A few days before the third session of JEE-Main, the coveted engineering entrance examination was to be held in July this year, a Patna resident Ritesh Jha (name changed) received an unusual call. “Do you want your son to get admission to any top NIT (National Institute of Technology) of your choice?” the caller asked. “We ensure admission of students to all the top government and private engineering colleges. If you are interested, your ward has to fill the form under our guidance.”
When Jha replied that his son had already filled the form, he was informed that the option to edit the form was still open. “He will just have to select the centre of our choice. We will do the rest.” When Jha, astonished by the offer, sought to know how his son would get admission to an NIT of his choice, he was told that he would have to pay between Rs 10 to 12 lakh. “But we will take the money only after your ward gets the admission,” the caller reassured him in a businesslike tone.
Probed further by Jha about the modus operandi, the caller revealed that he would ensure 99+ percentile for his ward, which would automatically ensure his admission into any institute of his choice. When Jha sought time to think about it, he was told to decide before the option to change centre ends. “We will not be able to help you after that,” the caller said before disconnecting the phone.
Jha received a similar call from another person before the fourth session of the examinations. But he refused to fall for the bait wondering whether it was a prank call or a real offer for an NIT seat through the backdoor in lieu of monetary considerations. All his fears, however, came true when the CBI raided 19 places across the country including Delhi-NCR, Pune, Jamshedpur, Indore and Bangalore to bust an examination racket soon after the final session of the examinations. The agency arrested two directors and four employees of Affinity Education Pvt Ltd, a coaching centre in Noida and some employees of a private college in Sonepat. It also seized Class 10 and 12 mark-sheets of some candidates, and post-dated cheques worth Rs 12 to 15 lakh issued by their parents in the name of the alleged fraudsters.
This year, the JEE-Main examination was held in four sessions. The last test was held between August 26 and September 2. The final results were announced on September 15.
The online examinations are conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA) which was set up in 2017. It has since entrusted the responsibility of JEE Main online examination to TCS ION, which is the largest digital assessment company in the country.
Some experts believe that the swindlers have taken control of the entire system and they are doing so without any fear. They suspect that one can get 99.5 percentile only if one gets the question paper in advance. That is why Congress alleged that the question papers had been leaked this year. Party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "JEE (Main) Exam has been breached. Students appearing for such competitive exams prepare very hard, battling difficulties of various kinds. We, as a nation, owe them a fair exam. GOI is better at providing cover-ups.."
Terming it as a scam, his party has demanded a probe under the supervision of the Supreme Court. The party says that other examinations conducted by NTA should also be investigated. NTA Director-General Vineet Joshi, however, denies the charges of question paper leak and system breach, saying it is a case of a dummy candidate taking the exam instead of the original candidate.
Last year, a case of impersonation had come to the fore in Guwahati. A complaint lodged against Neel Nakshatra Das, who came first in Assam by securing 99.8 per cent marks in the examination, alleged that it was not him, but someone else who had taken the examination on his behalf. On investigation, it was found to be true.
Seven people including Neil and his father Dr. Jyotirmoy Das were arrested. Das had reportedly given Rs 15 to 20 lakh to a coaching institute, which was allegedly involved in the crime.
NTA denies that it is not taking adequate steps to prevent the rigging. Joshi says that provision has been made for artificial intelligence-based video analytics in which monitoring of examination centers is done. Live video is also recorded from these centres from 5:30 am on the day of the examination. The software alerts if there is any suspicious movement before or after the exam.
NTA has also laid down several criteria for the identification of suspicious exam centres. For example, it probes if the number of successful candidates at a particular examination centre is higher than the national average. Based on such criteria, 120 test centres have so far been identified. Of them, 23 have been blacklisted and the rest are being monitored. Also, 419 candidates have also been kept on the watch list.
Rigging, however, is confined to the premier engineering entrance test. This year, during the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), the all-India examination for admission to medical colleges, also witnessed similar incidents. In Varanasi, the police among others arrested Julie, a second-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in connection with the impersonation case. The police also arrested a final year student at King George’s Medical University (KGMU), Osama and Julie’s brother Abhay.
Julie, who was allegedly impersonating Hina Biswas, a resident of Tripura in NEET was promised Rs 5 lakh by a gang operating from native Bihar, which got in touch with her family and paid an advance of Rs 50,000 to her mother.
In another incident, the police busted a similar racket by apprehending nine persons, including six medical students who were taking the examinations by impersonating others after taking huge sums of money.
Nonetheless, impersonation in a competitive examination is not a new phenomenon per se. In fact, it has inspired a Bollywood blockbuster Munnabhai MBBS starring Sanjay Dutt in the lead way back in 2003. The offline tests have since given way to the online tests now but the scamsters seem to have kept pace with the changing times to turn tech-savvy in their bid to subvert the entire examination system.
Interestingly, when online examinations were introduced, it was said that cheating was not possible since question papers are not printed on paper. Experts prepare a bank of questions and the software algorithms select them. The question papers are encrypted before being sent to the test centres. It opens only when the candidate clicks. The question papers of the examinees are also different. But Tarun Pithode, IAS, who conducted the investigation into the Vyapam scam, tells Outlook, “We investigated, changed the system and started the online examination. But the perpetrators keep looking for new ways. We have to stay one step ahead of them, only then this rigging can be stopped.”
Dr. Anand Rai, the whistleblower of the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh, considers online examination to be the most suitable for manipulation. “It is very easy to leak them,” he says, “The scams that happen online are difficult to catch later, as the data is later deleted from the servers. Even if the perpetrators are caught, it is difficult to prove them guilty.”
Interestingly, the first major case of examination scam came to light in 2003 when the CBI arrested Suman Kumar Singh alias Ranjit Don, a resident of village Khaddi Lodipur in Nalanda district of Bihar. The arrest was made in connection with the leak of CAT exam papers. Investigation revealed that he used to run a network of leaking papers of many examinations including medical and engineering. He spent a year and a half in prison, but lived a royal life for years. He had many luxurious houses and a convoy of expensive cars. After being released from the jail on bail, he contested the 2004 Lok Sabha polls from Begusarai as an independent but lost. He later tried his luck in assembly polls as well without any success. He was at one time thinking of buying a helicopter. The latest scam has proved that people like him are still flying high.
1. A special software is installed on the candidate's computer. As soon as the computer is started, the software starts sending the screenshot to the pre-fed email. In this way, the questions reach the solver sitting far away, who sends the answer after a few minutes.
2. Rigging is possible at the examination centre also. A thumb impression is taken of the original examinee, but someone else is made to sit for the exam.
3. The solver is given remote access to the examinee's computer and answers the same questions instead of the original examinee. For this, some special centres are selected.
4. The data of the examination centre first goes to the local server, then to the central server. People are sitting on the local server. There the answers to the pre-determined name and roll number are changed. It can be caught by real-time monitoring.