With the objective of curbing paper leaks in government recruitment exams, the Gujarat Legislative Assembly has unanimously passed a Bill that provides for up to 10 years in prison for such malpractices.
As per the provisions of the bill, the accused shall also be liable for fine which shall not be less than Rs 10 lakh, which may extend to Rs 1 crore.
Following a heated debate, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2023, tabled by Minister of State for Home Harsh Sanghavi, was passed on Thursday as opposition Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) members gave their nod.
The bill is aimed at curbing "unfair means" which include to leak or attempt to leak a question paper, procure a question paper in an unauthorised manner and to solve such a paper in an unauthorised manner.
Unfair means also include an act of assisting an examinee during examination for monetary gains.
Any examinee (candidate appearing for an exam) indulging in unfair means shall be punished with imprisonment up to three years, and shall also be liable for a fine of not less than Rs one lakh.
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If any person obstructs or threatens any member of the inspection team or a person appointed by the examination authority for performing duty, he shall be punished with imprisonment of up to three years, and a fine of not less than Rs one lakh.
If any person, including an examinee, indulges in unfair means or contravenes any of the provisions of the Act, he or she shall be punished with imprisonment for five years which may extend up to 10 years.
Moreover, the accused "shall also be liable for fine which shall not be less than Rs 10 lakh, which may extend to Rs 1 crore".
The offence will become more serious if it falls in the category of "organised crime".
"If any person in an organised crime in conspiracy with the examination authority indulges in unfair means, he shall be punished with seven years of imprisonment, which may extend to 10 years with fine of Rs 1 crore," said the bill.
A court can also order attachment of the assets of convicted persons involved in "organised crime."
A person convicted under this Act shall be debarred from any public examination for two years.
If a person associated with an institution is found guilty under this Act, such a business entity or institution "shall be liable to pay all cost and expenditure related to the public examination and shall be banned forever".
Any offence committed under the Act shall be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of police inspector but preferably by a deputy superintendent of police, the bill said.
The bill was introduced days after the question paper of the panchayat junior clerk examination was found to have been leaked. On January 29, this examination was postponed.
Congress Legislature Party leader Amit Chavda pointed out during the debate that question papers of 13 recruitment exams have got leaked in the state since 2014.
"To set an example and instil fear among culprits, this Act should be implemented through retrospective effect from 2014," he said.
He also suggested that instead of outsourcing the printing of question papers, the Gujarat government should use its own printing presses.
AAP leader Chaitar Vasava said the state government must ensure that main conspirators do not escape.
Another AAP MLA Umesh Makwana suggested that all the cases registered under this Act be investigated by an IPS officer and tried in a fast-track court.
He also agreed with the Congress's demand that question papers should be printed in a government-run press.
Senior Congress legislator Arjun Modhwadia pointed out that though the 'Objects and Reasons' of the bill says that it deals with paper leaks of "recruitment examinations", the bill also covers school board exams and university exams, which means even school and college students can be arrested under this Act.
Minister Sanghavi clarified that candidates of school board and university exams would not fall under the bill's ambit, only officials or others facilitating unfair practices would be covered.
"It was the need of the hour to bring such a stringent bill because Indian Penal Code (IPC) was not enough to punish the culprits. We have prepared this bill after studying such bills brought by other states, such as Uttar Pradesh," he added.
He refused to accept the Opposition's demands for retrospective implementation and printing of question papers in state-owned presses on various technical grounds.
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