Marked manipulation

Print edition : February 28, 2003

Several instances of fraudulent manipulation of marks in an examination conducted by the Karnataka Public Service Commission come to light. The High Court and the Commission act promptly to penalise the scamsters.

in Bangalore

The Karnataka Public Service Commission office in Bangalore.-G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

A CASE involving shocking corruption and favouritism in the award of marks in the 1998 Karnataka Public Service Examination was recently exposed by an internal inquiry conducted by the Karnataka Public Service Commission (KPSC). Its investigations revealed a planned operation of fraud and cheating by a group of 10 candidates who sat for the examination, the chief examiner who inflated their marks, and the then Secretary of the Commission.

While the scandal has marked a serious setback for the credibility of the Commission, a constitutional body, the thorough, impartial and transparent internal inquiry that it conducted on the directions of the Karnataka High Court, and the prompt action it took against the culprits, helped restore public confidence in the institution. Nevertheless, for the 2,382 candidates who qualified in the 1998 examinations, the delay involves an unfair setback to their career prospects. Based on the findings of the committee, the KPSC has barred the candidature of the 10 examinees for any government post, and debarred them from taking any future examination conducted by the Commission. Of the 10, the maximum punishment has been given in respect of four candidates, namely, K. Rameswarappa (a serving officer who was Deputy Director, Department of Food and Civil Supplies when he took the examination as a candidate for the post of Assistant Commissioner, Commercial Taxes), his sisters-in-law B.S. Triveni and B.S. Hemalatha, and his brother-in-law B.S. Nagaraj. The names of all four were in the selection list, with three of them standing first, second and fourth.

The inquiry brought shocking revelations. All four candidates chose History I and II as optional papers, and two of them chose to write in Kannada. All four chose to answer the same set of questions and their answers were identical in the History optional papers, and in the compulsory papers on General Studies. They had secured successive register numbers, which enabled them to sit in the same examination room. It was found that some of the additional answer books of these candidates in these two subject papers did not carry the signature of the invigilator, suggesting that they may have been substituted later. On questioning, one of the invigilators said that the signature on one of the answer books was not hers. A detailed examination of their papers by the Committee proved not only cheating but also collusion with the chief examiner in boosting marks. "We have a three-tier system of valuation," KPSC Chairman H.N. Krishna told Frontline. "For every 10 evaluations there is a head examiner, who does random checks of the answer sheets. Each subject has a chief examiner who together with the head examiner prepares key answers which they then discuss with all evaluators before valuation commences."

A variation of plus or minus 15 per cent between evaluators is acceptable. In the case of 19 papers from the 1998 examination in question, the variation was more than 100 out of a maximum of 300 marks, "and we found they all belonged to candidates from one family," Krishna said. The primary culprit, as the Committee found, is the chief examiner, K.S. Shivanna, Professor of History, Mysore University. While Shivanna was chief examiner for the Kannada medium papers for General Science and History, the chief examiner in the English medium section was Professor Narasingharaja Naidu. The practice is for the chief examiner to take one paper at random out of a bundle of 10 answer books for correction. Deviating from this practice, Shivanna, according to the inquiry report, picked up four from certain bundles, all of which belonged to the four related candidates. He was found to have given marks for writing totally wrong answers, and in some cases awarded more marks than the maximum marks prescribed. For example, K. Rameswarappa, who was given 59 out of 300 in General Studies II by the first evaluator, was awarded 246/300 by Shivanna. In History II his marks were increased from 91/300 to 245/300. Triveni had her marks in History II increased from 159/300 to 225/300 by Shivanna. Six other candidates got a similar bonanza: Shivanna boosted their marks with no heed to the quality of their answers.

But that was not all. Both Rameswarappa and Triveni gave their answers in English, yet their marks were increased by Shivanna, who was chief examiner only in respect of the Kannada medium papers. When confronted with this fact by the Committee, Shivanna said that the chief examiner of the English medium papers was away on the days in question, and that the papers were given to him for correction. The Committee found this claim to be untrue. It established that Shivanna was Rameshwarappa's Ph.D research guide.

"The close relationship between Prof. K.S. Shivanna and K. Rameswarappa has been well established by documents relied upon by the Commission," the Committee report notes. "It is an admitted fact that they, that is, A.K. Monappa, Prof. K.S. Shivanna and K. Rameswarappa, participated in a conference in Edinburgh." This happened after the examination and before the results were announced. They seem to have travelled together, and Rameswarappa is said to have given Shivanna's e-mail address as his own in conference papers. The KPSC has recommended that Shivanna be blacklisted and disqualified from association with any examination to be conducted by the Commission.

Also accused of collusion in the scam is A.K. Monappa, an officer of the Indian Administrative Service, who was at that time Secretary, KPSC. According to the Committee, Shivanna, as chief examiner, could have got hold of the code-numbers of the answer-sheets only with the connivance of Monappa. The Committee found that Rameshwarappa was a frequent visitor to Monappa's office, and had free and direct access to him. The KPSC, which has no powers to take action against State government employees, has recommended to the State government to take disciplinary action and initiate criminal proceedings against both Monappa and Rameswarappa. The KPSC has barred the other six candidates whose marks were boosted by Shivanna but who were not selected for any post, from examinations in the future.

THE scandal came to light when, soon after the examination results were published in January 2000, a group of unselected candidates approached the Karnataka High Court with a petition alleging foul play in the grading system as several members of one family were in the merit list. In 2001 the case went before a Division Bench of the High Court. The court transferred the matter to the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal (KAT). In September 2001, a provisional list of selected persons for the 403 posts for which examinations had been conducted was announced. In November 2001, the KAT, convinced that a prima facie case of favouritism and corruption existed, stayed the announcement of the final list. In February 2002 it ordered that all papers be revalued. For the KPSC, this would have involved a gigantic exercise of revaluing 72,000 papers. The Commission therefore approached the High Court with a request that it be allowed to revalue only 670 papers in which the marks variation between the first and third tier of valuation was 20 per cent and more. The Court asked it to set up an internal inquiry. Based on the internal committee report of the KPSC, the High Court held the process of moderation to be "unscientific, arbitrary and illegal". It has asked the KPSC to hold fresh moderation for 18 out of 30 subjects. It has held the selection process and the interviews that followed to be illegal.

The Karnataka government has not yet initiated action against the two serving officers who have been indicted by the KPSC, nor has it instituted independent inquiries to look into the series of charges. Monappa, Deputy Commissioner, Dakshina Kannada district, has been transferred and has not been given another posting. He has denied all the charges against him. Alongside, the Dakshina Kannada District Government Officers' Association has issued a statement alleging that he has been made the victim of a smear campaign.

"We are happy that the culprits are exposed and that there has been such transparency in the process," Mayanna Gowda, a member of the KAS Candidates Protection Forum, and a 1998 batch candidate who was selected in the provisional list, said.

"We suspected that there was something very wrong after the results were published, and we found that the names of those without any merit were at the top of the merit list, and those with merit had their names at the bottom," said K. Muralishara, another member of the Forum who appeared for the same examination. The Forum has appealed to the High Court not to nullify the entire selection process, but rather to re-interview only those who will replace the 10 debarred candidates.

However, for the average candidate, the five-year wait has proved costly. "A lot of time has already been wasted, and we now appeal to the government to complete the recruitment fast," said one candidate.

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