A new Assam Bill raises questions on use of punishment to stop unfair means in job exams

While welcoming the proposal, academicians talk about a broader picture and warn that only penal action might not be a deterrent.

Published : Feb 08, 2024 11:33 IST - 4 MINS READ

Youth Congress activists try to break the police barricades during a protest over the Assam Police recruitment scam in Guwahati in October 2020.

Youth Congress activists try to break the police barricades during a protest over the Assam Police recruitment scam in Guwahati in October 2020. | Photo Credit: Dasarath Deka/PTI

Academicians on February 7 welcomed the Assam government’s proposal of stringent punishment for those found involved in unfair means in recruitment examinations but warned that only penal action cannot stop such crimes and that there has to be a societal change.

Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on February 5 introduced the Assam Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Bill, 2024 in the State Assembly. It proposes stringent punishment of up to 10 years in jail and a maximum fine of Rs.10 crore on any person, including examinees, indulging in any attempt to leak, produce, sell, print, or solve question papers directly or indirectly to assist a candidate.

Also Read | Cash-for-jobs scam in Assam Police

“If penalty or fine could stop a crime, no one would have drunk and driven vehicles. Why do we not talk about rectifying the system?” said Professor Ghanashyam Nath, retired principal of K.C. Das Commerce College, Guwahati. The public is also equally responsible for such malpractices as students and parents just want to grab a job by any means, he added. “The fine amount of Rs.10 crore is also unreasonable. Who would be able to pay that? This will lead to more corruption, which is already rampant in the State,” Nath said.

Echoing similar sentiments, Handique Girls’ College assistant professor (political science) Pallavi Deka said the number of “cash-for-job” scams have gone up in the last few years. “If the Bill is introduced just to control unfair means in such recruitment processes, then it is fine. But we need to revamp the overall system. This Bill seems to leave aside the cash component involved in such scams,” she added. Deka also pointed out that Assam has not witnessed a situation like in some other states where unfair practices surface in almost all examinations.

Kaustubh Deka, an assistant professor of political science at Dibrugarh University, said it is a welcome step from the government as it tries to tackle institutionalised unfair practices in job exams. “The government aims to fight unfair means from all fronts. This Bill will be effective in the long run as it targets to dismantle the entire ecosystem of such crimes. It may be a game changer,” he added.

Deka also spoke about the entire social mindset of rising quickly on the ladder of promotion and overall approval to shortcuts to gain success. “We need to tackle that also. The government or a law cannot alone fight against such menace. Our society is blind about success. That needs to change simultaneously,” he added.

As per the Bill, a conspirator will be imprisoned for a minimum of five years, extendable up to 10 years, and shall also be liable to be fined at least Rs.10 lakh, which can go up to Rs.10 crore. “...In case of default of payment of fine, such a person shall also be liable to be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term of two years,” it added.

Besides, an examinee just indulging in unfair means is liable to be punished with imprisonment of up to three years and also liable to be fined a minimum of Rs.1 lakh, and another nine months of jail in case of default in payment, the legislation stated.

The Bill will also empower the government to debar any examinee from taking any public examination for a period of two years if he or she has been convicted under the provisions of this law. “The court shall make an order of recovery of any wrongful gains made by such person, by way of attachment and sale of any of the assets/property movable or immovable, or both, of such person,” it said.

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The Bill also proposed to make all offences as cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable, and authorise an officer of Deputy Superintendent of Police rank or above to probe the crimes. It said that “no suit, prosecution, or other legal proceeding” shall be applicable against any public servant acting under the direction of the Assam government for anything done or planning to do in “good faith” under this Act.

The government in consultation with the Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court will also institute special courts, headed by not below Additional District and Sessions Judge, to try offences under this Act. Sarma, in the Statement of Object and Reasons of the Bill, said that it aims to provide an effective measure to prevent and curb the leaking of question papers and the use of unfair means in job tests to any post under the state government, including autonomous bodies, authorities, boards, and corporations.

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