The strongrooms are the weak links. The place where question papers are kept in “safe custody”, before being taken to a Madhyamik examination venue, has emerged as the most likely “holes” through which papers can be leaked.
These strongrooms, usually the local treasury (or the police station, if the treasury is inconveniently positioned), get the question papers around a fortnight before the exam date. They stay there for the entire period, till a few hours before an exam starts.
A headmaster of one of the schools in a particular zone is given charge of the papers. West Bengal Board of Secondary Education officials, however, admit he has little control over the papers while they are in the strongrooms or during their transfer (from the press to the strongroom and from the strongroom to the venue of the exam).
That was exactly what happened in this year’s one confirmed leak (of some other question papers of the additional subjects in Cooch Behar before the exams began on March 5), board officials said. “We were fortunate that the leak occurred before the exams began and we had time to change the questions,” one of them added.
A strongroom gets several packets, each of them containing a specific number of papers (not less than five and not more than 100). “With each such strongroom getting some hundred papers, which have to be reached to several venues, it is very difficult for one headmaster to keep track of everything,” said a board official.
Keeping track of “everything” includes checking whether the packets from the board office are torn. “A torn packet can be very easily manipulated to pull out a paper (or a page from a paper),” the official admitted.
From the distribution centre to the coaching centre is, normally, a very short route. If a leak occurs, say board officials, it is more likely to involve more than one coaching centre as passing on all the questions to only one “doesn’t make sense”.
“Besides, even if a leak occurs, no one is going to reproduce an entire paper,” said an official. “The language is going to be changed, some figures are going to be different and, most importantly, some questions, too, are going to be changed.”
It is more “paying” to make more than one set of ‘model’ question papers — each containing a part of the original board-set paper — so as to double the income, the official observed.
There are other routes, like the paper-setter, that lead to the coaching centres. “But, as every Madhyamik paper is a collation of the efforts of several paper-setters, no one would know anything except the questions set by himself/herself,” said a state school education department official. “It doesn’t make any sense for anyone to buy only three questions in a paper.”
The papers then reach the board authorities and from there are taken to the press. “Leaks from government-run presses are not impossible, but improbable,” revealed an official.
“Most of them now depend on question papers of board-conducted exams for their business and employees, therefore, have a direct interest in ensuring that these institutions do not get blacklisted due to a leak,” he added.
So, the need of the hour is to fortify the strongroom.