February 9, 2024


Will the Anti-Cheating Bill be effective?

(Image credit: Naba1224, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Competitive exams are tough. They require a lot of preparation and dedication, sometimes for years. Then, it can all come undone with just one paper leak. An individual or a handful of them just has to cause some trouble for the whole thing to unravel and leave tens of thousands despondent.

To ensure things like paper leaks don’t happen, the Lok Sabha recently passed the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill. There is a list of provisions that we’ll get into, but the main focus is to punish people or groups that deliberately leak question papers or answer keys. That includes a hefty fine and jail time. The question is, will this piece of legislation actually prevent leakages?


India is home to a diverse education system that offers students the opportunities to pursue different disciplines. Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift in India’s demographic landscape. It’s now the most populous country in the world by some accounts, and over half the population is under 30.

On one hand, that’s a lot of people in the talent pool and on the other, sluggish employment. Job opportunities haven’t been able to keep up with the increasing demand. That means millions are unemployed. It has sparked an interesting trend – more people seeking government jobs.

There has been another trend over the years, but it’s a disturbing one – exam paper leaks. For some, it’s the gravest crisis that the public examination faces. Nothing is off limits, from IIT entrance tests to pre-medical entrance NEET exams to constable recruitment exams in some states. According to some estimates, over 1.5 crore students have been affected by paper leaks. In the past seven years, some data showed 70 cases of question paper leaks across India.

Last year, the Telangana Public Service Commission (TPSC) question paper leak affected over 25,000 students. The TPSC paper for Junior Engineer Town Planning was leaked, and the exam was cancelled. Students were outraged and demanded TPSC chairman Janardhan Reddy’s resignation. Rajasthan is another state that’s notorious for leaks. Between 2015 and 2023, there were over 14 cases in various competitive exams.

The modus operandi is usually an individual or a group acquiring the paper and then selling it for large sums of money through the Internet or WhatsApp. It reaches many students in a matter of minutes. Those involved sometimes include government officials, teachers, and printing press personnel.

The issue has become political. In Rajasthan, the BJP used several paper leaks to target the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government. In one rally, Modi accused the Congress of “selling papers of all government exams”. In Telangana, the cancellation of the Telangana State Public Services Commission (TSPSC) exam led to Rahul Gandhi criticising the K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) government.

These instances over the years led to the Centre introducing and passing the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill. It covers recruitment exams administered by various bodies like the UPSC, Railway Recruitment Boards, Staff Selection Committees, etc. It has provisions that cover various public exams and deal with malpractices with a maximum jail term of 10 years and a fine of up to ₹1 crore. Will it work?

VIEW: The right step forward

Given how public competitive exams in the country were like a sieve, legislation was the obvious step forward. One of the most important aspects of the Bill is it takes into account the welfare of students. Exam cancellations are a heavy burden on students who’ve prepared for years. Per the Bill, in cases where an exam is cancelled, efforts will be made for a re-exam as soon as possible.

One of the other important aspects of the Bill is that it has been strategically designed to target organised groups and mafia elements who’ve often been the masterminds behind exam paper leaks. Students are unaffected by legal repercussions. Apart from punitive measures, there’s a forward-looking approach with the proposal for a high-level national technical committee on public exams. It’ll look to develop and implement security protocols for online exams.

The relatively broad scope of cheating ensures that no one goes unpunished. It designates things like creating fake websites or conducting fraudulent exams as offences. The overall goal is to effectively and legally deter people, groups, and institutions from indulging in ways that adversely impact the public exam system for monetary gain.

COUNTERVIEW: Not good enough

If you’re going to successfully combat cheating in competitive exams through legislation, there needs to be a multifaceted approach. No single solution is going to be perfect or 100% effective. Some states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have their own anti-cheating laws. The effectiveness of these laws has been the subject of debate. Is imprisonment the appropriate response? It could affect candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds coerced into committing the crime.

While the Bill’s intentions are good, precedent shows that the police are only able to catch the small players involved. Given leaks happen in things like Army exams, higher officials are often involved and remain untouched. You’ve got to look at paper leaks as an organised crime and not a series of isolated incidents. If you treat officers and employees of the system as public servants and protect them from legal proceedings, as the Bill states, then the Bill gets diluted.

The Bill doesn’t lay out a strict timeline for reexaminations. If that gets dragged on, many applicants might not sit for their next attempt. The Bill won’t be effective unless the bureaucrats implementing it do their moral duty. The issue is systematic, but the Bill doesn’t get that. Also, as more people see government jobs as an assured route to upward mobility, that pie has been shrinking. The demand-supply gap is fertile ground for exam fixers.

Reference Links:

  • Exam paper leaks: Mounting cases, aspirants affected, parties have made it an election issue – The Indian Express
  • Students hit with over 70 paper leak cases in 7 years – The Sunday Guardian
  • Bill to tackle exam malpractices introduced in Lok Sabha – Times of India
  • Anti-cheating law – Youth needs an enabling environment – The Indian Express
  • LS Passes ‘Anti-Cheating’ Bill: Will It Curtail Paper Leaks in Govt Job Exams? – The Quint

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

a) The Anti-Cheating Bill will be effective.

b) The Anti-Cheating Bill won’t be effective.


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