Keeping up with UP | Can Yogi bulldozers save the future of students from paper? - Hindustan Times

Keeping up with UP | Can Yogi bulldozers save the future of students from paper leaks?

BySunita Aron
Mar 02, 2024 10:16 PM IST

Kalyan Singh was the first to bring a law on copying in 1992, which was abolished after students were handcuffed, writes Sunita Aron@overto

As the then Uttar Pradesh education minister, Rajnath Singh had introduced the Anti-Copying Act in 1992, making the use of unfair means in examinations a non-bailable cognizable offence.

Aspirants holding placards shout slogans during a protest against the alleged leak of examination papers of Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission (UPPSC) Review Officer (RO) and Assistant Review Officer (ARO) in Prayagraj on February 26, 2024. (Photo by Sanjay KANOJIA / AFP)(AFP) PREMIUM
Aspirants holding placards shout slogans during a protest against the alleged leak of examination papers of Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission (UPPSC) Review Officer (RO) and Assistant Review Officer (ARO) in Prayagraj on February 26, 2024. (Photo by Sanjay KANOJIA / AFP)(AFP)

It was the brainchild of the late chief minister Kalyan Singh who, in his first term, had taken a vow to finish the mafia raj — which included the exam copying mafia. The provisions of the stringent law aimed at curbing mass copying in examinations also included handcuffing of students who were to be sent to jail.

Copying is a well-entrenched industry in the state that has been operating for several decades from non-descript villages of various districts, including Kaushambi near Allahabad (Prayagraj) and in alleged connivance with some government employees at various levels.

Kalyan Singh died in August 2021. While paying tribute to him in Bulandshahr in 2023, Rajnath Singh recalled how Kalyan Singh had pushed, persuaded and pressured the members of his cabinet, as well as the state assembly, to clear the proposal that they feared would trigger a public uproar. It was only with Kalyan Singh’s personal intervention that it could become a law after it was passed by the Uttar Pradesh assembly.

To some extent, the BJP government did get flak for handcuffing students, including girls. There was an outcry, both within the party, as well as from the opposition. But the government remained firm and Rajnath Singh refused to budge under pressure. He said he was determined to end mass copying in examinations to save the future of students.

It was strictly implemented. The result: 17% of the students who had enrolled for high school (Class 10) and intermediate (Class 12) examinations in Uttar Pradesh left mid-way. Only 15% cleared intermediate and about 30% high school, in the 1992 board examinations.

Students and their parents took to the streets to protest and the BJP feared a backlash in the 1993 assembly polls which were necessitated after the dismissal of the government following the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.

The BJP fell short of a majority and the new Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) coalition government headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav repealed the Anti-Copying Act in 1994. Today, many feel the law should not have been abolished but amended.

But the late Kalyan Singh was unrelenting. In 1997, when he returned as the chief minister, the Anti-Copying Ordinance was reintroduced, albeit with a minor amendment. The offence became bailable and the students were not handcuffed.

Thirty years later, the menace has grown manifold despite the technology that is meant to make foolproof arrangements. The problem is more with competitive exams. Irrespective of being conducted offline or online, question paper leaks seem to have become the order of the day. It doesn’t matter which party or leader is at the helm of affairs.

On February 29, the mathematics and biology question papers of the UP Madhyamik Shiksha Parishad Inter Exams were leaked on a WhatsApp group named “All Principals” having 900 members. The question papers were shared in the group and then deleted. By then, the damage was done. An FIR was lodged, arrests were made and now the college has been de-affiliated.

What comes as a shock is the temerity of the people involved in the act as, recently, chief minister Yogi Adityanath had described paper leaks as a “national sin”. But it appears the chief minister has decided to take the bull by the horns as it is the first time when any college has been de-recognized.

To dig deeper and break the govt employee-syndicate nexus, perhaps the government will have to probe further and find out how, when, and who decided to list it as an examination centre.

Former chairman of the Central Board of Secondary Education, Ashok Ganguly says in offline exams one needs to ensure the confidentiality of the tools. Some boards ensure tight supervision and confidentiality at every step. The entire process is handled by core people and not being distributed amongst multiple hands. Even the paper setters, and moderators do not know which set of papers will be distributed in the exam hall.

An IT expert who didn't want to be named said, “Biometrics, face intelligence helps but there is also software which will not leave any scope for third-party penetration. Also, for offline exams, randomization helps as there will be a surprise element about which set of questions goes to which location."

The opposition has taken on the government aggressively with the Gandhi siblings, besides BSP chief Mayawati and SP national president Akhilesh Yadav attacking the BJP government for eclipsing the dreams of students.

In fact, public examinations pose a challenge to successive state governments as the syndicate seems to outwit the smart bureaucracy of the state. Or is there connivance, which none of the governments has been able to expose and end?

Recently, the UP police constable recruitment exam was cancelled following allegations of leak. As many as 4.9 million candidates took the test for barely 60,244 posts. The question papers went viral.

After a massive protest by the aspirants, the chief minister promptly announced cancellation and re-examination.

Many candidates alleged that the question paper was available between 50,000 and 2 lakh. The recruitment exam was held on February 17 and 18.

Some other exams that fell prey to alleged question paper leaks in recent years are: RO/ARO (Review Officer/Assistant Review Officer) Preliminary Examination Exams 2023, Class 12 English language of UP Secondary Education Board in 2022, U.P. Teachers’ Eligibility Test 2021, physics exam of government polytechnic institutions 2016, UP Combined Pre Medical Test-2014 among others.

The Parliament recently cleared the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means Bill) imposing stringent measures with higher punishment and penalties on all. But is that enough?

According to Ashok Ganguly, "The new Act of India is very comprehensive and includes all aspects of unfair means and cheating in public exams. It includes all stakeholders directly and indirectly associated with the exam process.

The UP Act, 1992 was, perhaps, the first such step taken in the post-independence era. It focused on unfair practices carried out in the exam hall and did not include pre- and post-exam activities. But it created statutory effects not only during exam time but also on the teaching-learning process.”

UP may need a tougher law. The neighbouring state of Uttrakhand brought a bill in 2023. However, what is required is the government’s willpower to break the nexus. Students and candidates are pinning their hopes on the chief minister, a tough administrator.

Sunita Aron is a consulting editor with the HT based in Lucknow. You can find her on X as @overto. The weekly column, Keeping up with UP tackles everything from politics to social and cultural mores in the country's most populous state. The views expressed are personal.

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