The Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) examination is held annually on a rotational basis by National Law Universities based on the order of their establishment. The turn of conducting this year’s CLAT examination was that of NUALS, Kochi. They outsourced the conduct of this exam to Sify Technologies. It is this exam which produces the next generation of lawyers in the country and just like we care about the CAT exam for MBAs and the IIT exams for engineering, this exam deserves as much importance.
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NUALS along with Sify probably conducted CLAT in the worst possible manner. Let us point out how. Everything was going smoothly at most examination centres till the paper started. As the paper started, the timer set at 2 hours began the countdown, but no questions appeared on the screen. Some questions appeared in an encrypted format, making them impossible to comprehend. Students lost about 5-10 minutes in this. The invigilators (who seemed to be employees of the test centre) told us to shut down our computers. We did so. On re-starting our computers, different systems showed different amount of time that was left. One thing was common to all systems, that none showed the actual duration, i.e., 2 hours, as the time that remained for us to attempt the paper. We were given assurances by the invigilators that extra time would be given to make up for the lost time due to technical glitches. There was panic in the examination hall which resulted in shouting and arguments among the students and invigilators.
At this point, the invigilators, amidst the commotion, asked us to start the exam. A national level exam, which requires focus and concentration, was being taken by most of us in a situation that could be used to describe a fish market. This is when the cheating started. As the test was started on different computers at different times, a few candidates (who had not started their exam) got up from their seats and gathered around one computer system on which the exam was going on. They saw the questions, solved them and told the candidate actually taking the exam what to mark. Not only did they save their time (as they hadn’t started the exam on their system, but had solved a few questions) but they also assisted the candidate (on whose system they had gathered around) in answering. The invigilators paid no heed to this as they were busy trying to get all the systems up and running after the initial crash.
When there were 30 minutes remaining for the exam to end as per the timer, an invigilator told all of us at our centre to close our systems so that extra time could be added. The systems were closed. Now this was a disastrous move by the organising authorities. As soon as the system was closed, candidates started discussing the questions. Some had written down the questions from the Mathematics section and were solving them. All this while the systems were closed – which means that their timer was paused. Essentially, cheating was easier than actually asking for a sheet of paper from the invigilators (which, in some instances, took more than 2 minutes). Then when the systems re-started, different amounts of time were added to different systems. In an all India exam, which this year was written by close to 60,000 candidates, and for which most students prepare rigorously for 2 years, unequal amounts of time were given. Some candidates claim to have got 30 minutes over the designated 2 hours, even though their systems had crashed for only 3 minutes initially. Other candidates at various test centres claim that they weren’t given extra time, despite the assurance by the invigilators after they lost 10 to 20 minutes. This is violative of Article 14 enumerated in the Indian Constitution, which guarantees us the right to equality and is grossly unjust and unfair. A video has surfaced which shows a student writing his exam beyond 7 pm, with 30 minutes left on the clock. The examination was supposed to start at 3pm. Not only did people barge into the examination centre with an electronic device, they actually took a video of the student attempting his paper and his computer screen. This means that electronic gadgets could come in contact with students while the paper was on and they could easily have assisted in cheating.
Utter mismanagement, different amounts of time given to different candidates and massive commotion and shouting marked this CLAT examination. As of 8 pm, 16th May, more than 2000 students have signed an online form agreeing to file a writ petition against the CLAT authorities demanding a re-test. Thousands of students have reported that their system crashed. Supposedly, Sify Technologies, is under the CBI scanner for high-level corruption, malpractices, use of unfair means in the online examinations (CGLE tier 2 exam held earlier this year). The Staff Selection Commission (SSC) candidates had sent a representation to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) demanding suspension of services of private vendor conducting online exams pending probe.
Now let us come to the events that have taken place after CLAT. The vice-chancellor of NUALS Kochi, Prof Rose Varghese remarked, “…the students are young so they are reacting.” It would be appreciable if the students were taken as stakeholders and that their reaction is taken seriously as it is their careers at stake.
