Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Saturday said that the notification of the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2024, a day earlier by the Union government is “damage control” amid the several alleged “scams” in entrance examinations.

On Friday, the Union government operationalised the Act that is aimed at tackling malpractices in state-run competitive examinations and entails stringent punishments, including a maximum jail term of 10 years, along with a Rs 1 crore fine, for offenders.

The Act was passed by the two Houses of Parliament during the Budget session that concluded on February 10. On February 13, President Droupadi Murmu gave her assent to the Act.

It came into effect on Friday amid questions about the credibility of the National Testing Agency against the backdrop of irregularities in two examinations that it conducts: the National Eligibility-Cum-Entrance Test for admission to undergraduate medical courses and the University Grants Commission-National Eligibility Test for the post of assistant professor in universities and colleges.

Noting that the president had given her assent to the Act in February, Jairam on Saturday said: “Finally, just this morning the nation has been told that this Act has come into force.”

“Clearly this is damage control to deal with the NEET [National Eligibility-Cum-Entrance Test], UGC-NET [University Grants Commission-National Eligibility Test], CSIR [Joint Council of Scientific and Industrial Research]-UGC-NET and other scams,” Ramesh said in a social media post.

The Congress leader said that although the legislation was needed, it dealt with question paper leaks after they had occurred. “More important are laws, systems, processes, and procedures to ensure that leaks don’t happen in the first place.”

The National Testing Agency deferred the Joint Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-University Grants Commission National Eligibility Test on Friday. The examination is conducted for the posts of Junior Research Fellowship and lectureship or assistant professor in universities.

The autonomous testing agency said in a notice that the test that was scheduled to be held between June 25 and June 27 was deferred “due to unavoidable circumstances as well as logistic issues”.

The decision to defer the examination came two days after the Union government cancelled the University Grants Commission-National Eligibility Test after its question paper was leaked. The exam was conducted on June 18.

This also comes amid allegations of question paper leak and other irregularities in the National Eligibility-Cum-Entrance Test, conducted by the same agency on May 5. The Supreme Court is hearing the matter.

Education ministry forms expert panel

On Saturday, the Ministry of Education announced the constitution of a High-Level Committee of Experts to ensure the “transparent, smooth and fair conduct of examinations”.

The ministry, in a press release, said that the committee has been tasked to make recommendations on reforms in the mechanism of examination processes, improvements in data security protocols, and the structure and functioning of the National Testing Agency.

The committee, under the chairmanship of former Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman K Radhakrishnan, will submit its report to the ministry within 2 months, it added.