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High-tech responses to low-tech scandals

November 27, 2003

Two cricket selectors, Pronob Roy and Kiran More, recently alleged they had been offered a bribe of Rs 20 lakh (Rs 2 million) by Maharashtra cricketer Abhijit Kale for a spot on the national squad.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India has suspended Kale and is conducting an enquiry. Kale has gone to court challenging the suspension.

Rumours abound: it wasn't Kale, it was his mother. The calls were made a week before BCCI went public, Kale wanted a spot on the India A team and so on. It is the word of two people against a third and that makes it difficult to nail lies.

But in all the noise this has generated, nobody has mentioned the technological aspect. The alleged contacts occurred by phone. These must have been long-distance calls, probably received on cell phones. It is a very simple matter to list every call received by Roy and More and thus establish whether or not any contact occurred.

It is even easier in this specific instance because of long-distance, interconnection and probably, roaming charges. The calls would have been logged and billed across several networks -- and fudging would be impossible.

If any conversations did occur between Kale (or his mother) and the selectors, it would not prove guilt. But an absence of any such calls would lead to a possible presumption of innocence. Assuming Kale is innocent, it would be very much in his interest to demand those records be cited.

By the way, the silence about possible technological evidence strikes me as very interesting. The BCCI must be well aware of digital footprints left by phone conversations given the Cronjegate affair, where the Delhi Police's evidence was entirely digital.

In fact, it would be surprising if some agency weren't snooping full-time on the conversations of Indian selectors though the transcripts would probably be unavailable!

This isn't the only instance where technology could help clear the atmosphere in an Indian scandal and prevent its recurrence. Existing technology could plug the holes that created two other scandals that have, dare we suggest, assumed an importance almost equal to the cricket row. One is the leakage of Common Admission Test papers. The other is the stamp paper racket.

Exam papers can be leaked at various stages. CAT has an elaborate process where the question-setters are "blind". The setter doesn't know if their specific questions will be used and they don't know the rest of the paper. Once the final paper is assembled and goes to press, the soft copy is destroyed.

The CBI has exonerated the academics involved in this process -- the Indian Institute of Management security procedure was not at fault. Not surprising -- everyone in this process has a lot to lose in terms of professional and personal reputation.

There was leakage at the press. That's also easy to imagine. Even if one out of 2,00,000-odd print copies cannot be smuggled out, a type-setter/proof-reader could play "Kim's Game" and simply remember what he prints without understanding it.

The tech answer: don't use a press, employ just-in-time processes. Keep one master copy of the questions on a single CD in the HRD minister's custody. Ensure all exam centres are logged onto a wide area network and have fast printers.

After students have entered the centres, transfer the soft copy from the CD to each centre on a secure lease-line. Let each centre print only as many question papers as required. This will add perhaps 30 minutes to exam procedures but isn't that better than the alternative?

If there are leaks, the HRD minister will carry the can directly, which would enhance the entertainment value.

As for the stamp paper scam, can anybody concerned recall a process called "dematerialisation"? It's used by lakhs of people on a daily basis for electronic transactions involving tens of thousands of crores.

So demat is certainly robust enough to replace those niggly paper transactions. What prevents this tech upgradation? I'm sure that the National Securities Depository Limited, Securities and Exchange Board of India, National Stock Exchange, Bombay Stock Exchange, banks/financial institutions and others would be more than happy to offer their expertise to the concerned departments.

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Number of User Comments: 2

Sub: tech in exams

as regards, exams, one could also adopt the prometric testing approach of microsoft, and have instant question papers created from a huge resident database (of ...

Posted by sandeep

Sub: Agree with the author

The suggestions made by the author are practical, inexpensive and at least better than the existing mehtods. If GRE/SAT/MCAT etc can be administered by using ...

Posted by Brave Heart


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