Mumbai: The Maha Vikas Aghadi government has appeared to wake up to the multi-crore scam that allegedly occurred in the mega recruitment drive carried out during the tenure of former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
On October 25, last year, The Wire had reported a detailed investigation into the rampant exam fraud that allegedly occurred in 2019 in exams through which Class ‘C’ and Class ‘D’ posts were to be filled in 11 departments. On March 5, speaking at the floor of Maharashtra state assembly, former speaker and Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole demanded an investigation into the matter.
Similar to The Wire’s observation, Patole too compared the extent of the scam with that of the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board scam, more commonly known as the Vyapam scam. “This megabharti ghotala (mega recruitment scam) is even bigger than the scam that was unearthed in Madhya Pradesh. In the name of MahaPariskha, the past government has ruined the lives and dreams of several thousand aspirants,” Patole said in the house.
Patole’s statement is particularly serious as between 2017 and 2019, the MahaPariksha portal was to decide the fate of 38.5 lakh aspirants who had applied for 30,000 vacancies across 25 departments in the state. Like Vyapam, in Maharashtra too several candidates have alleged that the MahaIT department had colluded with the private companies – UST Global and Arceus Infotech Private Limited – hired to carry out the exams in the state.
The Wire’s report had exposed the well-oiled scam machinery in the recruitment process for Class ‘C’ and Class ‘D’ posts in various departments in 2019. The exams were conducted by the MahaPariksha Portal, which is handled by the Maharashtra Information Technology Corporation Limited or ‘MahaIT’ and oversees the recruitment for several state government posts.
In May last year, Ahmednagar district collector Rahul Dwivedi had written a damning 12-page report exposing the discrepancies in exams conducted in his district. In Ahmednagar district, at least 14 shortlisted candidates were found to be dubious. Dwivedi had found out that several dummy candidates were planted. Digging deeper, The Wire’s investigation revealed that the fraud was not restricted to Ahmednagar alone but was a widespread scam, plaguing all 34 districts where these state recruitment exams were conducted. From propping up dummy candidates to a mismatch in photographs and signatures, to candidates using spy cameras and microphones while entering the exam hall, The Wire’s probe found myriad methods of fraud.
The two companies – UST Global and Arceus Infotech Private Limited – have come under the radar now, along with Kaustubh Dhavse, MahaIT’s former nominee director. Dhavse, a close confidante of Fadnavis, was also his Officer on Special Duty (OSD) and had resigned from his post as a director of MahaIT in December last year, soon after the BJP government in the state fell.
Dhavse was solely responsible for decisions in the department. He had worked with HP, Frost & Sullivan and other companies till Fadnavis pulled him into government in 2014.
Dhavse was given the status of a joint secretary (he was an officer on special duty to the chief minister and is now chief policy advisor to Fadnavis, who is the leader of the opposition) and was also put in charge of the party “war room”.
Following The Wire’s report, revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat had announced that his office would carry out a preliminary inquiry into the allegations. Nationalist Congress Party MLA Rohit Pawar too had sought immediate action. But the government’s zeal to intervene soon died and eventually no action was initiated.
On March 5, following similar reports in media, the issue was back in focus.
These exams are part of the administrative services governed by the Ministry of General Administration (GAD).
In addition to other portfolios, Fadnavis had handled the GAD and had directly monitored the MahaBharti (mega recruitment) drive in the state. This portfolio is now with the present chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray. Well-placed sources in the Chief Minister’s Office have shared that the chief minister has decided to personally look into the scam now.
Besides the collector’s report, a private audit firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), first engaged in 2018, had found that both UST Global and Arceus Infotech Private Limited had failed on almost all counts during the “process” and “technical” review. The audit was carried out for the exams conducted in 2017 for 15 different government departments and with over 10 lakh aspirants applying. It showed that the two companies were not only technically incompetent but had also compromised on the processes, making the exams a complete sham.
Under the process review, the PwC audit had considered 43 different aspects, all of which were marked under the “high risk” category. Processes or gaps requiring “urgent action” were categorised as high risk, and any delay in rectifying it, the PwC report stated, would lead to “significant financial impacts”.
Similarly, of the 14 aspects evaluated under the technical process, 10 fell under the “high-risk category”. Three others were categorised as “medium risk” and only one as “low risk”. Application and network security too were evaluated in this audit and the MahaPariksha portal fared poorly under most parameters.