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In an apparent failure on the part of the state board to curb cases of HSC paper leaks, the question papers of both Mathematics and Statistics were leaked on WhatsApp before the exam were held on Monday.
So far, the question papers of at least five subjects, for the Class 12 (HSC) board exams conducted by the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, have leaked on the instant messaging platform.
On Monday, the question papers of both Mathematics and Statistics were leaked on WhatsApp at least 37 minutes before the exam was scheduled to start. The papers first surfaced on the WhatsApp group named ‘HSC Board 2017’.
Since students are allowed to enter the examination hall 30 minutes after the exam commences, i.e. till 11:30 am for a 11 am exam, those who had access to the leaked copy of the paper had roughly one hour to prepare for it.
Incidentally, both subjects are common for all three streams – Commerce, Arts and Science. Although Science and Arts students receive the same papers, the one for Commerce students is different.
Dattatray Jagtap, chairperson of the Mumbai Divisional Board, confirmed that both sets of question papers matched the ones leaked on the WhatsApp group.
Around 1.8 lakh students appeared for the exam on Monday in Mumbai, and approximately five lakh sat for it across the state.
In the wake of the recent leak, the state board has asked exam centres to note the entry timings of students appearing for the exam.
“Supervisors have been asked to make note of students who enter after 10.45 am, in case of the first session, and after 2.45 pm for the second session,” said Siddheshwar Chandekar, secretary of the Mumbai Divisional Board.
The board, in a circular issued yesterday, even disallowed teachers and supervisors from carrying cellphones into the exam centres. It further increased the number of flying squads, who will be accompanied by board officials for the remaining exams.
The state board is also contemplating on scrapping the ten minute question reading time allotted to students before the start of each HSC exam and has sought help from Cyber Cell of the Crime Branch to prevent future leaks.
Prior to Mathematics and Statistics, the question papers of Marathi, Secretarial Practise (SP) and Physics were also leaked on WhatsApp. The Marathi exam was held on Thursday, whereas the SP and Physics exams were conducted on Saturday.
The photographs of all three question papers surfaced on WhatsApp within the hour before the exam. Apart from students, some coaching class teachers also received a copy of the papers.
Although the board had earlier denied the Marathi paper leak, it was forced to acknowledge it after parents called the helpline to complain and multiple news outlets reported on it.
In total, five papers have been leaked in the five day period since Thursday. Last year, the question paper for Book Keeping and Accountancy had leaked.
Complaints and arrests:
A day after the leaked Marathi paper came to light, Jagtap filed a complaint with Vashi police in the neighbouring Navi Mumbai. A second complaint was filed on Saturday after the SP and Physics surfaced on WhatsApp before the exam.
Following which, the Navi Mumbai Police launched an investigation into the matter. Between Sunday night and Monday morning, four people were arrested in connection with the case. Of the four, three are students while the fourth one is a private tuition teacher.
Those arrested have been identified as Azaruddin Kamaruddin Shaikh (20), Rahul Bachelal Bhaskar (22), Mohammad Aman Mohammad Islam Shaikh (19) and Suresh Vimalchand Jha (26).
The board officials registered a third complaint, terming the incident as a case of ‘malpractice’, with the same police station on Monday.
The cops have also identified a student, who was caught viewing the leaked images while inside the exam hall. Although she was allowed to write her paper, further action will be taken against her once the probe is over.
The investigation is still underway and more arrests are likely.
Leak or malpractice?
While everyone is branding the incidents as ‘leaks’, the board is adamant that it is a case of ‘malpractice’. As a result, the latest complaint filed by the board also refers to malpractice, instead of terming it an outright leak.
“To call it a leak, the question paper must reach students hours before the exam. In this case it is just minutes before the exam, so we are considering it malpractice,” Jagtap was quoted saying.
The same was resonated by State Education Minister Vinod Tawde, who went a step further by claiming that the incident was a “very small matter” and alleged that the HSC exams were not important enough to incentivise cheating.
Students in dilemma:
Despite the obvious disadvantage, those who attempted the papers on merit are left wondering about the possibility of re-exams.
For some, appearing for the exam again is a concern, either because they feel the board cannot guarantee that the papers won’t be leaked again or due to planned vacations, commitments etc.
“Many of us have made post-exam vacation plans. If there are re-exams, we might have to cancel them. And even if we do, what guarantee is there that the same breach won’t take place again?” argued Sunil Kamat, a Commerce student from Mumbai told Local Press Co.
Meanwhile, others believe re-exams should be held in order to give everyone a fair chance.
“Our future admissions may depend on how we score in comparison to the rest. It is unfair for honest students, who have spent the entire year preparing, to compete with those who got the question paper in advance and spent a few hours on it. It also defeats the purpose of conducting common centralised exams,” said Shefali Shah, an aspiring doctor.
For the time being, the Mumbai Divisional Board chairperson has stated that no re-examination of Marathi, Secretarial Practise and Physics papers would be held. Whether the stance remains the same, especially if more papers leak, remains to be seen.
Update (March 8): Maharashtra State Board has clarified that it will not be conducting re-exams for any of the five papers that have leaked on WhatsApp till date.
The board issued the clarification explicitly after hundreds of parents bombarded either the college’s or the board’s helpline to enquire about the re-exam dates.
The parents reportedly got to know about the re-exams after a message claiming the same started circulating on social media and WhatsApp.
Meanwhile, State Board Chairman Gangadhar Mhamane has urged students and parents to refrain from believing or forwarding such messages and advised them to check the board’s official website for authentic news.
Update (March 10): The question paper of Book Keeping and Accountancy was also leaked on March 10, following which another FIR was registered in Mumbai.
Five students, from Naravane School and Balbharti Junior College – both in Kandivali, who had the leaked copy on their mobile phones were booked under relevant sections of Maharashtra Prevention of Malpractices at University, Board & Other Specified Exams Act as well as the IT Act.
While their mobiles were seized, the students were not arrested as the exam was underway.
Update (March 12): On Saturday, Navi Mumbai Police arrested four more persons in connection with the HSC paper leak. Those arrested include the trustee and head clerk of Mount Mary School in Palghar.
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