Blow for fairness

The Supreme Court’s ruling that students are entitled to inspect their answer sheets under the Right to Information Act is a major blow for transparency in examinations.

The ruling covers  educational, professional and employment-related examinations and would benefit lakhs of students and young job seekers. There are large numbers of students who feel that they have not been awarded the marks they deserved to get.

Many candidates who appear for job tests have also felt that their performance has not been well evaluated. The provision for recounting and revaluation of answer sheets, which exists in school board and college examinations,  is not sufficient to remove the doubts and misgivings of many candidates. The students never had the opportunity to satisfy themselves that their answer sheets were fairly evaluated by the examiners.

The apex court ruling has come on appeals against the rulings of some high courts which had upheld the right of students to access their examination papers. A number of school examination boards, including the CBSE, universities and institutions had opposed the granting of this right to students on the plea that they held the answer sheets in a fiduciary capacity. But, as the court noted, there is no fiduciary element involved in retaining the answer sheets as confidential documents.

They actually belong to the students who wrote them, and since they have paid the examination fee they have a right to inspect them. It is a fact that the academic future and careers of many examinees are jeopardised because of faulty and sloppy evaluation.

Every year there are hundreds of cases where students have found, after recounting, that they have received more marks than they were originally awarded. That makes the case for access for students to their answer sheets strong and justified.

The ruling will also make the evaluation of answer papers more efficient and give a higher sense of responsibility to evaluators. The argument that it will open the floodgates of requests for scrutiny and inspection is unacceptable. Bodies which conduct examinations have the responsibility to ensure that evaluation is fair and efficient and to address the grievances of students. They are duty-bound to make necessary arrangements for the purpose. The ruling is yet another instance of the court expanding the scope of the right to information and making it relevant to a large section of the population on a matter which is vitally important for their future.

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