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Above: Two BJP workers among four arrested in the  paper leak case in Gandhinagar/Photo: UNI

Gujarat state’s popular slogan got a beating when an exam paper for police recruitment was leaked, leading to huge protests. Such populist recruitment drives are common despite an HC order

By RK Misra in Gandhinagar

Competitive exams for government jobs in Gujarat have evolved from a scamsters’ paradise to a
multi-crore business “model”, leaving lakhs of hapless students high and dry.

If a breach in the Narmada main canal earlier this year had despairing farmers pulling their hair in frustration as their wheat crop stood inundated, it is now the turn of 8.75 lakh students to rue their fate following the postponement of a written examination for recru­it­­ment of 9,713 policemen. This came just an hour before the written test was to commence on December 2 in 2,440 centres statewide after it came to light that the exam paper had been leaked.

Dejected students took to the streets soon all over Gujarat, holding up traffic and burning effigies. There were reports of sloganeering against the BJP and social media turned acidic and abusive in castigating the government and the police. “These politicians and the police will not mind pimping even for their daughters as long as they get good money for it,” read an aggressive tweet headlined by the local print media.

Vikas Sahay, Additional Director General of Police, heading the Police  Recruitment Board, said that he had chosen to immediately postpone the exam after it was brought to his knowledge that a handwritten answer key to the questions was in circulation. “An FIR has been registered and police investigations are in high gear,” Sahay reportedly said. Chief Minister Vijay Rupani too has ordered a probe.

For all the officialese, this is not the first time that a government recruitment exam paper has leaked. In 2014, there was a similar leak involving an exam for the recruitment of 1,500 talatis (lowest-ranking revenue official at the village level) leading to the cancellation of the exam. The same year, the Gujarat Public Service Commission had to scrap exams for the recruitment of chief officers following a leak. Last July, the TET-2 examination for secondary tea­chers was scrapped for similar reasons. Earlier this year, the Gujarati question paper in the state secondary board ex­am­ination was reported to have leaked, but the exam was not cancelled.

Exam paper leaks have been a recurring feature in Gujarat. Even in the present case, the trail leads to Delhi. It is common knowledge that the “leaks” are well-oiled, nationally organised, multi-crore rackets. In the talati exam paper leak of 2014, as well as the mukhya sevika exams later, telephonic contact was established with candidates and questions offered for sums ranging from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 20 lakh. Most of these professional gangs have bases in Delhi, with tentacles spread across Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The fact that the personal details of the candidates, including mobile numbers, were known to the racketeers clearly establishes that data is being leaked from within as applications were filled online.

The extent of money involved in these rackets can be gauged from the fact that if the racketeers were able to trap a mere 10,000 of the nine lakh applicants at Rs 5 lakh per individual, it would amount to a colossal sum. Eventually, the whistleblower was a woman rector of a private hostel who was also a candidate. She blew the lid when she tried to confirm if the leaked paper was genuine.

Two BJP lower-level leaders and a sub-inspector were arrested along with the rector and taken for further interrogation. Yashpal Solanki, a prime suspect and a temporary employee of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, is absconding. According to reliable sources, Yashpal is just bait. There are clear political links traceable to north Gujarat and Delhi. As in all previous cases, the big fish are expected to remain elusive.

The fact remains that a system built around political patronage leaks like a sieve. Most recruiting boards and corporations like the Gaun Seva Pasandgi Mandal and Panchayat Pasandgi Mandal are parking places for ruling party politicians, but the process of engaging experts, moderators, preparing and printing question papers, transporting them and evaluating are outsourced. An RSS leader who headed one such set-up had to resign after he came under attack following the panchayat talati leak. It is common knowledge that under the BJP, an Ahmedabad-based agency continues to monopolise the process despite recurring leaks.

With the ruling BJP on the defensive, the Congress has moved in for the kill. “That papers were up for sale was known to the ruling party and the corrupt Rupani government must quit, accepting culpability. We demand an SIT investigation headed by a sitting High Court judge,” said Shaktisinh Gohil, national spokesperson of the AICC. Former Gujarat Chief Minister Shankersinh Vaghela terms the BJP government an expert in recruitment scandals. He has demanded Rs 10,000 as compensation for each candidate.

As things stand, these events show the dismal state of employment in Modi’s model state, Gujarat, despite eight high-profile and extravagant bi-annual global investor summits. According to official statistics, about 56 lakh applications were received for 24,000 Class-III government jobs till date; 23 lakh applications for 1,819 vacancies of talatis in panchayats; 8.76 lakh applications for 9,713 posts of lok rakshaks (constables) and 6.25 lakh applications for 334 posts of van rakshaks (forest guards).

According to statistics from the Department of Employment and Training, only 12,869 youth have gained employment in the last two years. The number of unemployed registered at Ahmedabad  Employment Exchange stands at 62,608. Similarly, according to the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy, unemployment in Gujarat by October 2018-end stood at 7.5 percent as against 6.8 percent at the national level. Telangana (0.9 percent), Tamil Nadu (1 percent), Maharashtra (4 percent), Andhra Pradesh (6.4 percent) and even Jharkhand (7.4 percent) were ahead of Gujarat.

 

Political analysts see this heightened recruitment drive, despite a High Court judgment castigating the government for it, as a desperate poll ploy.

“The ineptness of the BJP government is on display. Those who cannot conduct an exam properly are running the government and the state to seed,” said Hardik Patel, Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti leader.

The current recruitment has already earned the ire of the Gujarat High Court. Introduced by then Chief Minister Narendra Modi in 2006, the Gujarat government had begun recruiting staff on fixed pay for five years, after which the hired person was regularised. New nomenclature was devised for every post. So police constables were labelled lok rakshaks, forest guards van rakshaks, teachers vidya sahayaks and so on. An estimated four lakh people were recruited into the government in this manner with the right to fire without any reason resting with the authorities and those so employed being given numerous subsidiary tasks on pain of retrenchment.

This “exploitation” by the State was challenged in the High Court, which slammed the state government in 2012 for its policy and asked it to regularise all employees and pay them arrears from the date they were recruited. However, the then government headed by Modi challenged the ruling in the Su­p­reme Court. And while the apex court is seized of the matter, the BJP government continues to recruit merrily.

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