July 3, 2024


Can the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act ensure India’s exam integrity?

(Image credit: Nawab Abrar’s X post)

The NEET and UGC-NET exam sagas have taken their toll. For years, news of paper leaks was treated as par for the course. It’s now come to a head. Students and parents have had enough. The government and the examination body are under the gun to fix things. The integrity of India’s examination system is at stake.

But what can be done? It seems the government has some answers. The Centre brought in the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act to curb leaks and organised malpractices across several entrance exams. Can such a criminal law tackle the issues at hand? Can they restore some sense of integrity to the exam system?


Modi 3.0 is off to a rocky start. The opposition is up in arms over paper leaks in the NEET and UGC examinations. This is obviously not the first paper leak that India has had to deal with. Last year, the Hindi question paper of the Telangana Secondary School Certificate (SSC) leaked and spread through WhatsApp. A school in Assam and a private college in Maharashtra also saw similar incidents. Throughout the years, incidents like this have become almost routine across several states.

In May, over 24 lakh students appeared for the NEET-UG exam in over 500 cities. When the results were declared on June 4, people began noticing irregularities – 67 students got a total score of 270, a higher percentage than last year when only two scored full marks; over 1,500 students were given grace marks. There were also allegations that the paper had leaked.

So, who’s in charge of conducting these exams? It’s the National Testing Agency (NTA). It was set up in 2017 and is an autonomous testing organisation tasked with conducting entrance exams for admissions to higher educational institutions. It conducts three top undergraduate entrance exams – JEE-Main for engineering, NEET-UG for medicine, and CUET-UG for other undergraduate courses.

On the postgraduate side, it conducts the UGC-NET for eligibility for junior research fellowships, appointments as assistant professors, and admissions to PhD programmes. It also conducts the CSIR UGC-NET for PhD admissions in Chemical Sciences, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, etc.

The NTA was under the spotlight, and the government decided to act. In the wake of the controversies, the Centre ordered a CBI probe into the leaks and removed Subodh Kumar Singh as the chief of the NTA. The NEET-PG exam was postponed as a precautionary measure.

It then notified The Public Examinations Act to curb malpractices and irregularities. It covers several unfair activities, including leaking question papers, tampering with answering sheets, creating fake websites, etc. It makes all these offences cognisable and non-bailable. The punishment includes a 3-5 year prison sentence and a fine of up to ₹10 lakh.

Will such a criminal law help? Does it go far enough?

VIEW: Good and necessary

Clearly, something needed to be done as the leaks controversy reached a boiling point. The main thing to know about the new laws is that they don’t target students. The law states that a candidate won’t be liable for action within its purview. The law rightly goes after the source – organised groups, mafia elements, and corrupt and complicit government officials. It’s been clear for a while that these are bad guys.

The law is also quite wide in its scope. It covers the UPSC, Railways and Banking entrance exams, the CUET, NEET, and JEE. Moreover, all computer-based exams conducted by the NTA are also covered. The Act can also accommodate other agencies as required through a notification by the Centre. The 3-5 year prison sentence applies to a lone wolf, but if there are provable links to organised crime, that goes up to 10 years.

The Act has 10 sections divided into 6 chapters with wide-ranging details on several ways to prevent unfair practices in public exams. It’s quite inclusive also. For example, unfair means include things ranging from leaking question papers and violating security measures to tampering with computer systems. It also includes details like changing seating arrangements in the exam centre.

COUNTERVIEW: Won’t be of much help

We know that stricter laws with harsher punishments don’t have much effect. Eight states already have laws to prevent paper leaks and other malpractices. That hasn’t stopped the leaks. In the past five years, we’ve seen paper leaks in over 40 recruitment exams across 15 states. The CBI is currently probing leaks dating back to 2018 and 2021. Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh passed laws in 1998 and 1997, respectively. It hasn’t amounted to much.

A new law is well and good, but it’s not going to be the saviour. Capital punishment hasn’t stopped crimes. While the laws might not stop paper leaks, it’s about the target. There’s obviously money involved in these cases, and that’s where authorities should be looking. The NTA doesn’t have the best track record either. Why give one single agency all the responsibility of conducting exams? There are also questions about how the NTA’s papers are set and who sets them.

Some experts, while welcoming the law, have outlined its inadequacy. It doesn’t address the cybercrime aspect of all this. It’s the primary way criminals operate to execute these leaks. More often than not, they’re one step ahead of law enforcement. They exist in the dark web – a vast, self-contained network of sites that aren’t indexed online. It becomes quite tricky in this instance to trace the origin of leaks and the law isn’t equipped to tackle this.

Reference Links:

  • List of major paper leaks in India in the last 10 years – Deccan Herald
  • How The New Law Aims To Curb Question Paper Leaks In Public Exams – NDTV
  • Ensure strict implementation: Students on proposed anti-paper leak law in UP – India Today
  • Experts urge fixes to new exam law – The New Indian Express
  • Examining Public Examinations (Prevention Of Unfair Means) Act: Does It Pass Critical Lens? – Live Law
  • Will stricter laws prevent paper leaks? – Scroll
  • Quick audit of the new law against exam cheats – The New Indian Express

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act will ensure India’s exam integrity.

b) The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act won’t ensure India’s exam integrity.


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