Observing that the re-test would cause severe inconvenience to all involved in the process, the Supreme Court justified its decision by holding that it is the price stakeholders would have to suffer to maintain the impeccable and irrefutable sanctity and credibility of a process of examination. Photo: HT
Observing that the re-test would cause severe inconvenience to all involved in the process, the Supreme Court justified its decision by holding that it is the price stakeholders would have to suffer to maintain the impeccable and irrefutable sanctity and credibility of a process of examination. Photo: HT

AIPMT cancellation: Why admissions tests may never be the same again

The CBSE will now be under severe pressure to adhere to the retest deadline without compromising on the exam's quality

The Supreme Court cancelled the All India Pre-Medical and Pre-Dental Test (AIPMT) for 2015-16 and asked the Central Board of Secondary Examination (CBSE) to re-conduct the test in four weeks, which the board has told the court on Thursday was an impossible task.

While the court order will ensure that the meritless beneficiaries of the cheating ring won’t get medical seats, it will be a logistical nightmare as over 630,000 medical aspirants will have to re-appear for the test. The board, which usually spends several months organising the test, will now be under severe pressure to adhere to the deadline without compromising on the exam’s quality.

So why did they even cancel the AIPMT?

Based on a tip-off on the test day, the Haryana Police found that a Haryana-based gang was involved in a country-wide syndicate that helped candidates cheat in the tests. The gang, which also included several doctors and a few medical students who had won seats in prestigious medical colleges through similar means, provided candidates, willing to pay 15-20 lakh, with correct answers during the test through electronic spying gadgets.

It was a hi-tech operation.

The candidates were given specially designed vests (available in black and grey for gents, and white for ladies) made by a Delhi-based electronic gadgets shop SPY SHOP at four times the market rate. The vests were equipped with micro-SIM devices. Bluetooth wireless tranceivers were also used, as was “an electronic device tied on his left hand with speaker in the ear".

One student used a spy camera inside a wrist watch, presumably to record the exam paper. Answer keys from leaked papers were solved by an expert and transmitted to candidates’ devices (ironically of the 123 solved answers found on one mobile phone, only 102 were correct). On the test day, the use of 21 such devices was reported across various test centres in several states.

Following the expose, a few who took the test moved the Supreme Court with writ petitions, challenging the test and claiming that it stood “irreversibly vitiated" by use of unfair means and malpractices. Until 11 June, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the scandal confirmed at least 44 candidates, who allegedly appeared for the test at centres in Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Bihar, Chandigarh, Odisha, West Bengal and Maharashtra, were supplied with answer keys during the examination by the gang.

The SIT also said that many more are yet to be caught, as there were 358 suspected mobile numbers of beneficiaries are being probed.It was also revealed that in the past, the same gang had helped candidates in several other competitive exams too.

Was cancellation of the test the only option?

To decide the petitions, the Supreme Court bench of justices R.K. Agrawal and Amitava Roy was faced with two options: either to segregate the 44 known beneficiaries of cheating and withhold their results, pending the investigation.Or, cancel the test and order a fresh exam.

Considering the modus operandi of cheating, which involved the use of hi-tech gadgets, the court believed that there could be many more involved in the syndicate and that would unfairly prejudice the meritorious medical aspirants who did not cheat.

Observing that public confidence in the entrance process has to be maintained, it ruled that the following imperatives cannot be compromised with at any cost: guarantee of fairness, transparency, authenticity and sanctity of the process.

Stating that in such circumstances, a retest was the only viable option, the court observed: “We all owe this, in the minimum, to the society in general and the student community in particular." So just because of a few cheaters, 600,000 others will have to take the exam again? “It’s a price to be paid for maintaining the sanctity of the test," said the court.

Observing that the re-test would cause severe inconvenience to all involved in the process, it justified its decision by holding that it is the price stakeholders would have to suffer to maintain the impeccable and irrefutable sanctity and credibility of a process of examination. Also, without paying that price, the ranking and merit positions between candidates, would not necessarily reflect sincere candidates’ innate worth and capability because cheaters might bump them out of the ranking.

Will this not affect the schedule for the medical-admission process set by Supreme Court?

In a 2005 judgment—Mridul Dhar v. Union of India, the apex court had prescribed a time schedule for various events occurring in the pre-medical exam process and directed the authorities conducting such tests across India to strictly follow that timetable.

While the results must be declared by 10 June, the admission process has to be concluded by 30 September every year.

In the present judgment, the Supreme Court accepted that cancelling the test would disturb this schedule. However, it has held that “departure from the said time schedule per se would not be a wholesome justification to sustain the otherwise tainted exercise".

The court found that the 2005 judgment did not intend to make the schedule inflexible in cases like the present. This observation contrasts slightly with the long-standing view that the 2005-established schedule must be strictly adhered with at all times.

Are four weeks for the re-test, sufficient?

Clearly not, according to what solicitor Ranjit Kumar acting for the CBSE on Thursday told the Supreme Court: conducting a re-exam in one month would not be possible. During the course of initial arguments in the case, the CBSE tried its best to convince the court not to cancel the test and said that the entire test process cannot be redone in four months.

Though the court appreciated the hard work put in by the CBSE and others involved, remained unconvinced. The judges noted that in the past re-rests have been conducted within a month’s time and asked the CBSE to co-ordinate with the participant institutions and carry out the process without any delay. They even said that, albeit delayed, to keep the timetable in the same pattern as mandated by the Supreme Court in the 2005 Mridul Dhar decision.

But can they ensure a foolproof test?

While it is important that concerned authorities match the pace of the advancements in technology, nefariously used by organised criminals, it’s not certain if they can manage that for the re-test in only four weeks. The court has told all agencies to help the CBSE, so maybe the board will get access to some super-advanced scanners, jammers and other counter-espionage gadgets.

On top of that, with Thursday’s CBSE plea that they will need at least three months just to organise the test, it is likely to be a longer timeline ahead.

In any case, it is likely that admissions tests will never be the same again.

Mohit Singh is an advocate at the Supreme Court of India.

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