The HSC Marathi paper was circulated at least 20 minutes before it was handed out to examinees on Thursday .A small bunch of students shared photos of the pages on WhatsApp as early as 10.20am and were found calling up their faculty members to clear doubts.Board officials are calling it a malpractice, not a leak.

TOI too received a copy of the paper before the exam began, as some conscientious teachers from coaching classes decided to blow the lid off the incident. Working backward, TOI has screenshots of all the pages of the question paper.They were received by a teacher of a tutorial at 10.46am, indicating that the leak was not restricted to a few students. Several teachers claimed the paper was out the previous evening and many would have got an added advantage in the examination. TOI shared the photos wi th board officials, who confirmed that the paper, which over eight lakh students were attempting across the state, was the same one. Marathi is an optional second language 100mark paper for Class XII students across streams. In Mumbai, as many as 1.2 lakh stu dents appeared for it.

Board officials said they would approach the cyber police with a complaint. “We will have to see what time the students received the paper. We got information about the paper being circulated after 11am which means the students had already started taking the exam. So it cannot be termed as a leak, only a malpractice,“ said Dattatray Jagtap, chairperson of the Mumbai division, which includes Mumbai, Raigad, Palghar and Thane.

Officials from the state HSC board's HQ in Pune said they will wait for more details. “Since the Mumbai division was alerted first, it is expected of them to file a complaint. Only after the extent of the reach is known will we decide on further action,“ said Gangadhar Mhamane, board chairperson. The HSC Marathi paper was leaked at least 40 minutes before the exam got under way on Thursday . In the last two years too, the HSC book-keeping and accountancy paper had leaked. The board did not deem it necessary to order re-tests.

“A faculty member received photos of the Marathi paper at 10.46am and he immediately alerted me,“ said Narendra Bhambwani, owner of a coaching class. A student who sent the question paper received it at 10.40am. “He said he received the images on his phone from another friend. We have no idea where the trail originates,“ said Bhambwani. The student, who informed the faculty , is an IT student who was not appearing for Marathi.

Those in the know claimed that parts of some previous question papers in this year's HSC exam too have been partially leaked in the guise of “important questions“,but there was no substantial evidence. Maharashtra Class Owners' Association (MCOA) president Sachin Karnawat said the matter would be taken up with state education minister Vinod Tawade.

“Widespread leakage of question papers is taking pla ce. Some papers have got leaked even a day in advance. The government needs to take this seriously or the board is going to lose its reputation,“ said Bambwani, former vice-president of the MCOA.

According to the board's of ficial report of the day's cheating cases, there were none in Mumbai. There were a total of 97 cases of cheating in the state, of which 55 were from the Aurangabad division.

(With inputs from George Mendonca)

TIMES VIEW:

The state education board needs to build in more safeguards to stem such leakage. Given the scale on which the exam is conducted -with lakhs of staff across the state involved in supervising it -security protocols must be non-negotiable and involve use of technology. There have been instances in the past when HSC question sets are believed to have been accessed by select groups of students. Though there is no proof to show that it has lent an unfair advantage to many candidates, the board has to probe the matter and take remedial action.