CBSE paper leaks – Should Govt dismiss CBSE chief or force him to resign on moral grounds? How can we make this system leak-proof?


I had a simple formula for calculating risk of leakage of some sensitive information. If one person knows an information, the risk is 1 unit. If two persons know it, the risk is not 2 units (i.e., 1+1) but it is 11 units. If three person know the same information, then the risk is not 3 units, but it is 111 units. And, so on. So you see, the risk increases exponentially (and not linearly) when more and more number of people know some information.

Some 27 years back, I was posted as DCP of Anti-Corruption Bureau at Nagpur. I had entire Vidrarbha with me (at that time, there were 9 districts). Within 7 days of my joining, I had to organise a corruption related raid. It was out of an open enquiry. When we conducted searches at the residence of the accused, I noticed that the accused had removed most of the costly items to some other place. For example, there was a huge TV antenna of about 30-40 feet on the roof (this was sometime in 1991 or so), which appeared to be used one, but there was no TV in the house! So, obviously, TV had been removed to some safer place to show less and less assets to weaken our case. Being an open enquiry, the accused knew that the ACB would conduct the searches in a few days. Perhaps, someone from ACB itself had alerted him.

I changed the way of working. In next two months or so, another raid was to be organised in a case. This time we had conducted a discreet or secret enquiry. Before taking a decision for raid, I called the Dy.S.P who was conducting enquiry. Told him that I had decided about registration of the corruption case and that only the TWO of us knew it. So, the risk factor was 11 units. I could not have reduced the leakage risk further. I told him that I would be personally doing all the secretarial work myself so that I don’t have to involve even one more person (as the risk would have become 111 units). I warned him that if the information gets leaked even to a single person, I would presume that he had leaked it. So, we fixed the date for search. I took office keys from the clerk who used to maintain them. Past midnight, at about 2 am, I silently went to the office alone. I myself opened the office. In fact, the chowkidar of the area (it was a small market area) started blowing whistle after hearing some office being opened past midnight, thinking that some criminal was trying to break the office open. But, when he saw me, he became silent. I entered the office. Started typing. Various types of orders (for conducting searches) were to be typed, as we were conducting searches without warrant from court, in order to maintain secrecy. I typed on the manual typing machine for about 2 hours. Prepared their copies. At 4 am or so, I returned home. Left for another city where I had called officers for briefing and forming search teams. I had deliberately called them at a different location to maintain secrecy about place. At 5 am, I briefed officers, gave them sealed envelopes containing search orders, etc., just indicating locality name and city name, not disclosing the actual address or name of the accused. These full details were inside the envelopes which were to be opened after reaching in the locality. This was the best we could have done to coordinate the operation, at a time when mobile phones were not yet invented. At 6.30 am, the searches started at 6 places simultaneously.

Now, let me tell you. The results were extremely encouraging and amazing. Due to the highest level of secrecy maintained by us, we discovered at least 500% more (corruption related) assets than expected in enquiry.

I was in that post for about 18 months or so. We conducted a large number of similar searches maintaining the same amount of secrecy. All (repeat ALL) searches were super successful. So much so that in 18 months number of such cases in our 9 districts was more than the number of all cases in complete Maharashtra in 27 years (since 1964, when that specific type of corruption offence was first created by Parliament)!!!

Reason? Secrecy. You have to plan for secrecy. You have to do hard work to maintain secrecy.

The success of your whole operation is equivalent to the weakest link in the chain. If you have ONE weak link in the whole chain (who could leak information), your whole operation may fail fully.

This is what has happened in CBSE paper leakage case.

Let us briefly see the chain involved in CBSE. Let us say there are 20 lakh students to be examined for a particular question paper. First, you need to set the question paper. You cannot give this work to a single teacher. There would be many. In fact, deliberately, more than one set of papers would be got prepared from different groups. So, many teachers / officers would be involved in this process. Once the question paper is finalised, it will go for printing. Mind you, as many as 20 lakh copies are required to be printed. If it is a 4-page paper, 80 lakh pages will have to be printed. It is a huge work which may involve many persons in the process. Now, these papers are to be sent to various schools / examination centres, where these 20 lakh students would be appearing. As per this media report, Class 10 examinations (for 2018) were being conducted at 4,453 centres across India and 78 centres abroad, while Class 12 examinations were being held at 4,138 centres in India and 71 centres abroad. Each such centre will have varying numbers of students. So, you have to prepare, say about 5000 such envelopes, each containing varying numbers of question papers (say, 300, or 400, or 350, etc.). So, again some people would be involved in putting these question papers in these envelopes in varying numbers. You then need to dispatch them to centres (through some distribution agencies or controlling agencies). Again, some people would be needed. Ultimately, these envelopes containing question papers will reach about 4000 to 5000 examination centres, spread all across the country. At each centre, one or more persons will have custody over these question papers in seal.

So, you may note that a large number of people are involved in setting the papers, printing the papers, dispatching the papers, keeping them in safe custody at the centres (or in lockers), etc.

ONE PERSON cannot do this whole exercise. Many persons are involved in the whole chain.

If security risk of leaking information is 11 units for two persons, how much risk would be there if say 5000 persons are involved in this process? Will it be 11111111…(5000 times)?

