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‘Craze for Sarkari job and the plague of paper leaks’: How major exam mismanagement cases haunt some states, seeding dissatisfaction among youth

Public test papers are being illegally released and leaked at a rate that the elderly founding fathers of India's education system could never have imagined. Such leaks have a negative influence on the brand value of some well-known public institutions, compromising their reputations and the future potential of their otherwise talented students.

India’s public examination system has enjoyed widespread recognition and admiration on a national and international level for a number of decades. It has been characterized as clean, fair, and strong allowing capable students to secure greater positions and build a solid life. Public exam tests and competitive and intense and Indian students have always performed admirably, even passing the Graduate Record Examinations (GREs) to get admission into universities in New York and Canada. 

In other words, India’s examination system, which is a cornerstone of the educational structure, is diverse. In recent years, however, things appear to have deteriorated. Public test papers are being illegally released and leaked at a rate that the elderly founding fathers of India’s education system could never have imagined.

No institution appears exempt from IIT entrance exams and pre-medical entry NEET to mid-term school papers in Punjab and constable recruitment in Haryana. Unfortunately, such leaks have a negative influence on the brand value of some well-known public institutions, compromising their reputations and the future potential of their otherwise talented students.

The latest happening to recall is the ongoing NEET UG-2024 controversy in which the concerned authorities had to explain that the sanctity of the medical exam test had not been compromised though 63 students used unfair means to get through the exam.

NEET UG 2024 controversy: NTA says no papers were leaked

The saga began on 4th June after the National Testing Agency (NTA) declared the results of the recently conducted NEET UG-24 exams.

A plea was filed against the NTA stating that grace marks were awarded to 1563 students who appeared for the NEET exam on May 5th. As per the plea, these grace marks aided some of the students to secure top ranks, also scoring 718 or 719 out of 720 which is technically impossible, given the negative marking system. Further around 67 students are said to have scored 720/720. The plea demanded a thorough investigation of the case, risking the futures of around 24 lakhs who appeared for the exam across 4750 centres in India.

Students protesting (Image- India Today)

Notably, on Thursday (13th June), the Centre informed the Supreme Court that it had cancelled the decision to award grace marks to 1563 candidates who appeared for NEET UG-2024. The Centre also said that these 1563 students had the option to appear for a re-test or go ahead without the grace marks, which will be held on 23 June. Meanwhile, several petitions have been filed to the SC claiming paper leaks and a significant increase in high scores. However, the NTA clarified that no papers were leaked though 63 cases were found who used unfair means to get through the examination.

It is noteworthy that one of the most popular poll perspectives nowadays is the problem of paper leaks in India’s central regions. The results of the Lok Sabha election in 2024 have highlighted several issues with political parties’ social engineering initiatives. This exemplifies how the frequently shared issues of youth employment and education can unexpectedly come to the forefront of politics. For young voters between the ages of 18 and 25, exam paper leaks and frauds in areas like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar have been a big problem.

41 paper leaks in 15 states in the last 5 years

A report by The Indian Express confirms that 41 paper leaks over the last five years in 15 states have affected around 1.4 crore job hopefuls who applied for over one lakh positions. It is important to understand why this has led to stress and disappointment among young voters, especially when examinations continue to be rescheduled and recruitment for state-level government posts remains postponed.

Standardized testing, when used to administer large-scale exams, is widely considered a reliable method in the educational setting. The idea is well-known throughout the world for how well it works to cut down on time and administer exams utilizing standard scoring guidelines to applicants to universities.

Without much consideration, the standardized testing model is used in recruiting processes due to its ability to analyze a large number of candidates in a short period. Unlike any other testing method, the standardized exam groups the candidate with a wide cohort of people who may have prepared differently but nevertheless show up and compete for a set number of jobs. This recruitment approach is employed by the state public service commissions to fill positions ranging from entry-level data operators to college and school teachers. However, preparedness for applicants from remote rural backgrounds and underprivileged groups is hampered by loans incurred to pay application fees, coaching centers, computer training facilities, and rent.

Representative Image- BBC

With the news of question paper leaks and exam cancellations, the arduous process of creating a dream can swiftly turn into disaster.

Few recent incents of paper leaks in India

UP Police Constable recruitment exam paper leak led to 400 arrests

In 2024, question paper leaks affected three key competitive exams for government posts in Uttar Pradesh. The most recent addition to this list was the UP police constable recruitment exam, which was held in February and had over 48 lakh people apply.

The Uttar Pradesh Police Constable recruitment exam, scheduled for February 17 and 18, 2024, was canceled due to claims of paper leaks. Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, later announced that a re-examination would take place within six months. The leak led to 400 arrests across UP and six states, with 12 FIRs filed. 

CTET exam 2024 leaked

In January this year, the Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET) exam 2024 was conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). This national-level exam is administered twice a year to verify candidates’ eligibility to teach in CBSE-affiliated schools. However, shortly after the CTET January 2024 exam was completed, various complaints were made about the question paper being leaked. Candidates flocked to social media platforms such as Twitter to complain that the CTET 2024 question paper was leaked just minutes before the exam began.

According to various candidates, the CTET paper leak in 2024 occurred for both Paper 1 and Paper 2. Paper 1 is for applicants who want to teach classes 1–5, and Paper 2 is for those who want to teach classes 6–8. Candidates stated that the entire question paper was leaked via WhatsApp and other channels.

HSLC exam paper leaked in Assam

The English question paper for the High School Leaving Certificate (HSLC) Exam 2024 was leaked in Dhubri, Assam in February. The leaked question paper, apparently from Jaruar Char Public High School, surfaced just as students began their exams, adding to the region’s long series of exam-related scandals. This incident marks yet another breach in the security of matriculation examinations.

