Exam cheats foiled en masse
Crackdown surprises thousands of students in Indian state, where cheating is a multi-million rupee business. Suchitra Behal reports
When officials in the Indian state announced a crackdown on exam cheating they could not have imagined the impact.
Alerted to the drive against corrupt invigilators, some 95,000 students who had registered with exam boards to take the Class 10 and Class 12 exams failed to turn up for them last month. Police said it had become commonplace for invigilators to charge pupils fees to allow them to cheat.
Uttar Pradesh is famous for its political scandals, but it appears that many students have also been guilty of corruption for years.
Despite the warning of a clampdown, 8,000 examinees were still caught cheating, according to official estimates.
At least 4.4 million students were due to take the annual exams this year.
For the "education mafia" in the state where organised cheating has become an industry that would have meant a turnover of millions of rupees.
The state's notoriously lax controls on cheating have encouraged pupils from the neighbouring states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and even from across the border in Nepal to register for its exams.
All but 3,000 of those who dropped out or were caught cheating were from Lucknow - and 60,000 were from just two districts in the city, according to Vasudev Yadav, the secretary of Uttar Pradesh Secondary Education Board.
For many, cheating for the final exams in senior school is a carefully planned operation: instead of studying for the finals, thousands spend their time and money working out a foolproof cheating plan.
Mr Ramraj Singh Yadav, the police chief in the Kannauj district of Lucknow, said the price rates for cheating there were well-established.
"It takes Rs 1,000 (pound;13) to let a student cheat from a piece of paper or his textbook; Rs 3,000 (pound;38) to provide the student a separate room where answers are dictated to him by an invigilator; and anything from Rs 5,000 (pound;64) to Rs 7,000 (pound;90) to give individual specialised attention."
In one incident in his district 12 men barged into a classroom and grabbed 200 answer sheets. Mr Yadav said hundreds of complaints registered with police against parents, teachers and principals were pending.
Often the authorities are powerless to prevent abuses. In one case the district inspector of schools and his staff were beaten up when they tried to record mass copying at an examination centre.
Ragha Prasad Mishra, who heads the Lucknow chapter of the UP Secondary Teachers Association, said: "Despite all the vigilance and police presence, (exam cheating) business worth over Rs 5 million (pound;64,000) must have taken place this year in our town."
In some cases "fake" students do exams on behalf of others.
Mr Mishra added: "Something must be done as soon as possible, otherwise we will be producing an army of fools."