A pair of scissors and a piece of paper with a code turned out to be the two biggest clues that helped the Maharashtra state board and the Mumbai police nab the culprits behind the HSC paper leaks this year.

Six question papers of the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exam were leaked between March 2 and March 10. This affected nearly 3.4 lakh students from Mumbai division and 15 lakh from Maharashtra who took the exam.

Shots of one of the six papers — Marathi, Secretarial Practice, Physics, Mathematics and statistics and book-keeping and accountancy — that went viral on WhatsApp, minutes before the exam, showed shears and a piece of paper containing a code, barely visible in the frame.

Closer inspection revealed that the code, T7, belonged to a custody centre, near Virar in north Mumbai, used to store question papers. It helped in narrowing down the search.

A source said that it was the scissor visible in background of the picture that helped in tracing the exact location of the paper leak. Scissors are prohibited in custody centres so it meant that the photo was taken at one of the exam centres to which the custody supplies papers, said a board official.

“This detail helped us zero in on exam centres under the jurisdiction of the custody in Virar,” said Siddheshwar Chandekar, Mumbai division secretary, Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education.

The board informed the police of their suspicions and it led to the arrest of Anand Kamat, headmaster and trustee of Mount Mary School, Virar, on March 11, along with his head clerk, Ganesh Rane and two others.

Both of them are accused of clicking photos of the papers and sending it to advocate Nikhil Rane, 29, who runs a private tuition class. Rane shared the pictures with Vinesh Dhotre, teacher at Lokmanya Junior College, who also runs his own tuitions. Dhotre forwarded the messages to several students, who had paid him for the papers.

Experts said that the board urgently needs to beef up security for exams. The teachers have demanded printing exam centre codes along with custody centres on the question papers. “This way if a paper leaks, we will know which exam centre it was leaked from,” said Prashant Redij, head of the Mumbai School Principals Association.

A request to split the divisional board into two, for better administration, is also being considered by the state board, along with several other steps to prevent a repeat of such incidents.

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