In Retrospect

Invidious slippage

Bihar Public Service Commission paper leak at VKSC centre in Bhojpur district represents a routine occurrence and raises serious questions over the role of the government, involvement of administrative officials and credibility of the BPSC at large

Invidious slippage

It was May 6 and it was Friday. Over six lakh aspirants of the 67th Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC) were in a mad race to reach their examination centre at least a night before the examination day – Sunday (May 8).

Aspirants were struggling to get a seat in already over-crowded buses and trains to make it to their examination centres which were allotted across 38 districts of the state, as they were heading towards scripting a new success story for themselves, their villagers and, of course, for their role models cum parents by cracking the first step of the three-step-based state's prestigious exam.

It's a general self-generated 'travel protocol', which is followed by most of the aspirants appearing for any competitive exam, to reach the examination centre on the intervening night of the examination day by using common means of transportation such as train and bus.

The same travel protocol was followed by almost all BPSC aspirants who were all prepared to appear for the prelim's exam of the BPSC scheduled on May 8. They crisscrossed different districts of the state to 'locate' their examination centres situated in urban and semi-urban areas.

Everything was as normal as it was 'supposed' to be by the 'setters', who had full faith in their 'fool-proof plan' to 'leak' the paper and distribute it among 'caretakers' of 'fixed beneficiaries'. It seems God was not kind to setters and their beneficiaries as the leaked question paper of BPSC PT reached the mail inbox of the District Magistrate of Bhojpur, who was informed that the paper got leaked from Veer Kunwar Singh College, Ara centre.

As the leaked question paper started circulating on different social media platforms, the exam was cancelled on the same day, just after it was conducted on Sunday at 1,083 centres.

The moment the Bihar government announced the cancellation of the exam, it raised questions about Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's zero tolerance for corruption, by putting the whole system under the scanner. For the first time in the over 15-year-long regime of Nitish Kumar, the question paper of state's premier examination – BPSC — got leaked, forcing the state government to cancel the exam without any mention of the next date to conduct the exam.

If you are surprised by this type of 'heinous' corruption, which could not be possible without the involvement of top-ranked officials, then you have to take a pause as it seems nowadays it has become a new normal in Bihar. It's also a fact that you may get tired of counting the weird cases of corruption, but you wouldn't find any decline in the incidents of dishonesty despite the state having a huge number of upright and dedicated IAS officials at every position.

"Question paper leak is not new in Bihar. It has become a regular phenomenon in the regime of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. You take the name of any exam, you will find the question of that exam leaked and the government doesn't even bother to inquire about it," said Dilip Kumar, who heads Rashtriya Chhatra Ekta Manch – an organisation of aspirants of competitive examinations, including BPSC.

Kumar, who is also a BPSC aspirant and was registered to appear for the PT exam, brought the paper leak matter into the notice of Bhojpur District Magistrate Roshan Kushwaha – a 2014 batch IAS officer – soon after the question paper of the PT started circulating on the social media.

Putting the role of incumbent BPSC chairman RK Mahajan under the lens, the students' leader said, "The credentials of Mahajan is not so good as when he was in the Education Department, the paper of teachers' eligibility test was leaked."

However, Dilip Kumar further said that it's a huge exam racket running in connivance with 'big shot' political leaders and officials sitting at different influential positions in the state government.

Expressing his sympathy while getting nostalgic, Yudhyavir Singh — Assistant Professor at AIIMS-Delhi — said, "It's a catastrophic incident for several aspirants belonging to economically backward sections of society. It's like dreams of students getting shattered as it has put the whole system under the scanner. It also raises questions over the sanctity of the exam to be conducted in future. Under the given circumstances, the credibility of the BPSC would always be under the lens."

"BPSC is Bihar's prestigious examination and it is conducted to select the best officials for exhibiting their administrative acumen in strengthening the good governance agenda of the state as well as central government. Students belonging to weaker sections of society get into the preparation for BPSC by going through several hardships. The cancellation of the BPSC exam is like faith and dream breaking into pieces," said Singh, who had also witnessed paper leak incidents during his preparations for medical entrances.

Agreeing with Singh, BPSC aspirant Praveen Kumar, who hails from a remote village in Gaya district, said, "I was hopeful of clearing the PT exam as I had scored well. I belong to a poor family and my father is a farmer. The cancellation of the exam has left me in a lurch as I'm not able to find a way forward to move on."

Praveen, who is a postgraduate and is currently pursuing a degree in Law, takes tuition classes to meet his expenses. "As I'm an elder son in the family, it looks awkward for me to take money from my parents. I'm managing the expenses of my studies, coaching classes, food and accommodation on my own," he said.

Praveen is not the only such case. The list is very long. Take the example of another aspirant Sanjay Rajak, who is in a great shock as he had wished to clear the exam for his parents to provide them a respectful life. His mother washes utensils to meet the expenses of his studies while his father works as a farm labourer.

As the matter has been handed over to the Economic offence Unit (EOU) to investigate the whole scam, officials have found very surprising facts associated with the BPSC paper leak case.

EoU officials are surprised to know how and why Veer Kunwar Singh College (VKSC) in the outskirts of Ara Town was identified as an exam centre by the Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC).

