Mumbai: The fate of 100 young students teetered in the balance last month, while their answer sheets to the Geography paper of the crucial, career-building HSC (Higher Secondary Certificate) examinations lay on an abandoned motorcycle in Kalbadevi, unattended and exposed to the elements. Thanks to the vigilant eye of a shopkeeper in the area, the scripts were recovered and returned to the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, thus averting a catastrophe.
One morning in the second week of April, 40-year-old shopkeeper Sudhir Patel spotted a bundle swathed in newspapers, gathering dust on the seat of an abandoned bike nearby. Hours passed, but no one came forward to claim the bundle, and Patel’s brother Kiran and uncle Narhari Upadhyay picked it up and placed it in the shelter of their shop.
When no one came forward, Patel started worrying about the contents of the bundle in his custody. He unwrapped the bundle, and discovered, to his shock, that he was in possession of 100 lost HSC exam scripts. He decided to return the set to his alma mater Hinduja College. Officials at Hinduja College then arranged for the scripts to be returned to the office of the Mumbai division of the board.
The bundle of sheets was addressed to the principal of Smt Maniben M P Shah Womens’ College Of Arts & Commerce College, Matunga, affiliated to SNDT.
MiD DAY’s investigations have revealed that the corrected answer sheets were on their way to a moderator at the college, where they were to undergo scrutiny before being returned to the board. An examiner in a college in South Mumbai had corrected the set of answer sheets. Neither Patel, who discovered the scripts, nor the officials at the moderation centre to which they were addressed, were able to identify the examiner or the SoBo college.
Suman Jain, principal of Smt Maniben M P Shah Women’s College said, “The HSC answer sheets from the Geography examination were supposed to have been delivered to my college for one of our professors, who is a moderator for the examination. A set of 100 sheets, however, didn’t turn up. Afterwards we received a call from the board, intimating us that the set of papers addressed to us had reached their office. We haven’t lodged a complaint with Matunga police station for the missing papers, neither do we know how the papers landed up at the board office instead of our college.”
Asked if it was their duty to collect corrected scripts for moderation from examiners, she said firmly, “Our college peons were not asked to collect the papers. Returning the papers for moderation was the prerogative of the examiner from a South Mumbai college who corrected the papers.”
Recollecting his discovery, Patel said, “My brother and my uncle picked up the bundle of papers which had been lying on a bike for several hours. They picked it up and kept it at entrance of the shop, so that anyone who came looking for the bundle could spot it immediately. But no claimants came forward all day. Worried about the contents, I unwrapped the bundle, and realised they were important papers from the HSC exams. I immediately contacted my college, and spoke to vice-principal Jayesh Patel, telling him what I had found. He alerted the board officials, and thereafter I handed over the set to a peon dispatched by the college. I wanted to file a police complaint, but didn’t in the end. I did my bit, but the board should be more alert.”
T Shiware, principal of KPB Hinduja College which facilitated the return of the scripts from Patel to the board, said, “When Patel, one of our ex-students, found a set of corrected HSC answer sheets and turned to us for help, we arranged for their return to the board office. His prompt actions were praiseworthy. It would have been shameful if the papers had been lost permanently. The board should definitely conduct an enquiry to get to the bottom of the matter.”
The other side
Ravindra Bhise, secretary of the State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, Mumbai Division, denied that the papers had been lost, saying, “Last year, before I assumed the post, board papers were lost from a college in Bandra. But this year no such case has been reported. It was only the board’s stationery that was lost and found. It has now been returned to our office.”
The path traversed by answer sheets
Answer sheets collected from the exam halls are sent to an institution that has been designated as a centre by the board. The centre then distributes the papers to different college examiners, for correction. Once the examiners are done with their appraisal, they are sent for moderation or scrutiny to another designated institution. The moderator then returns it to the board office.