On 15th May, the answer key for the examination was released. The undergraduate exam had a lot of wrong answers and unsolvable questions. There are about 15 of them. A set of questions for 5 marks (sitting arrangement, questions 99-103) is unsolvable due to contradictory information in the question. The waste of time on these questions changes the chances of the candidate getting into a university he/she deserves to get into. Another question, which asks candidates to identify the sentence which has an error, has taken the sentence “The college has organized a science fare” to be correct. The sentence clearly has a spelling error, i.e., ‘fare’. The correct spelling should be ‘fair’. Another question asks the number of languages mentioned in the eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution. The given answer is 21 but the correct answer should be 22. One question in the General Knowledge section asked: “Which country joined as the eighth member of the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) in February 2017?” As it turns out, the SASEC has only seven members! More than 13 supposed errors in the answer key have been identified.
Although the students have the option of filing grievances, the options available are “Incorrect Question”, “No Correct Option”, and “Correct Option is”. There is no option for multiple answers, which is a possibility in Q5. Once one of these three options is selected and we proceed to the next page, a message appears which says “Grievance has been created successfully”. No option has been given to make a representation, or to record reasons in writing, or to offer an explanation for the question being wrong to the candidates. Beside this message, by clicking “view” option, which shows a summary of the grievance, this column appears –
Now, the suspiciously weird part is – even though the grievance text option appears, the candidates weren’t given an option to record the reason for their grievance. The column appears, but the candidates were never even given a chance to write something for it to appear in that column! This grievance system of challenging questions started in CLAT 2015. Every year since then, the grievance portal gives the candidates an option to record his/her reasons in writing or his/her explanation or the basis of challenging the question. But CLAT 2018 does not give the candidates a right to be heard. CLAT 2018 does not give candidates the right to properly represent their grievances. Now, because candidates cannot enter grievance text (although final report shows a column regarding the same) it would be extremely easy for the CLAT authorities to dismiss the grievances, to not change as many answers as are wrong, and to release another extremely faulty answer key on 26th. This is in violations of the basic rule of natural justice which is of Audi Altrem Partem (i.e. to hear the other side). It is in violation of Article 21 (Right to life and personal liberty).
CLAT 2017 saw the authorities admitting to 9 mistakes in the question paper. CLAT 2015 which allegedly had 15 wrong answers, only admitted to 2 of them. A set of 7 questions was wrong in CLAT 2015 as well but the authorities never did anything about those questions. Such contrasting figures don’t give an assurance to the candidates as to whether the amended answer key issued on 26th May will have correct answers or not.
Under these circumstances, it is only fair and in the interest of meritorious students to conduct a re-examination. An examination of which violates the law itself on multiple counts does not keep up the sanctity of CLAT. Reports of police cases being filed in Jaipur support this assertion. In 2015, the Supreme Court directed the CBSE to conduct a re-examination of the AIPMT (Medical Entrance) due to irregularities in the examination.
The Supreme Court took this decision in order to provide a fair chance to all the candidates who took the exam in 2015. A fair chance is what the candidates of CLAT 2018 need. A re-exam would not be an unprecedented step. The recent decision of conducting a re-examination of the CBSE Class 12 Economics paper goes on to show how CLAT authorities are lacking in their will to ensure a ‘just and fair’ examination by not announcing a re-test. The fact that mass cheating took place is out in the open and has been recorded on the CCTVs under which candidates gave their exam. The importance given to entrance examinations of the medical profession needs to be on a par with the importance given to law entrance examinations. A law aspirant puts in massive amount of hard work for approximately two years and sacrifices a lot of things to be able to perform well in CLAT – the test which opens gates to 19 NLUs. But when that ability to perform is snatched from the candidate due to mismanagement and time allotted being less than 2 hours, or different time allotted to different candidates, it is devastating and depressing for meritorious students. Prof Rose Varghese remarked “At 1.5% centres computers failed and immediately [the candidates] were given the time.” This statement is disputable because almost at every centre across India, there was mayhem. For the sake of argument even if we assume the statement to be true, what about those 1.5% centres? When the paper stopped, couldn’t the students solve questions without losing any time and discuss answers among themselves? The convenor of this year’s CLAT committee has herself given us enough reason to demand a re-test. The future of the country is at stake here. If things remain as they are and no re-test is announced, ‘Common Luck Admission Test’ would be a better expansion of ‘CLAT’.
What we can conclude about CLAT 2018 is that meritorious students are the ones that have suffered the most due to mass cheating, mismanagement and chaos during the examination, a wrong set of 5 questions on which time would’ve been wasted, and an extremely faulty answer key. The only logical recourse to fix this would be announced a re-test soon so that students get the college they ‘deserve’ and the country gets the quality of future lawyers that it deserves.