Officials have claimed that the exam centre, which is a college of a powerful politician, had nothing in order and brazenly ignored BPSC guidelines. "The college was never meant for an exam of this magnitude and it took things very lightly, making its own rules — be it deliberately to suit a selected few or out of sheer ignorance. The CCTV was also not functional. Besides, some 25 selected candidates were seated in one room and all handed over Set-C questions 25 minutes ahead of the start of the examination, which was next to impossible," the officials said, adding that other students kept waiting for the OMR sheet and question papers till 20 minutes after the scheduled start.

The Special Investigation Team (SIT) has seized the OMR sheets of candidates and sought the details of the candidates from the BPSC for their interrogation. "There may be involvement of people at various levels. Those arrested are not attributing a strong and convincing reason for the mess at the centre and have given contradictory statements. The alleged beneficiaries need to be identified. Some insiders may also be involved. Such tampering cannot happen at the level of a few, as the repercussions are known to all should the plan go awry," the officials said.

"Nobody is answering why only Set-C was supplied in a room and at whose instructions. Besides, why was the FIR not immediately lodged in the case once the discrepancy was detected? It happened only after one and a half days," the EoU official said, adding that the arrest of four persons, including the BDO who was the static magistrate, was just the beginning.

Commenting on the proceedings, ADG (EoU) Nayyar Hasnain Khan said that 40 persons have been involved with the probe. "We are confident to crack it very soon and nab the kingpin. I am monitoring the case on a daily basis. Technical and forensic experts are also examining some numbers to unravel the modus operandi," Khan said.

It was also a matter of investigation as to why the complaints of irregularities emerged from Ara centre only, though there were around 1,083 centres across the state. "It needs to be ascertained if the question was available anywhere before Ara and that requires establishing backward linkages to find out the first time the question paper was uploaded. It also needs to be found out if there was any conspiracy hatched exclusively for Ara centre to benefit a selected few," he added.

As of now, the EoU has arrested four persons — BDO Jai Vardhan Gupta who was deputed as a static magistrate to oversee the examination in the district's Veer Kunwar Singh College (VKSC); Yogendra Singh, principal-cum-centre superintendent; Sushil Kumar Singh, lecturer-cum-controller and Agam Kumar Sahay, lecturer-cum-assistant centre superintendent of VKSC.

Even though the affiliation of VKSC with Veer Kunwar Singh University was valid till 2017, the college management managed to get the BPSC examination centre at VKSC. The investigating agencies are probing the matter from all the aspects to find out the mastermind behind the paper leak scam.

During the investigation, SIT found that the BPSC examination controller received one set of the leaked paper at 11.43 am on Sunday, 17 minutes before the paper was to begin at about 1,083 centres in the state's 38 districts.

More than six lakh candidates enrolled for Sunday's examination conducted for recruitment to 802 posts in Bihar's civil services. The preliminary exam was earlier postponed on two occasions.

The SIT also spoke to the individual who forwarded the 22-page question paper to the exam controller. This person, an official said, had received the question paper at 11.33 am. It is not clear who sent him the leaked paper, but an official underlined that WhatsApp tagged the document on his phone as one which had been "forwarded many times".

The initial probe indicates that all the versions of the leaked examination paper circulating on social media appeared to have originated from a single point.

The team, which visited Ara's VKSC, also came across complaints from aspirants that a select group of students were placed in a separate room and given the question papers 15 minutes before the examination started at 12 noon.

The college is linked to a noted contractor Surendra Singh who comes from a political family and was earlier involved in the fake stamp paper case. Surendra Singh, who is the husband of a former JD (U) MLA from Barhara constituency, said that the VKSC was established in 1978 after his family members donated five acres of land in the name of the state governor in 1987 to construct the college. However, he refused the allegation that the question paper leaked or went viral from the VKSC premises.

The former secretary of VKSC, however, admitted that more than 900 aspirants appeared for the BPSC PT and created a ruckus over the delay in distribution of OMR sheets and question papers.

Meanwhile, experts have raised doubts over the change in the pattern to appoint BPSC chairman by the state government as a key factor in the paper leak. Earlier, academicians were given the task to lead BPSC as its chairman but Nitish Kumar's government changed that system and created re-employment opportunities for retired bureaucrats by appointing them as BPSC chairman. The paper leak incident is the first in the tenure of the incumbent chairman RK Mahajan.

Besides, there is another major interesting development that has taken place in Nitish Kumar's regime. The government has suddenly found that private schools and affiliated colleges would have better facilities for aspirants than government-owned schools.

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has also given a strong message to perpetrators. "We took immediate action in the matter. We are checking where and how the paper was leaked. An enquiry has begun. Police are investigating. I have asked them to speed it up. Anyone found involved would be punished," Kumar had said after the paper leak was reported.

Calling the paper leak "unfortunate, sad and condemnable", Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly Tejashwi Yadav said, "Such incidents have happened multiple times in various exams, including school papers. But no one learns. We have taken this up several times but to no avail. Students' lives are being played with."

Noting that the BPSC's question papers often leak in Bihar, Tejashwi quipped that the state government should rename it the Bihar Public Leak Commission (BPLC). In Bihar, the BPSC never holds exams on time, he added.

"BPSC is a prestigious examination in Bihar. It has a specific institution to conduct the examination. Still, question papers are frequently leaked here. You could imagine what would happen to other examinations. As question papers are frequently leaking in Bihar that means somebody is sitting in the system and repeatedly doing such acts. State government should compensate every student with Rs 5,000, especially those who came to the examination centres from remote areas," Yadav said.

Views expressed are personal

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