Image- India Today NE

UP Class 12th board exams 2024 paper leaked

The question papers for the Uttar Pradesh Class 12th board exams 2024, which include subjects such as Mathematics and Biology, were leaked over WhatsApp. The maths and biology question papers for the Uttar Pradesh class 12th board exam were purportedly circulated on a WhatsApp group an hour after they began in March this year. Dinesh Kumar, the District Inspector of Schools (DIOS) for Agra, had then filed a complaint with the police at Fatehpur Sikri.

Image- Amar Ujala

In 2023, several paper leak incidents struck India’s educational sector, affecting Telangana, Maharashtra, Assam, and Rajasthan. The instances highlighted systemic weaknesses, including leaked question papers for SSC and HSC exams as well as recruitment tests for government professionals such as assistant engineers and elementary teachers.

Telangana SSC paper leak 2023

The Hindi question paper was leaked during the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination in Kamalapur village, Hanamkonda district (formerly Warangal district), in 2023. The leaked material immediately spread on social media, mainly WhatsApp, raising concerns among education officials and the district collector. An investigation was immediately set up to determine the scope of the leak and identify those responsible for the breach.

TSPSC Assistant Engineer exam paper leak

In March 2023, the Telangana State Public Service Commission (TSPSC) noticed a question paper leak for the Assistant Engineer recruitment exam. This unfortunate situation resulted in the cancelation of the March 5th, 2023 exam for posts such as Assistant Engineer (AE), Municipal Assistant Engineer (MAE), Technical Officer (TO), and Junior Technical Officer.

As a result, candidates who took the compromised exam were disappointed and unclear about the status of their applications, raising questions about exam security and fairness in the recruiting process.

Image- South India First news

Assam HSLC 2023 paper leak

The Secondary Education Board of Assam (SEBA) was compelled to cancel the High School Leaving Certificate (HSLC) exams for English and General Science in March 2023 due to a set of leaked question papers. Minister of Education Ranoj Pegu then immediately requested a CID probe into the incident. However, the details of the CID investigation and its findings remain undisclosed to the public.

Maharashtra HSC paper leak

In March 2023, a private institution in Maharashtra was implicated in the leak of the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) Mathematics paper, raising worries about the examination’s integrity. Subsequent investigations by Mumbai police revealed evidence indicating that the college had also compromised the Chemistry and Physics examinations. The leaks, widely believed to be coordinated to assist associated students, involved the exchange of question papers over WhatsApp shortly before each examination, giving those who got them an unfair advantage.

The leaks occurred around an hour before each exam, allowing college students to gain access to the compromised question papers. This immoral conduct not only harmed the credibility of the testing system but also raised concerns about the security mechanisms in place to prevent similar instances in the future.

REET 2023 paper leak

The Rajasthan Subordinate and Ministerial Services Selection Board (RSMSSB) administered the Rajasthan Eligibility for Elementary Teachers (REET) test on February 25, 2023. However, claims of a document leak occurred the same day, raising significant concerns. The leak apparently occurred before the exam’s morning session began, causing a group in Jodhpur to be apprehended while solving the compromised paper. The police then arrested the persons implicated, forcing the Rajasthan Police to conduct an inquiry into the source and length of the leak.

Candidates who had painstakingly prepared for the REET exam faced the risk of unfair competition as a result of the leak, emphasizing the importance of severe procedures to protect the evaluation system’s legitimacy.

Govt order regarding REET paper leak (TOI)

Impact of Frequent Paper Leaks in India and probable steps to stop leaks

Students from remote rural areas and marginalized castes are disproportionately affected due to such incidents of frequent paper leaks since they are burdened with debts incurred to pay for application fees, coaching centers, computer training centers, and rent. The cancellation of exams has also increased student exhaustion and unease about another batch of applicants joining the queue.

The cancelation of recruitment procedures further exacerbates the spiraling of issues in an already scarce job market. The postponing and cancelation of exams owing to paper leaks disrupt academic calendars and cause anxiety for students. The regular paper leaks also cause students to lose faith in the fairness and meritocracy of tests, raising issues about the value of their efforts and education.

Representative Image- India TV

In order to address the rising issue, an act Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024 has been introduced to reassure the youth that their sincere and genuine efforts for the public examinations will be fairly rewarded. The act aims to bring greater transparency, fairness, and credibility in the public examinations system. Also, a National Testing Agency (NTA) body has been formed to make the examination system more scientific, reliable, and professional.

For each paper leak instance, the question that needs to be asked is what must be the reimbursement for years of labor, excessive financial costs, and the emotional toll borne by lakhs of candidates who place all their hopes in the exam. Young people’s dreams and time invested in acing recruitment examinations are priceless. Their opportunity to secure a government position through these tests also represents their chance at generational mobility. The substantial planning that goes into exam preparation must also be taken into account. This includes moving to cities to attend coaching programs, accepting jobs that do not align with one’s educational background and skill set, and setting up alternate sources of income.

Youth dissatisfaction and concern become worse because of the inaction and absence of suitable steps to stop the leaks. Given the numerous shifts and the involvement of a network of business entities, such as printing presses, coaching centers, and consulting firms, the lack of a reliable and transparent exam administration system is an issue that needs to be carefully considered. The government should consider whether it is beneficial to assign specific task forces to look into the organized use of unfair means in examinations, even after passing the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) 2024.

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Siddhi Somani
Siddhi Somani
Siddhi Somani is known for her satirical and factual hand in Economic, Social and Political writing. Having completed her post graduation in Journalism, she is pursuing her Masters in Politics. The author meanwhile is also exploring her hand in analytics and statistics. (Twitter- @sidis28)

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