A teachers' entrance examination on Sunday saw an unprecedented shutdown of Internet services and businesses across Rajasthan on the orders of the government.
Nearly 1.6 million candidates appeared for the Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers (REET) held to recruit Level 1 (class 1-5) and Level 2 (classes 6-8) teachers in 4,019 centres across the state. It's a coveted position as it comes with generous benefits - and the exam was last conducted in 2018 which perhaps explains why there were so many candidates, reported CNN.
Last Friday, the state's Principal Secretary (Home) Abhay Kumar wrote to the state, divisional and district officials to take a call on suspending Internet services to enforce law and order and to prevent fraud during the exam.
"About 16 lakh students will participate in REET 2021 and will travel from one district to another. In such a situation, there is a possibility of deteriorating law and order situation due to fake news, rumours of accidents, paper leak, etc," he wrote.
So, barring Jaisalmer, where India's Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu and his wife Usha arrived on Sunday, Internet services were suspended for different durations across the state on the orders of the divisional commissioners to prevent any leaks of information.
Thousands of candidates were ferried from their hometowns to the exam centres on free buses arranged by the government. But, wary of potential cheating, at least 10 districts shut down their mobile Internet, reported The Indian Express.
Local businesses were affected and mostly stayed shut across the state.
In Jaipur, the state's most populous district with more than 6.6 million residents, the Internet was shut down from 8am to 5pm, according to Mr Dinesh Kumar Yadav, the divisional commissioner.
"There were so many candidates... we just wanted to make sure (there wasn't cheating)," he told CNN. "People tried to cheat but we caught a lot of them. But, because of the Internet shutdown, the paper was not leaked."
He added that candidates sometimes use "different types" of instruments to try to cheat and other students "would get angry if they did not get a fair chance".
Several other major districts, including Alwar, Nagaur, Sikar and Ajmer, also imposed temporary Internet shutdowns - with more than 25.2 million people affected. Rajasthan has a population of more than 68 million.
The authorities also employed other anti-cheating measures, including CCTV cameras. Candidates also had to discard their own masks and use the masks provided at the exam centres.
The whole exam process - from the printing of the test papers to their transportation and distribution to students - was closely monitored and videotaped.
Barring minor incidents, the exam, held amid strict security, went off peacefully. But business associations claimed that businesses had lost crores of rupees.
Jaipur Vyapar Mahasangh president Subhash Goyal said that about 90,000 shops remained shut in the city. "Business worth around Rs100 crore ($18 million) was affected in Jaipur today due to suspension of Internet services," he added.
Indo-Asian News Service