). Section 10 of the Act gives the punishment for offences under this Act (for using unfair means and other offences). The punishment prescribed under the Act is an imprisonment for a term not less than three years but which may extend to five years and fine up-to Rs 10 lakh. In case of a service provider committing an offence, the fine imposed would be up-to one crore rupees and proportionate cost of the conduct of examination, further debarring him for a period of four years from any responsibility of conducting an examination. If the offence is committed on the connivance of a Director or in-charge of the service provider firm, he will be punished with imprisonment for a term not less than three years but which may extend to ten years and with a fine of one crore rupees. In the case of organised crimes where a person or a group indulge in conspiracy for resorting to unfair means, the punishment as per Section 11 of the Act would be an imprisonment for a term not less than five years but which may extend to ten years and with fine which shall not be less than Rs 1 crore.

The investigation for offences under the Act would be conducted by an officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police or Assistant Commissioner of Police, and the Central Government has the power to refer investigation to any Central Investigating Agency. The Central Government has been given powers to make rules to carry out the provisions of this Act and to further remove any difficulties arising in implementation of the Act. The provisions of this Act are in addition to, and not in derogation to, any other law in force.

The Public Examinations (Prevention Of Unfair Means) Act 2024 is a welcome step by the Central Government which will be very beneficial for the aspirants. The pressure of the examination is only understood by the aspirant sitting in the examination hall. His pen knows the burden he has while appearing and writing the examination. Not everyone is fortunate enough to spend a considerable amount on coaching or take attempts to clear the examination. Though hard work is an irreplaceable parameter in preparations, luck also plays a very important role in competitive examinations. Also at times, the candidate exceeds the prescribed age limit due to the delay caused by such acts in the examination process. To fail in an attempt is one aspect but to fail as the examination process was compromised due to unfair means is a completely different aspect. This Act would be helpful for the aspirants to have trust that the examination process is pure and free from any bias or irregularity.

Views expressed are personal

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