Calcutta University could, in 20 years, be perched precariously on a mountain of answer scripts nine times taller than Mt Everest.
A recent high court order guaranteeing examinees access to their answer scripts for up to two decades under the Right to Information Act has given the university authorities a massive storage headache.
The university handles around 25 lakh answer scripts a year but doesn’t archive any for more than six months.
But the court’s verdict, read with the information act, means it now has to preserve every answer script for 20 years. That’s five crore answer scripts by the end of two decades.
“We are ready to abide by the court order as well as the provisions of the information act. But is it possible for any institution to create infrastructure to store such a huge pile of answer scripts?” a university official wondered.
The high court didn’t fix any deadline for students taking a look at their answer scripts but the information act specifies that examinees can apply for physical verification of their papers even 20 years after writing the test.
The vice-chancellor of Calcutta University, Suranjan Das, said his office would request the court to “clarify” whether archiving answer scripts for 20 years was “mandatory” under the information act.
“The process of showing answer scripts to students should not be a never-ending one. It could go on to affect academic and research activities,” he warned.
The average answer script contains 14 sheets of around 0.1mm thickness each. If answer scripts of 1.4mm each — 14 multiplied by 0.1mm — are piled up over 20 years at the rate of 25 lakh annually, Calcutta University will be saddled with a heap that is 70km tall (See chart).
“Just the thought of creating storage space for five crore answer scripts makes my head spin,” said an official of the university’s examination department.
The university conducts a “review” of answer scripts once a year. “We need to know what we should do if a student wants to see a script after the review results are declared and seeks re-evaluation,” the vice-chancellor said.
One of Das’s senior colleagues said the university might need to set up a separate department to archive answer scripts. “We will be able to dispose of the first lot only at the end of 20 years, but another 25 lakh will be added that year. It’s a burden that will never grow lighter. So, apart from creating infrastructure we will obviously need more funds and personnel.”
The university has already allotted some space to the examination department in a four-storeyed building that is under construction on the campus of Viharilal College of Home Science in Hastings.
The controller of examinations, Onkar Sadhan Adhikary, has been asked to compile a list of suggestions on how to archive answer scripts.