In a decision affecting lakhs of students across the country, the Supreme Court on June 15 cancelled the results of the All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT) held in May and ordered the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), which administers the test, to conduct it again within four weeks. In its judgment, the apex court noted that the “illegal and unfair” access to answers for 90 of the 180 objective-type questions that comprise the examination has “denuded its sanctity” and undermined its credibility. While absolving the CBSE of wrongdoing per se, it pointed to the board’s negligence in adequately preparing for such leaks despite the warning signs — similar methods had been used, it turns out, by an accused in this episode to sabotage the AIIMS postgraduate entrance test in 2011 too. The court has made the right call. In an intensely competitive environment, where lakhs strive for only a few thousand seats, any suspicion that those using dishonest means have been rewarded with a coveted place in a medical programme would irretrievably erode public trust in the entire examination system. Not only must an entrance test be conducted in a way that selects only the meritorious, it must also be perceived to be doing so.
The CBSE’s failure to insulate the examination from such a breakdown is compounded by its continued denial that it bears any responsibility for the leakage of answers — or, indeed, that there even was a leak. Such obstinate defiance betrays a lack of respect for the 6.3 lakh students who sat for the entrance and have been heavily inconvenienced by the CBSE’s incompetence. The academic calendar has been thrown out of gear, and the careers of both successful and unsuccessful candidates will remain in suspended animation until the AIPMT is held again and results announced. The CBSE owes it to them to acknowledge its failure and to find a way of addressing it so that it is not repeated.
This is not the first time that a high-profile CBSE-administered examination has been broken into. In 2011, the All India Engineering Entrance Examination paper, also held by the CBSE, was leaked. Class XII board exam question papers have been leaked several times, in 2004, 2006 and 2011. Two of the masterminds of the current operation reportedly used the same modus operandi to pass the AIPMT in 2014. Despite all the evidence that its measures to secure question papers are ineffective at best, particularly with the spread of new technologies such as cellphones, the CBSE has done little to update its security procedures. Back in 2003, when the IIMs were forced to hold a retest of the Common Admission Test (CAT) after a leak, protocols were thoroughly reviewed and rechecked. Later, the CAT was computerised to prevent a repeat. If it is to avoid a costly relapse, the CBSE must urgently incorporate technology and institutionalise reforms.