by Hamid Rather
Since the declaration of KAS-2016 mains results on December 4, both dropped and selected aspirants have taken to streets to protect their self-interests. Dropped aspirants alleged irregularities in the evaluation process by adopting ‘digital evaluation’ in the middle of the examination and thereby changing the rules mid-way that goes against the spirit of the examination and Supreme Court guidelines.
They also held that the digital evaluation is in trial phase throughout the country and wherever adopted attracted litigations. They approached the High Court and got the exam process stayed through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). Contrary, the selected aspirants who were called for the interview, the final leg of the three-tier KAS examination, rebuff all these allegations and claims as mere ‘after-thoughts’ of failing in an examination. They held that digital evaluation is foolproof and need of the time to upgrade the institutions to suit to the changing times.
Both the versions of the KAS imbroglio are worth attention. Unfortunately, our writers, academicians, civil society, media, political and non-political leaders have followed the political trajectory to speak only when there is self-aggrandizement.
The two aspirant groups fighting each other on roads, social media, in TV channels and court-rooms is a classic example of social tension simmered by the institutional failure. Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission (JKPSC), which is responsible to conduct all exams on behalf of state government, has become a lawless monster. The monster is taking youth on a ride for years puncturing their confidence, wasting their productive years and pressing them into depression and unemployment. It is not only in case of the current KAS controversy but the pattern is the same in other examinations conducted by the commission.
Michel Crozier, an administrative scholar, says that bureaucrats don’t correct their behaviour by learning from their mistakes. JKPSC headed by Latief-uz-Zaman Deva is a classic example of what Crozier projected in his book Bureaucratic Phenomena. Mistakes that are repeated don’t remain mere mistakes but blunders and are motivated for vested interests. JKPSC issued the notification for 277 junior scale (KAS), police and accounts service, in 2016 to be recruited through Combined Competitive Examination (CCE). It is 2019, but the examination process is yet to be completed. Chairman JKPSC in a press conference said that they had hired an 80-year-old man to set papers’ and that warranted the mistakes in the answer keys of a preliminary test of the examination that led to the litigations thereby wastage of aspirants time and resources.
When the maximum age for the Supreme Court judge is 65, High Court judge is 62 and NHRC and SHRC is 70, how come the chairman appointed an 80-year-old man’ to set or evaluate papers for this prestigious examination. This shows the inefficiency of the Commission in choosing the experts for setting papers and evaluator. Integrity and credibility of the institution is questioned by the aspirants from time-to-time.
The chairman has proved to be a bag full of lies, deceits and deception. Pertinently, J&K HC battered the commission (Hidayat Ahmad Mir vs. JKPSC, 2018) and ordered, “JKPSC cannot be allowed to change colours like a chameleon. They cannot turn around or change horses’ midstream”.
Rule 12(B) was deleted from the statute books that provided for the transparency in the examination process and in the absence of such rule, nepotism, favouritism and spoil system prevails. Ironically, the same Commission had denied the copies of answer scripts of KAS main 2014 to the aspirants under RTI Act, 2009 and now the chairman is taking shelter under the same guise by changing the rules, which are neither notified nor amended.
The buzzword in the town is what digital evaluation is. Digital evaluation or on-screen marking (OSM) is a nascent information technology (IT) driven procedure carried out in 3-primary phases. First, the answer scripts are digitally scanned. Second, the digitally scanned answer scripts are saved in the server. Third, the digitally scanned answer scripts are sent to the selected evaluation centres for evaluation by the domain experts. The primary idea behind the technology is to expedite the process of evaluation as soft copies of the answer scripts could be sent quickly to far off places, and, so could be the award rolls. Indeed, this technology promises great. But, it demands excellence in Human Resource (HR) and IT-infrastructure. However, India, in general, lacks such ecology and not to talk of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Let’s examine the implementation of digital evaluation via case studies across India. Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU), Karnataka, adopted digital evaluation which led to the quantum jump in the applications of re-evaluation. Interestingly, a large chunk of engineering students who applied for re-evaluation passed. Moreover, the difference between marks allotted via digital evaluation and re-evaluation was substantially high. One-man fact-finding committee led by Justice K N Keshavanarayana found glaring glitches with the digital evaluation system. It opined, “The fact remains that all is not well in the evaluation system of VTU. The university authorities are required to take note of all these factors and revamp the system otherwise it would have a great impact on the quality of product coming out of the university and it may also affect the future prospects of honest and sincere students if lesser merited students are allowed to get a higher percentage of marks by making use of the lacunae in the system”. These damning findings of the one-man judicial commission eventually resulted in the suspension of the Vice Chancellor of the university.
In another case, Mumbai University also had a harrowing experience with the digital evaluation system. 250 of its Law students failed due to human error that had crept-in, in the implementation process. Further, the results of around 4.9 lakh students were inordinately delayed due to the digital mess. Noteworthy, some of the failed students scored in single digits while those who passed, scored abnormally high. Eventually, upon manual evaluation, all the 250 students passed and some featured at the top of the merit list. Taking cognizance of the matter, the Bombay High Court equated the Mumbai University’s digital evaluation system to the ‘Demonetisation Chaos’. Here again, the High Court found enmass discrepancies with the digital evaluation system and ordered a re-evaluation of the answer scripts of the examinees.
Cambridge University has carried in-depth research on the digital evaluation system, which is published under the citation, Essay Marking On-Screen: Implications for Assessment Validity. The Researchers at Cambridge noted various pitfalls in the technology. The unclear awareness of the document length, lower reading speed due to poor screen resolution, electronic learning of lower quality, hamper with elderly evaluators, potential tiredness due to reading over an extended period on screen, scanning errors (overlapping of lines and blurring of words), multiple coding nodes, lack of oversight & supervision, poor internet connectivity, sub-standard computer specifications, server limitations, lack of coordination, snags in processing programme for tabulating overall results are few of the pitfalls of the technology.
JKPSC has brought a technological reform in an unscientific way that has proved disastrous to both the dropped as well as the selected aspirants, as both are on roads to pitch for their interest. As such digital evaluation is not bad as selected aspirants portray but bringing it in a jiffy without experimentation brims glaring administrative inefficiency of the commission. The leakage of KAS-mains 2016 result by a senior bureaucrat on a WhatsApp group raises many questions over the secrecy of the working of the commission. The institution is primarily suffering from structural problems as there are no specified structures for grievance redressal, and research and development for disposal of grievances and bringing periodic and systematic reforms respectively.
Failure of grievance redressal opened Pandora box of litigations for JKPSC and brewed social tensions amidst the highest rate of unemployment in the political-strife state. Had there been an administrative reforms structure in JKPSC such misadventures would have been avoided? Had the chairman acted in the professional persona shunning his personal aura, three productive years of our youth would have not been wasted? It is not only loss of youth; it is the national loss both in economic and human capital terms. It is the right time for the complete overhaul of the monster institution called JKPSC.
(Hamid Rather is an author and journalist. The ideas expressed are personal)