India proposes laws to tackle cheating in competitive exams for jobs

Tens of thousands of Indians appear for grueling tests to qualify for limited job positions in government but many resort to cheating in desperation

Mumbai, India. Bloomberg
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Students preparing for the highly competitive examinations that can lead to limited government jobs have welcomed the news that India’s lower house of Parliament has passed anti-cheating legislation to tackle the long-standing problem.

Every year, tens of thousands of Indians take part in the gruelling exams, a gateway to qualify for coveted positions, with those who pass offered jobs at ministries and government departments.

Sumit Suman, 29, an accountant with Indian Railways in Jharkhand, who is preparing for his Staff Selection Commission (SSC) exam in his native state, said he was hopeful the new law would curb the scourge of cheating.

“In India it is a very big problem because exams get cancelled,” Mr Suman told The National. "I am hopeful that the law would work and help curbing cheating."

The difficultly of the exams and the desperation to pass has led to instances of bribing examiners, and question papers and answer sheets being leaked.

Mr Suman said cheating was widespread because the many potential candidates were vying for only a few vacancies, making the field highly competitive.

In an attempt to bring more transparency, the government this week introduced the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024.

“The objective of the Bill is to bring greater transparency, fairness and credibility to the public examination systems and to reassure the youth that their sincere and genuine efforts will be fairly rewarded,” the proposal states.

With a population surpassing 1.4 billion, of which about 40 per cent are at the legal working age, finding jobs in India can be a challenging task.

Government jobs, although low-paid, offer financial perks, as well as social security and benefits.

The bill would cover a wide range of offences such as leaking questions and answers, participation in collusion with others in leaking papers, directly or indirectly assisting the candidate in any untoward manner and manipulation of seating arrangements, among others.

Cheating in exams has become a flourishing business in the country where people pay steep prices for leaked question papers beforehand or to have someone sit for them taking the tests across all levels of the education system.

Prices can range between 2,000 rupees ($24, or eight times the average daily wage) for standing in on exam to a million rupees or $12,000 that could involve an elaborate plan such as stealing and leaking papers or using an imposter.

Every year, scores of students as well as teachers and organisers are accused of cheating.

A young man was arrested last month after he impersonated his partner to take the exam on her behalf. He was caught after his biometrics failed to match, and an investigation is ongoing.

The Central Selection Board of Constable in eastern state of Bihar in October last year had cancelled a written test for constable recruitments after complaints of question leaks and incidents of cheating during the test.

The state is one of the most impoverished in the country and jobs are scarce.

In 2015, images of parents and friends scaling the walls of test centres in Bihar to pass answers to students during a secondary school examination shocked the country.

One of the biggest cheating scams was Vyapam, a state examination in central Madhya Pradesh state that began in 1993 but was unearthed in 2013.

More than 2,000 students conned their way into medical colleges and government posts with the help of test-fixing gangs that included suspected cheaters, politicians and test administrators. At least 1,800 people were arrested.

Updated: February 08, 2024, 2:09 PM