Behind Maharashtra’s rigged recruitment exams: A trail of desperate candidates, corrupt officials, system loopholes

THE investigation into yet another scam in government recruitment exams — this time in the Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) system — has revealed a pattern that was also seen in earlier scams. Youths desperately trying to get government jobs and falling prey to promises of easy recruitment, racketeers with knowledge of government systems taking advantage of loopholes, and serving or former government employees acting as middlemen.

In the last week of April, Nanded District Police arrested 14 people, including two policemen and two employees of a company in Pune, in connection with a scam that involved rigging the OMR system in a police recruitment drive in Nanded. The police are now on the lookout for the mastermind of the racket, who is an employee of the same company. An inquiry into the malpractices of staffers of this company, and those from another firm associated with it, has revealed that these suspects had rigged several exam processes across Maharashtra, where they were given contracts of OMR system.

Nanded Police had started digging into the results of their examination after they found that 13 candidates had scored exceptionally high marks: almost 90 out of 100. The question papers of these students, along with the answersheets, were checked again, and it was found that they had not done any calculations to answer the questions.

The investigation found that employees of the Pune-based companies, which were given the answersheets of the candidates, used to fill up the blank spaces left by candidates during the exams. They used to mark the correct answers based on the key of the question papers provided to them. The cops who acted as middlemen approached the candidates, who were ready to play heavy sums to the tune of Rs 5 to 10 lakh. Further probe has revealed that same racketeers had also rigged a State Reserve Police Force exam held in Pune and had taken money from 30 candidates.

‘Fishing’ the candidates

“The racketeers in the OMR scam had two tried-and-tested methods to fish for the candidates,” explains an officer from Nanded police. “Where does one find a large number of candidates preparing for the exams in one place? Either at coaching classes, or at the venue of the examinations. The two serving SRPF policemen, who acted as middlemen, approached the candidates either at coaching classes or examination centre premises and made promises of getting high marks in return of money. We also need to understand the condition of the candidates. In areas where many educated youths do not have good employment opportunities and agriculture is becoming difficult, government jobs is the only way out. They are ready to pay money by any means. The middlemen in this racket also went around showing off how their earlier ‘clients’ were selected in exams,” said the officer.

A similar modus operandi was used by the accused in the state-wide dummy candidate racket, which had come to light in 2016 and is now being investigated by the state Criminal Investigation Department. Candidates from coaching classes were baited by the fraudsters. Yogesh Jadhav, a 28-year-old political science graduate and civil services aspirant who is the whistleblower in the dummy candidate racket, had unearthed a series of impersonation cases by filing several Right to Information (RTI) applications. Jadhav had started digging into these cases when he had found that several youths known to him had sold or mortgaged their ancestral land or houses to pay a middleman for their selection into government jobs for positions of peons, clerks, security officers and even higher ranks. Many of them had even got selected.

Jadhav later filed TI applications seeking hall tickets and the application forms filed by many candidates. Most of the candidates in this racket were tapped by the middlemen through coaching classes, sometimes with the involvement of the coaching class owners. The same method was used in two separate Army recruitment rackets. The first was the Army recruitment paper leak unearthed in February 2017 and the other was fake recruitment letters in which the kingpin was a serving Junior Commissioned Officer from the Indian Army. In both cases, the candidates were ‘fished’ from coaching classes.

Culprits exploit loopholes in the system

The probe in the OMR scam is also being looked at by senior officials as a sign that the racketeers were exploiting a gap which remained unnoticed. The employees of the company, which was given the contract of the OMR system, had direct access to the key of the question papers. Steps are now being taken to correct this lacunae.

The probe into the dummy candidate racket also showed how people who are familiar with the loopholes, misuse them. The recruitment system continues to function with serious flaws and is still a cesspool of corruption, according to officials. “Digitisation, use of computer-based biometric systems and linking to Aadhaar can be some of the solutions that can be looked at. Now, some exam centres have jammers. Every examination is videographed,” said an officer. Even in the Army recruitment paper leak, it came to light that the question paper was leaked after an insider retrieved it from the deleted files of a computer in the regional recruitment office of the Indian Army.

“In the recent cases… alert government officials, honest candidates and fearless whistleblowers have brought to light these scams. What is worrying are the signs that these rackets continue to exist in the system and many candidates selected through these corrupt practices continue to serve in their government posts,” said a CID officer.