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Government Introduces Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024 to Combat Cheating and Paper Leaks

In a significant effort to address the issue of paper leaks and cheating in public examinations, the government enacted the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024 on Friday.

This legislation comes amid widespread controversy surrounding the NEET and UGC-NET exams, both of which have recently faced allegations of paper leaks and irregularities.

The new Act targets unfair practices in public exams conducted by major bodies such as the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), Staff Selection Commission (SSC), railways, banking recruitment examinations, and the National Testing Agency (NTA).

Key features of the Act include:

Stricter Punishments: Individuals caught leaking exam papers or tampering with answer sheets will face a minimum jail term of three years, which can extend to five years, and fines up to Rs 10 lakh.

Non-Bailable Offences: Offences under this Act are classified as cognisable and non-bailable, allowing authorities to arrest suspects without a warrant and denying them the right to bail.

Accountability for Service Providers: Examination service providers aware of potential offences who fail to report them can be fined up to Rs 1 crore.

Targeting Organised Crime: The Act imposes severe penalties on organised cheating. Senior officials of service providers who facilitate such activities knowingly face a minimum sentence of three years, extendable to ten years, and fines of Rs 1 crore. Examination authorities or service providers involved in organised malpractice can be imprisoned for five to ten years and fined Rs 1 crore.

Protections for the Innocent: The Act includes provisions to protect individuals who can prove they were unaware of the offence and took reasonable steps to prevent it.

The introduction of this law follows significant allegations of malpractice in key exams. For instance, NEET, held on May 5 with approximately 24 lakh candidates, faced claims of question paper leaks, particularly in Bihar. Additionally, the UGC-NET was cancelled due to concerns over compromised exam integrity.

In light of these issues, the National Testing Agency (NTA) announced on Friday the postponement of the June edition of the Joint CSIR-UGC-NET, citing unavoidable circumstances and logistical challenges. This exam determines eligibility for junior research fellowships, assistant professorships, and PhD admissions in science disciplines.

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