IN its first year in office, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government in Assam unearthed a cash-for-jobs recruitment scam in the Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) that had taken place during the previous Congress regime. Now, a similar scam in the recruitment of Sub-Inspectors (S.I.s) in the Assam Police, which led to the arrest of a BJP leader and two senior police officials, has rattled the Sarbananda Sonowal government in its fifth year.
The arrests were made after the question paper for the written test conducted by the State Level Police Recruitment Board (SLPRB) for 597 S.I. posts was leaked. The written test was scheduled to be held on September 20 in 154 centres across all districts. The question paper was circulated on WhatsApp and this led to the cancellation of the test. The SLPRB lodged a first information report with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to investigate the matter. Also read:Scam country
The breakthrough in the APSC scam saw the arrest of the then APSC chairman Rakesh Paul and 49 Assam Civil Service (ACS) and Assam Police Service (APS) officials. However, a prime accused, Paul’s younger brother, is still absconding.
The S.I. recruitment scam demolished the ruling coalition’s campaign that its “zero tolerance against corruption” policy had cleaned up the recruitment process in the State.
Further, the arrest of the BJP’s Rajeev Parashar, who is also a member of the and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), for allegedly accepting money in exchange for jobs in the Panchayat and Rural Development Department has added to the embarrassment of the ruling coalition. The irregularities in the department’s recruitment came to light in 2019. The involvement of BJP members and top police officials in these scams exposed the fact that corruption in government recruitment continues unabated in the State, the only change being the political affiliations of the racketeers.
In its probe into the S.I. recruitment scam, the CID has so far registered five cases, arrested 47 persons and recovered over Rs.5 crore. The State BJP has suspended arrested leader Dibon Deka from the primary membership of the party. Dibon Deka stood as a BJP candidate in the 2011 Assembly election and was until recently a member of the national executive of the BJP Kisan Morcha.
Kumar Sanjit Krishna, former Superintendent of Police of Karimganj district, and P.K. Dutta, retired Deputy Inspector General (DIG), were among those arrested. P.K. Dutta was arrested near the India-Nepal border. The CID issued a ‘lookout circular’ for him on September 28 after he fled from Guwahati on September 23. The CID investigation revealed that he owned several hotels in the capital city and different towns. The Enforcement Directorate has reportedly sought details of his assets to ascertain if they were disproportionate to his known sources of income.
The investigations revealed that ahead of the recruitment test, mock tests were organised in a hotel owned by P.K. Dutta. Candidates who appeared in these tests allegedly paid several lakhs of rupees in cash to agents of two private agencies to which Kerala State Electronics Development Corporation (Keltron) had subcontracted the task of conducting the tests. The SLPRB had awarded Keltron the contract to conduct the examination. Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia wrote to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan requesting him to seek an explanation from Keltron on awarding the subcontracts to the private agencies. The owner of one the agencies was arrested while the owner of the other is absconding. The opposition parties alleged that the absconding owner was close to the ruling party and that his arrest might reveal the involvement of political leaders in the scam. Also read:Drowning in scams
Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said that no one would be spared and that all the culprits involved in the S.I. recruitment scam would be arrested. Director General of Police (DGP) Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta told Frontline : “Establishing who leaked the paper and how it was leaked is the primary challenge. The precise act of criminality has been unearthed in the course of the investigation collating quality evidences which are admissible in the court of law and scientifically proven.”
The State government reconstituted the SLPRB on September 29 after the chairman, Pradeep Kumar, a retired police officer, resigned citing moral responsibility for not being able to conduct the examination in a free and fair manner.
Pradeep Kumar had gone on record that Dibon Deka informed him about the question paper leak on WhatsApp, following which he had asked Dibon Deka and another accused to meet him and had taken both of them to the CID. Both were allowed to leave after preliminary questioning but Dibon Deka absconded.
The police said that Dibon Deka was arrested on October 1 past midnight near Pathsala town in Barpeta district when he was found travelling with his wife. When he was in hiding he wrote on Facebook that he had fled fearing for his life as powerful people were involved in the question paper leak.
Private agencies barred
The State government appointed DGP Mahanta as the new chairman of the SLPRB. The reconstituted SLRPB decided to conduct the recruitment process for vacant and new posts only in the Assam Police, the Directorate of Home Guards and Civil Defence and the office of the Inspector General of Prisons.
The board said in a release on October 9: “The SLPRB has been informed by the authorities investigating the criminal cases related to leakage of the question paper of the S.I. (UB) examination; that during the course of the investigation, the name(s) of some individuals connected to the consortium conducting the examination have come to adverse notice. Based on the above information, the SLPRB has decided to immediately disengage the consortium from all ongoing processes of various recruitment examinations.” Also read:A mega scam bank
On October 7 the Assam Cabinet decided that all State government departments would hold recruitment tests through State and Central Universities and not engage any private agencies for the purpose.
Earlier the SLPRB conducted the recruitment process for 30 government directorates and departments, including the Assam Police, and outsourced the conduct of the written tests to other agencies. The board rescheduled the S.I. recruitment tests for November 22 and requested Dibrugarh University to conduct the written test. The physical tests and interviews will be done by the Assam Police.
Demand for judicial probe
Debabrata Saikia, who is also the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party in the Assam Assembly, demanded a judicial probe by a sitting judge of the Gauhati High Court into all government recruitments in the State over the past four and half years. Sonowal said that the Congress had no moral right to criticise others on corruption and accused that party of being “merchants of corruption”. While the blame game continues, lakhs of educated unemployed youths in the State stand to lose the most because of delays owing to the scam and anomalies and irregularities in recruitment by various government departments. Also read:PM-Kisan scam
The sheer number of applicants for vacant posts in government departments is an indicator of how serious the problem of unemployment is. As many as 1.7 lakh candidates appeared in written tests conducted for 900 posts in the Panchayat and Rural Development Department which got embroiled in a controversy of irregularities in some test centres. Over four lakh candidates applied for about 5,400 Constable posts in the Assam Police. Over 70,000 candidates applied for 170 posts of Junior Administrative Assistant in the Secretariat Administration Department.
The DGP has already written to the State government suggesting the setting up of a single recruiting agency—a Staff Selection Agency that would be equipped with its own modern equipment and gadgets and have the ability to conduct online optical mark recognition-based tests and declare the results immediately.
Police officers to declare assets
The involvement of police officials in the S.I. recruitment scam has set in motion a set of reforms in the police department as suggested by the police chief. One of these reforms stipulates that police officials of the rank of Inspector and S.I. declare their assets and upload the information in the official website so that anyone can view it; also, this informaton would be linked to their promotions.
The State government is also learnt to have decided to link the declaration of assets of Assam Civil Service (ACS) and Assam Police Service (APS) officials with their promotions and to make public the details of declared assets.
The ruling coalition wants the recruitment processes of government departments to be completed before the start of the election process. However, the huge number of applicants poses a tough challenge in meeting the target dates. Failure to complete the recruitment process in time will give the opposition an opportunity to make the recruitment scam and irregularities a major poll plank. It could also influence the voting decision of lakhs of unemployed jobseekers in the State in the 2021 Assembly election. Also read:Landmark order (on police reforms)