Saturday, April 17, 2004

An ailing system
Rakesh Kochhar

THE recent AIPMT paper leak has brought into focus the malady that afflicts entrance tests for various courses in the country. This is not the first time this has happened. This seems to be just the tip of the iceberg.

On pondering over the ramifications of such leaks, it is easy to lose faith in the whole system. It is not merely the inconvenience of a rescheduled test or the monetary aspect of it that troubles the candidates. The parents find it difficult to coax their wards to prepare again for this or that test when they themselves are not convinced of the fairness and inviolate nature of the entrance tests.

Calendar of leaks

April 9, 2004: The All-India Pre-Medical Test leak detected in Delhi, with the arrest of two students, Rakesh Verma and Vikas Verma.

March 2004: At least three other cases of question paper leak in different state education boards. The Class IX papers of Delhi Government schools were leaked and resulted in the cancellation of examinations, as was the chemistry examination of Class XII of the Uttar Pradesh Education Board. The Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Education, too, postponed its English and drawing examination for the physically challenged following the alleged theft of question papers. Nearer home, the paper leak of Class X and XII of the Punjab School Education Board, were leaked, allegedly with the connivance of top officials.

January 2004: Question papers of the all-India entrance exam for admission to the MD, MS and PG courses were leaked in Jaipur. The Rajasthan police arrested four dummy candidates from an exam centre in Jaipur.

January 2004: Examination paper for recruitment of constables in the CRPF was leaked in Hyderabad. The CBI arrested five persons, including four CRPF personnel.

December 2003: The entrance exam for MS and MD courses in Jammu and Kashmir held on December 8 were cancelled after the State Vigilance Organisation confirmed that the question papers were leaked.

November 2003: The CAT paper leak was detected and a major racket was busted. Ranjit Don and Manoj and Ajit from Bihar were arrested.

May 2003: Answer sheets of higher secondary and senior secondary classes of the CBSE examination were stolen in Chandigarh.

The trauma to the 2.5 lakh candidates is the last thing on the mind of both the HRD Minister and the CBSE Chairman. To say the least, it was a simplistic solution to calmly proclaim that a new date will be announced soon. They are lucky that our system of justice is not litigant-compensation friendly. To shed some light on the sorry situation, they need to be reminded that each MBBS/BDS aspirant applies for 20-25 entrance tests and actually appears for 15-20 of them. If the same 2.5 lakh candidates have to appear for various PMTs, why have so many of them? Globally, efforts are on to make assessment standardised and fair, but in our country, a single centralised PMT canít be held with its ranking honoured by every state/medical college. The PMT can be held on the lines of CAT. This will not only save time and paper work but also reduce stress caused to candidates, who have to commute to different centres.

At present, besides the AIPMT, institutions like AIIMS, BHU, AMU and JIPMER hold their own PMTs. Recently, the unaided private colleges have also joined the race with colleges in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan and formed their own groups. But that does not end the agony of the students. A number of colleges do not join these groups and want to hold their own test, like the DY Patil University in Pune. The prospectus for each of these costs Rs 300 to Rs 600, while the examination fee is another Rs 1000. Is the HRD Ministry or the Medical Council of India aware of all this? Last year, the Supreme Court had allowed private unaided medical colleges to fix their own fees that ranges from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh per year. The Centre claims credit for reducing the IIM fees from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 30,000. The number of MBBS seats in private unaided colleges is many times more than the IIM seats, but there seems to be little or no concern shown in this case. Most of these colleges are run by trusts floated by politicians, making redressal difficult.

In the interests of students, there should be a single centralised entrance test conducted by an independent body, which should ensure safeguards against all possible loopholes and leaks.

The writer is Additional Professor, Department of Gastroenterology, PGIMER, Chandigarh