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Rajasthan paper leaks | A wide web of deception

AWhile leaks and omissions have disrupted four national competitive exams, putting the future of over 3.6 million students at risk, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime in Rajasthan is grappling with a huge legacy problem on this front. Almost every civil service job advertised and filled in the last decade has come under scrutiny for leaked exam questions, bogus candidates, fake degrees and fake certificates. As the investigations gain momentum, more and more skeletons are coming out of the closet.

Before the assembly elections last year, the BJP had promised to crack down on anyone who used unfair means in the recruitment exams during the then Congress government of Ashok Gehlot. Soon after he came to power in December, Chief Minister Bhajan Lal Sharma ordered the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Rajasthan Police to thoroughly investigate all such cases. Last month, the state government ordered a review of the selection records of around 125,000 government employees hired during Gehlot's tenure. But the arrest on June 23 of one of the key players – 57-year-old Tulsa Ram, husband of a deputy police commissioner – exposed deeper ties that go back at least to 2012 and put 18 exams alone under question due to information leaks.

A week later, police confirmed the leak of Forest Guard exam papers 2022. They suspected similar problems in the Rajasthan Teachers Eligibility Exam 2022, even as district education officials of Banswara and Jalore were sacked for alleged supervisory negligence.

But now reports are emerging that hundreds of people have used bogus candidates to reserve jobs for tribals, which have comparatively lower minimum qualifications. The government is in a bind. Cancelling all these exams would also mean punishing many legitimate and deserving recruits. A more fine-tuned approach is being taken to pinpoint the culprits, while also working on developing foolproof mechanisms for future exams. Explaining this approach, VK Singh, Deputy Director General of Police (ADGP), SOG, says, “Whether the exams were cancelled due to a leak or not, we are identifying as many candidates as possible who used leaked exam questions or fake degrees and taking them to task, along with those who were involved in leaking the questions or posing as bogus candidates. The government is aiming to create fear of the law, which is the biggest deterrent.”

The SOG investigation led to the arrest of 35 aspiring sub-inspectors (SIs) on suspicion of profiting from leaked documents. Among them is the son of a deputy superintendent of police. “It is hard to imagine what kind of policemen they would have become if they had access to weapons,” says ADGP Singh, who has recommended that the Rajasthan Public Service Commission and the Rajasthan Subordinate and Ministerial Services Selection Board check the documents of successful candidates before issuing appointment letters. His team had previously discovered thousands of suspicious cases of fake university degrees, disability and sports certificates.

The irregularities go beyond the exam leaks. Private universities are accused of issuing backdated degrees to candidates who never attended courses. Such complaints have been made earlier too, but little progress has been made. Outlining new measures, Subir Kumar, state secretary for higher and technical education, said, “We are serious this time about curbing such practices in private universities. The government has the power to appoint its administrator in private universities that flout our norms and can even dissolve the institution.” While students and parents have been advised to check whether the institutes are allowed to offer the courses offered, the state's 53 private universities have been directed to provide details of courses and number of students enrolled and graduated since their inception to prevent the issuance of backdated degrees. While all past and current details of admissions and available seats have to be uploaded on the universities' websites, monetary transactions have to be done digitally.

Even the Sports Ministry is developing a mechanism to verify certificates from educational institutions and sports associations so that only legitimate candidates can get extra points or reservations. Investigations have shown that around a thousand sports teachers got jobs last year with fake degrees and certificates. Similar caution is advised when issuing disability certificates.

As part of this corrective action, the SOG continues to investigate over 2,000 complaints received through a dedicated helpline. While seven persons were arrested for issuing fake degrees from Mewar University in Chittorgarh, the arrest of Tulsa Ram and his nephew Pourav Kaler brought to light more details of a scam involving the leaking of several examination papers. The accused reportedly used Bluetooth devices hidden in shoes, buttons, collars, underwear and even wigs to transmit answers to the examinees in return for substantial 'fees'. The gang members included persons who specialized in passing various examinations as dummy candidates, either by merit or through unfair means. The alleged gang leader Suresh Dhaka, who ran coaching academies, is still at large.

The Tulsa Ram case has laid bare the extent of the involvement. A former SI, who was sacked for irregularities, opened training institutes in Jodhpur and Bikaner and is now facing 14 criminal cases. Among other charges, he is alleged to have helped his nephew cheat in the SI exam in 2010 and was briefly arrested in 2014. His wife's sister, a trainee SI aspirant in the paper leak case, is a fugitive. The SOG has also identified and arrested members of another gang led by Jagdish Bishnoi, besides a certain Praveen Kumar Bishnoi, who resigned as senior chartered accountant in 2023 and is accused of solving exam questions for various gangs. Meanwhile, Unique Bhambu, a trainee forester who is the alleged main conspirator in several paper leaks, including in the recruitment of junior engineers in 2021, is a fugitive.

The consequences of this systemic corruption are far-reaching. ADGP Singh observes, “One cannot expect someone who has been selected for a government job through illegal means, often involving huge sums of money, to do his job honestly later on.” Even as the government works to root out fraud and introduce tighter controls, the challenge remains enormous. In the meantime, the future of millions of government job applicants and the integrity of Rajasthan's public institutions are at stake.

Published by:

Shyam Balasubramanian

Published on:

July 5, 2024