Well, also remember, the strength of a chain is equal to the strength of the weakest link.

So, in this whole chain, even if ONE person does some mischief, or if he is negligent or careless, the whole operation MAY fail. The question paper may get leaked. It may leak only locally or over a large area. It may be leaked to a few persons or to public at large. Depending on that, the failure of the whole operation would get decided.

In the past also, question papers would definitely have been leaked. When our Prime Ministers and Supreme Court judges can indulge in malpractices and corruption (read, here), how can you trust such a large number of people in the question paper chain?

However, in the past, we did not have WhatsApp. There was no Internet. No cameras on mobile devices. In fact, no mobile phones also. No spy cameras that can fit in a 1 millimetre diameter or so, such as a small dot on a pen or shirt’s button, and so on. And, mind you, such mobile and spy cameras can be very powerful, as we all know.

One click by any SINGLE person in this whole chain by his mobile phone or spy camera, and you’ll have the full question paper on the Internet. It can become viral in a few minutes. It spreads faster than the forest fire.

In the past also, question papers would have definitely been leaked, but to a select few. Now, these things can become viral and their spread may become uncontrolled.

This is democratisation of leaked information which can make or unmake future of 20 lakh students. In the past if we did not have leaked papers, then it was not because papers were never leaked, but because leakage was confined to select few.

Then, there may be sabotage also. Remember that Gurgaon Ryan International School student who allegedly (as per CBI) murdered a junior student only because he wanted to get the examination and the parents’ meeting postponed. See my article on that issue: Ryan International School murder case – how unprofessional and inhuman can police be? So, it is not impossible for someone in the chain to do a sabotage to get the examination postponed or for some other motive such as to defame the Government. Remember, with paper leakage, examination is now going to be conducted again, which is equivalent of postponing the examination. Look at how much bad name the Government has got in this whole episode. So, anything is possible in My India, nowadays.

So, one thing is sure. It is not surprising that a paper got leaked. I would rather be surprised why a paper does not get leaked, given the type of corrupt and inefficient system that we have and given so many people are involved in the whole process.

Now the question is whether CBSE Chief should be punished or dismissed or made to resign? Well, you need an enquiry to be conducted to find out-

  • Was there any connivance or actual involvement, direct or indirect, on his part? If yes, it is not merely a case of dismissal, but also of a criminal case.
  • Was there any gross negligence on his part, in the whole process or in devising the system, or was there an illegal omission on his part? If so, it would definitely be a case of dismissal or resignation, but may even be fit for a criminal case (depending on detailed facts and gravity of negligence) since under the IPC, illegal omission is equivalent to a deliberate act.
  • Was there a negligence on his part in the above process? It calls for dismissal / resignation / removal.
  • If the CBSE Chief is not at all at fault and if he devised a perfect system and ensured its implementation also, but someone in the whole chaincommitted mischief and broke the trust by leaking the question paper, then I don’t think you can blame the CBSE Chief for the mischief done by some odd person in the chain. Let such mischievous person face the criminal charges for his mala fide act. But, of course, tightening of the system is required to ensure that such incidents are not repeated in future.

What I have mentioned above is only a brief outline. The actual enquiry process and the consequences may be entirely different in a given situation.

Lest this answer become like the proverbial never-ending tail of Hanuman, I should cover the next issue briefly.

That is what can be done in future to prevent similar occurrences? Technology. Yes, technology is the answer. We may have to move to the system of online examination. Some 20 years back, I have seen software companies like Microsoft conducting worldwide online examination. Some 10 years back, I saw BITS Pilani conducting online entrance examination. I don’t think I need to multiply examples.

Many years back, our election system was infamous for booth capturing and poll rigging. The electronic voting machines, invented by our own scientists, have solved that problem (notwithstanding that the loser parties always cry foul).

Can we do something similar here? Can our scientists do something here?

Can Artificial Intelligence be invoked to create a foolproof system for examining students by randomly created questions, but from within the syllabus, using natural language capabilities of the system? Of course, it may need time to design and test the system.

If nothing else is possible, we should consider introducing examination with books. This will replace the existing rote learning system and introduce checking the understanding of the students while allowing them to use books during examination. Of course, this is only a suggestion and the experts have to examine the merits of the system.

I think the system of sending the question papers by email or downloading them from servers, at the last minute at the examination centres, has already been tried in India.

Let us study what is the system followed in other countries. We can try to take a leaf out of the best systems abroad. Let a committee of experts examine other systems.

However, we should note that wherever there is involvement of human beings, it may not be possible to overcome the human weakness, more so, when a large number of persons are involved in the whole process. Human factor is the weakest link in the chain. Can we reduce it drastically if we cannot completely remove it? Perhaps, the artificial intelligence will provide some innovative solution in future.

[P.S.: This is a modified version of an answer originally written by me at Quora for a similar question.]

About Dr. Ashok Dhamija

Dr. Ashok DhamijaDr. Ashok Dhamija is a New Delhi based Supreme Court Advocate, holds Ph.D. in Constitutional Law, is author of 3 law books, and is an ex-IPS officer. He is the founder of this law portal. Read more by clicking here. List of his articles. List of his Forum Replies. List of his Quora Answers. List of his YouTube Videos.

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