Internet Suspensions During Government Exams Bring Rajasthan To Virtual Standstill
Internet shutdowns have accompanied government exams in Rajasthan.
Internet bans don't necessarily keep out exam malpractice.
It has caused widespread inconvenience to the public.
The Rajasthan government has organised various competitive exams in the past one month, including the Rajasthan Entrance Examination for Teachers (REET) 2021, the RSMSSB Patwari Examination 2021, and the Rajasthan Administrative Services (RAS) prelims 2021.
During this time, what has become unbearable for the people of Rajasthan is the frequent, abrupt hours-long internet suspensions across the state.
REET 2021: 12-hour Blanket Ban
It began with the highly competitive REET 2021, organised by the Rajasthan Board of Secondary Education (RBSE) on 26 September, when mobile internet and messaging services were out for 12 hours straight in key districts including Jaipur, Udaipur, Alwar, Bikaner, Ajmer, Nagaur, and Kota.
Around 16 lakh candidates attempted the exam for 31,000 teaching posts in state government schools across Rajasthan.
The 12-hour blanket ban on the internet, from 6 am to 6 pm, implemented for the sake of preventing cheating on the exam, forced the state into a virtual standstill.
It is noteworthy that several students even missed their exam as they were unable to find their examination centres due to the suspension of mobile internet services.
While many were unable to attend their online classes, meetings, and interviews, the suspension also imposed huge losses upon businesspersons, given the peak Diwali season, as e-businesses virtually remained parked throughout the day.
Patwari Recruitment — A Two-day-long Internet Clampdown
People had to face similar difficulties for two consecutive days during the Rajasthan Subordinate and Ministerial Staff Selection Board Patwari Examination 2021, held on 23-24 October.
Internet services remained suspended from dusk to dawn on Saturday and Sunday in Jaipur, Dausa, and Bikaner, as around 15 lakh candidates were to appear for the exam in centres across the 23 districts of Rajasthan.
“Mobile internet will remain suspended from 6 am to 6 pm to ensure there is no paper leakage, fake rumours and no untoward incident which may lead to (adverse) law and order situation and disturbance,” informed the Jaipur divisional commissioner Dinesh Kumar Yadav just one day prior to the exams.
The sudden snapping of the internet caused inconvenience to the general public as mobile banking, e-wallets, food delivery services, e-ticket booking, online cab services, e-commerce websites, and other such services were left in the lurch due to the two-day internet clampdown.
RAS Prelims: Sudden, Brief Ban
The Rajasthan Public Service Commission (RPSC) on Wednesday (27 October) conducted the RAS prelims exam.
As part of the preparation to ensure that no malpractices — cheating, copying, law and order issues — take place during the RAS prelims exam, mobile internet services, bulk SMS/MMS, all social media services (except voice calls and broadband internet) were suspended for a four hours, from 9 am to 1 pm, in Jaipur, Bharatpur, Bikaner, Madhogarh, Ajmer, and other parts of Rajasthan.
The general public once again found itself clueless as another sudden internet shutdown was announced only a day in advance. While the duration of the internet suspension for this exam was comparatively short, lakhs of people were unable to complete their essential tasks since the reliance on the internet during these times is immense.
Does Internet Ban Check “Malpractices”?
An internet clampdown alone cannot ensure the conduct of a free and fair examination as miscreants indulge in the use of various unfair means — paper leaks, cheating slips, micro ear pods, Bluetooth devices, and other corruption — to sail through such highly competitive exams.
Until the organisers take strict measures to be a step ahead on all these fronts, no exam can be conducted in an entirely fair manner.
Instead of a blanket internet ban across the state, the authorities should work towards making the examination process more transparent and robust.
Broadband connections in the exam centre and nearby building(s) must be limited and supervised, a jammer must be installed, technical support and trained staff should be appointed, proper manual and virtual scans on candidates should be done, anti-cheating flying squads should be appointed, and police personnel should be present at the exam centres to professionally deal with any law-and-order situation that might arise during the exam.
If the government ponders and pursues these alternatives, the twin goals of conducting a free and fair exam and preventing any inconvenience to the general public, including the financial losses forced upon businesspersons and the state, could be achieved with relative ease.
Rajasthan's Internet Revelation
For Jammu and Kashmir to be the state with the most number of internet bans, given the obvious security reasons, in the past decade or so is no surprise at all. However, Rajasthan surprisingly comes in second in this regard, warranting a serious enquiry into the matter.
According to the from Software Freedom Law Centre India, a portal that maintains statistics of internet clampdowns since 2012 across the country, Jammu and Kashmir tops the list with 317 internet shutdowns, followed by Rajasthan, with 78 such instances.
The regions that suffered the most number of internet bans in the state include Sikar, Jaipur, Bhilwara, Bharatpur, and Udaipur.
In September 2017, the number of internet shutdowns in Rajasthan stood at 13, which means that 65 such instances have occurred since then, pointing to an alarming rise in the past four years. This includes the one-odd year of the Vasundhara Raje-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, followed by three years of Congress rule under Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
Interestingly, states with a much larger population than Rajasthan have fared much better. In the past 10 years, the number of internet outages is 30 in Uttar Pradesh, 18 in Haryana, 12 in West Bengal, 11 in Maharashtra, Bihar, and Gujarat, seven in Madhya Pradesh and Meghalaya, six in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, and five in Odisha.
The figure for other states ranges between zero and three.
The Congress leadership, which at the drop of a hat hurls accusation of “fascism” and alleged “attacks” by the BJP government on the fundamental right to ‘freedom of speech and expression’ of Indian citizens whenever an internet blockade is implemented in Kashmir and other BJP-administered states, might want to explain what accounts for such shocking revelations regarding internet suspensions in Rajasthan.
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