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NO WAY TO PLUG THIS LEAK

What lessons do the Telgi stamp paper scam and the leaking of the CAT papers have for us' Quite apart from the obvious one that the entire chain — from the source to the last distribution outlet — can be corrupted, the more ominous lesson is that the advances in print technologies and communication techniques are a double-edged weapon. Not merely has the production of documents become quicker and more sophisticated, but the same can also be replicated illegally with equal speed. These pirates can operate at half the cost because no fees — or what are called origination costs, paid to artists and authors (in the case of CAT, the examiners) — are eliminated: all that is required are a few contacts in the right places and some advance payments with the promise of more when the “job” is done.

Despite the claims of confidentiality, most students who appear for all-India competitive examinations know where papers are set and who the examiners will be. If the students don’t, the coaching schools certainly know because a few are run by ex-alumni or retired “paper-setters”.

For instance, CAT papers are set in the IIMs, the ISIs and the IITs. Because of the apparent ease with which examiners can be “spotted”, sections of the paper are parcelled out with just the chief examiner making the final selection from the questions submitted to him. In theory and in practice, it is very difficult for any candidate, even the examiners, to know what the final question paper will be.

The “leak” always comes from the press, with a little help from the examiners who inform the pirates where the papers have been sent for printing. Once this is known, it is a question of getting around the compositors and the proof-readers. Here, too, no single worker will know the entire paper, only the works manager who gives the final print order. Pirates work on the latter to smuggle out a single copy.

In piracy, speed in production and distribution is of paramount importance. With the help of computer scanners for reproduction of illustrations, computer-to-plate technology that eliminates films, and high-speed printing machines, an examination booklet (usually 16 to 32 pages) like the CAT paper can be printed and bound in a few hours. Stamp papers do not take much longer. With the new technologies, the pirated copy is as perfect as the original — with fancy computing for colour reproductions, even better!

Speedy distribution to cover the tracks is not easy, but it is not very difficult either owing to the character of the distribution chain. Usually there are some key wholesalers who have their own agents and sub-agents spread across their territory. Given the incentives, they handle the job quietly and efficiently.

The “contacts” are the key players in the game. It is they who first provide the scent of the hunt and the assurance that their political clout will see the pirates through. The latter know that in this game where winner takes all you can run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

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