Maha govt tables Bill to prevent paper leaks with provisions of jail term, hefty fines

by IANS |

Mumbai, July 5 (IANS) Amid raging controversy over NEET paper leaks, the Maharashtra government on Friday tabled a Bill in the Assembly titled the 'Maharashtra Competitive Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024' with stringent penalties for those found guilty of unfair means and malpractices.

The Bill, presented by Minister Shambhuraj Desai, has been crafted along the lines of The Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act 2024.

The offences under the Bill shall be cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.

The Bill aims to prevent unfair means in the competitive examinations, bring greater transparency, fairness and credibility and reassure the youth that their sincere and genuine efforts will be fairly rewarded and their future is safe.

The Bill proposes stringent actions against individuals, organised groups or institutions that indulge in various unfair means and adversely impact the competitive examination system for monetary or wrongful gains.

Any person or persons resorting to unfair means and offences shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not less than three years but may extend to five years with a fine up to Rs 10 lakh.

The service provider shall be liable to be punished with the imposition of a fine up to Rs 1 crore and proportionate cost of examination shall also be recovered from such providers and they shall be barred from being assigned with any responsibility for the conduct of any competitive examination for four years.

Further, an impression for a term not less than three years to be extendable to 10 years and with a fine of Rs 1 crore is proposed for the offence committed with the consent or connivance of any director, management or the persons in charge of the service provider firms.

If a person or a group of persons, including those belonging to the competitive examination authority or service provider or any other institution, commits an organised crime, he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not less than five years which may be extended to 10 years and with fine not less than Rs 1 crore.

No person, who is entrusted or engaged with the work pertaining to the competitive examination or conduct of the competitive examination or who is not a candidate, shall enter the premises of the examination Centre, with the intent to disrupt the conduct of the competitive examination.

An officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police or Assistant Commissioner of Police shall investigate the offence under the Bill.

In case of default of payment of the fine, an additional punishment of imprisonment shall be imposed as per the provisions of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sangita, 2023.

The unfair means relating to the conduct of a competitive examination shall include any act or omission done or caused to be done by any candidate or any person or group of persons or institutions for monetary or wrongful gain.

The punitive provisions of the Bill will cover direct or indirect involvement of any candidate himself or with the support of any other person in competitive examination or illegal use of any written, non-written, quoted, copied, printed material, material obtained from electronic or information technology gadgets or taking any unfair and other unauthorised aid or using any unauthorised electronic or mechanical device or gadget in the examination.

The Bill will be applicable to examinations conducted by the Maharashtra Public Service Commission, any other authority or selection committee or service provider or institution authorised by the government to conduct competitive examinations from time to time or by any government department. The Teacher Aptitude and Intelligence Test and Teacher Eligibility Test conducted by the Maharashtra State Council for Examination will also be covered under the Bill.

The government has argued that in the modern era competitive examinations play a crucial role in merit-based selection and ensuring equal opportunities in education and employment. Malpractices in competitive examinations lead to delay and cancellation of examinations, adversely impacting the prospects of millions of youth, which is contrary to the concept of providing equal opportunities to the candidates and transparency in the competitive examinations.

"At present, there is no specific substantive law to deal with unfair means adopted or offences committed by various entities involved in the conduct of competitive examinations. Therefore, it is imperative that the elements that exploit vulnerabilities of the examination system are identified and effectively dealt with by a competitive State Legislation," the Bill reads.

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