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Indian Express Editorial Analysis

1-March-2024

1. HOW TO REDUCE CHEATING

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice – Education

GS2 – Governance – Government policies

This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains as this analysis highlights the impact of examination malpractices on millions of aspirants and the need for fair and inclusive examination systems. It touches upon the socioeconomic implications of cheating and the importance of ensuring equitable opportunities for all stakeholders.

Context:
  • Even amidst parliamentary discussions on the Public Examinations Prevention of Unfair Means Bill of 2024, another instance of question paper leakage emerges, this time concerning constable recruitment in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Such incidents underscore the systemic vulnerabilities within the examination framework, evoking frustration among aspirants.
  • The introduction of stringent penalties through the recently enacted Public Examinations Prevention of Unfair Means Act by the government aims to address these issues, yet questions persist regarding its efficacy.

The Limited Impact of Increased Punishments:

  • While the government’s intent to curb cheating is evident, the effectiveness of heightened punishments remains questionable.
  • Despite existing legislation criminalizing cheating in several states, convictions have been scarce, indicating a failure in implementation.
  • The futility of solely relying on punitive measures raises doubts about their deterrent effect on potential cheaters.

Attributes of a Good Examination System:

  • A reliable examination system should exhibit qualities such as reliability, validity, objectivity, clarity, and comprehensiveness.
  • However, the current processes, including question paper setting, maintenance of secrecy, exam organization, and evaluation, often fall short due to compromises by exam-conducting authorities.
  • Addressing these shortcomings requires the integration of advanced IT systems to ensure transparency and accountability at every stage of examination administration.

The Role of the National Testing Agency (NTA):

  • Recognizing the need for a professional examination conducting body, the establishment of the NTA marks a crucial step towards enhancing the scientific rigor and professionalism of exam administration.
  • Nevertheless, this initiative represents only the initial phase of a long-term endeavor requiring sustained efforts to achieve desired outcomes.

Challenges in Examination Administration:

  • The transition to online examinations was envisaged as a solution to mitigate the risks associated with traditional paper-based exams.
  • However, this shift has introduced new challenges, particularly concerning the outsourcing of exam conduct to untested service providers.
  • The lack of expertise within government machinery to evaluate the robustness of IT systems exposes the examination framework to vulnerabilities exploited by hackers and cybercriminals.

Exploring Alternatives to High-Stakes Examinations:

  • The persistent allure of government jobs has elevated the stakes of examinations, rendering them susceptible to various forms of malpractice.
  • To mitigate this risk, the emphasis should shift from treating exams as sole determinants of selection to viewing them as qualifying assessments.
  • Drawing inspiration from alternative models, such as admissions processes in foreign universities, where exam scores are only one of many criteria, offers a pathway to innovation and resilience against cheating.

The Imperative for Specialized Investigation:

  • Given the pervasive impact of organized cheating on millions of lives, the establishment of a dedicated investigation agency equipped to address examination offenses emerges as a necessity.
  • Such an entity would expedite the process of identifying and prosecuting culprits, reinforcing the importance of integrity in examination systems.

Conclusion:

  • In the pursuit of fair and reliable examinations, reliance on punitive measures alone proves inadequate.
  • Instead, a multifaceted approach encompassing robust technological infrastructure, innovative assessment methodologies, and specialized investigative mechanisms is imperative.
  • By prioritizing the development of foolproof systems and fostering a culture of integrity, the quest for examination integrity can be advanced, ensuring equitable opportunities for all stakeholders.
What are the Concerns Related to the Bill?

Discretion of State Governments:

  • While the bill aims to serve as a model for states to adopt, the discretion given to state governments may lead to variations in implementation across different states.
  • This could potentially weaken the effectiveness of the law in preventing unfair means in public examinations.

Exploitable Loopholes in Sanctions:

  • The provisions of the bill, such as the punishment for offenders, may contain loopholes that can be exploited to evade criminal sanctions.
  • For example, if the fine imposed on a service provider is not commensurate with the financial gains they derive from unfair means, it may not serve as a sufficient deterrent.

Lack of Clarity on National Technical Committee:

  • While the bill proposes the formation of a High-Level National Technical Committee on Public Examinations, there is a lack of clarity regarding its composition, qualifications, and mandate.
  • Without clear guidelines on the composition and qualifications of committee members, there may be concerns regarding their expertise and impartiality in devising foolproof IT security systems and national standards for examination conduct.

Potential for Legal Challenges:

  • The bill may face legal challenges related to its provisions on cognizability, non-bailability, and non-compoundability of offenses. There could be debates on whether such stringent measures are proportionate to the gravity of the offenses and whether they adhere to principles of natural justice.
Practice Question:  Examinations serve as gateways to opportunities, yet recurring incidents of malpractice undermine their integrity and fairness. Discuss the challenges faced in maintaining the integrity of examination systems in India. (250 words/15 m)

2. Chipping away at the Bench

Topic: GS2 – Polity – Judiciary

This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of understanding the challenges faced by the judiciary in upholding its independence and integrity.

