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Students who cheat during exams better watch out as the Supreme Court has advised the authorities to use an iron hand to check such malpractices which affect the country's progress and academic standards. "We are of the firm opinion that in academic matters there should be strict discipline and malpractices should be severely punished. If our country is to progress we must maintain high educational standards, and this is only possible if malpractices in examinations in educational institutions are curbed with an iron hand," the apex court observed. A bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and Markandeya Katju also ruled that even if an unauthorised chit is merely found in the possession it is deemed to be a malpractice, irrespective of the fact whether the student had copied from the said chit. "All that is relevant is whether the slip of paper found in the possession of the examinee pertained to the examination paper in question. If it does, then it is a malpractice," the bench said. The apex court passed the ruling while upholding the appeal of a college management which challenged the Delhi High Court's decision to condone a student's malpractice. In this case the student Vaibhav Singh Chauhan a third year student of Dr Ambedkar Institute of Hotel Management, Nutrition & Catering Technology, was disqualified from attending the course for a one-year period as he was found in possession of a chit during the third year examination in 2004-05. He was permitted by the institute to take readmission for the academic session 2006-07 in the same class and appear in the annual examination in 2007. A single judge of the Delhi High Court, however, quashed the punishment on the ground that it was disproportionate to the offence and also in view of the fact that the student confessed to the fact of possessing a chit and apologised for the same. The single judge accepted the argument of Chauhan's counsel that there was no evidence to show that the student actually used the said slip of paper found in his possession. Further the judge observed "If we care to think back to our student days, one would invariably recollect preparation of such kind of slips for refreshing the mind immediately before an examination, with no further intent to use it in unfair or illegitimate manner." A division bench of the high court concurred with the reasonings of the single judge following which the management and the Director (Studies) appealed in the apex court. Rejecting the high court's reasoning, the apex court said in this particular case, the said slip of paper was brought into the examination hall and was found to be in the possession of the examinee while the examination was going on. "Whether the respondent actually used that slip or not is irrelevant. These aspects of the case have been ignored. Once it is found that the chit/piece of paper contains material pertaining to the examination in question it amounts to malpractice, whether the same was used by the examinee or not," the bench observed. The bench termed as "misplaced sympathy" the high court's view that the student's act should be condoned as he had confessed and apologised to his act. The apex court also lashed out at the single judge's reference to his own student days. "A judge is supposed to keep his personal view in the background and not inject them in the judgments. What was done in his student days was surely irrelevant for deciding the case or even passing an interim order," Justice Katju writing the judgement observed. The apex court said that it is true that when a person confesses his guilt it is often treated as a mitigating circumstance and calls for lesser punishment if that is permissible. "However, this is not an absolute rule and will not apply in all kinds of cases. In particular, as stated above, in academic matters there should be no leniency at all if our country is to progress," the bench observed.
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