Context:
  • In the intricate fabric of Indian democracy, the judiciary has long been revered as a beacon of impartiality and justice.
  • However, this revered institution faces an unprecedented assault from within and a small faction of the legal fraternity.
  • A cabal of lawyers and some retired judges, driven either by unmet ambitions or a desire for relevance, have embarked on a perilous path of maligning the judiciary.
  • They manipulate legal proceedings to advance political agendas and resort to vilifying the esteemed institution when their efforts falter.

Politicisation and Victimhood: Undermining Judicial Role:

  • The judiciary’s role as the guardian of the Constitution and the ultimate arbiter of justice faces challenges from a disturbing trend of politicisation and playing the victim card.
  • Selective outrage, manipulation of public sentiment, and attacks on the judiciary’s independence have become alarmingly frequent, eroding public trust and confidence in the institution’s integrity.

Instances of Preferential Treatment and Anomalies:

  • Examples such as Teesta Setalvad’s immediate hearing and Gautam Navlakha’s unprecedented “home custody” arrangement under judicial directive raise concerns about preferential treatment.
  • These incidents highlight a broader pattern where the judiciary’s actions are perceived as favoring specific litigants, fueling narratives of bias and political manipulation.

Judiciary’s Role in Politically Sensitive Matters:

  • While the judiciary’s interventions in politically sensitive matters like the electoral bonds scheme and Chandigarh mayoral elections demonstrate its commitment to upholding democratic values, they also become fodder for those seeking to politicize its actions.
  • Individuals benefiting from the judiciary’s prompt interventions paradoxically engage in maligning the institution post-relief, undermining its authority and independence.

Retired Judges’ Criticism Exacerbating the Issue:

  • Criticism and interference from retired judges further exacerbate the issue, as they lend credence to narratives of institutional bias.
  • Instead of upholding the dignity of their former positions, some retired judges choose to critique the current judiciary based on personal biases, undermining public confidence in the institution’s impartiality.

Threat to Judicial Independence and Democracy:

  • The concerted effort to malign the judiciary under the guise of advocacy or activism poses a grave threat to the institution and the fabric of Indian democracy.
  • If unchecked, this dangerous precedent could erode the judiciary’s independence, making it susceptible to manipulation by vested interests, particularly in politically sensitive cases.

Defending Judicial Autonomy and Integrity:

  • In the face of baseless accusations and attempts to politicize its proceedings, the judiciary must defend its autonomy and integrity vigorously.
  • It must navigate a delicate balance between intervention in matters of public importance and maintaining independence from political pressures to uphold the principles of justice and democracy.

Societal Responsibility and Upholding Democracy:

  • As a society, it is imperative to recognize the critical importance of a strong, independent judiciary in safeguarding democratic principles and constitutional rights.
  • Standing against attempts to undermine the judiciary through baseless allegations and undue pressure is crucial for preserving the integrity of the institution and upholding the foundations of democracy.
  • Emphasizing positive engagement rather than resorting to divisive tactics is essential for maintaining public trust in the judiciary and the democratic process.
Constitutional Provisions/Articles Related to Independent Judiciary in India
  • Article 124 (Appointment of Supreme Court Judges): It deals with the establishment and constitution of the Supreme Court. It outlines the process of appointment of judges, ensuring that they are selected based on merit and qualifications, thereby maintaining judicial independence.
  • Article 214 and 215 (High Courts in States): It govern the establishment and powers of High Courts in states. Like the Supreme Court, the appointment and functioning of High Court judges are designed to be independent.
  • Article 50 (Separation of Judiciary from Executive): This article explicitly mandates the separation of the judiciary from the executive, fortifying its independence. The Kesavananda Bharati case emphasized the importance of this separation as a part of the basic structure doctrine.
  • Article 121 and 211 (Restriction on Legislative Discussion): It prohibits the Legislature from discussing the conduct of judges, thereby protecting judicial independence.
  • Article 125 and 221 (Salaries and Allowances): These articles ensure that the salaries and allowances of judges cannot be altered to their disadvantage after their appointment, guarding them against financial manipulation.
  • Article 32 and 226 (Power of Judicial Review): It gives the Supreme Court and High Courts the power of judicial review. Eg: the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the NJAC Act in 2015 which was designed to replace the collegium system, thereby reaffirming the independence of the judiciary.
  • Security of Tenure for Judges: Judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court enjoy security of tenure until the age of retirement, which is 62 and 65 respectively under Articles 124 and 217. It safeguards judges from arbitrary removal, allowing them to adjudicate without fear or favour.
PYQ: Constitutionally guaranteed judicial independence is a prerequisite of democracy. Comment. (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2023)
Practice Question:  Critically analyze the challenges to judicial independence and integrity in India, with a focus on recent developments and controversies. Discuss the implications of attempts to undermine the autonomy of the judiciary on democratic principles and constitutional rights. (250 words/15 m)

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