Bhopal: The Madhya Pradesh Employees Selection Board (ESB) found itself in controversy once again after fresh allegations of large-scale rigging in recruitment scams. This has raised fears that the ESB, which was formerly known as Vyapam, is once again riddled with systematic fraud.
What has raised eyebrows is the fact that seven of the 10 toppers in the recruitment examination for Group 2 posts like patwari (a revenue official) are from a nondescript examination centre in Gwalior. Called the NRI College of Engineering and Management, it is owned by BJP MLA Sanjeev Kumar Kushwaha from Bhind.
Nearly 9.80 lakh candidates took the test, conducted in March and April this year across Madhya Pradesh. The ESB announced the results on June 30 and the names of the top 10 scorers on July 10. This is when allegations about rigging emerged.
The board that conducted the test has started examining CCTV footage and the computer logs of the centre where the seven toppers wrote the exam.
While opposition parties are demanding an independent probe into the matter, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government has denied any irregularities in the recruitment test. The state’s home minister and government spokesperson Narottam Mishra ruled out any irregularities and accused the Congress of trying to “mislead” people ahead of the scheduled assembly polls in the state later this year.
He said that nearly 120 participants have cleared the exam at that particular centre. “Why are questions being raised about only seven toppers? The Congress is trying to mislead the people with its propaganda,” Mishra said.
But this very fact, former Union minister and Congress leader Arun Yadav says, is suspicious. He said that so many aspirants qualifying from one centre is reminiscent of past scams.
The Congress is also making comparisons to the multi-layered Vyapam scam that rocked the nation exactly a decade ago for its sheer magnitude and macabre nature. The recruitment-cum-examination fraud that surfaced in July 2013 involved a mind-boggling number of politicians, bureaucrats, middlemen, impersonators and job aspirants. They were found to be complicit in an organised racket that manipulated in myriad ways the processes of various recruitment and pre-medical tests conducted by the Professional Examination Board or Vyavasayik Pariksha Mandal (Vyapam) since 2008 to rake in the moolah. Nearly 45 persons related to the scam died under mysterious circumstances.
Although the state government renamed the infamous Vyapam as Employees Service Board to avoid the notoriety its name evoked, allegations of scams in the recruitments conducted by the body have kept surfacing.
Arun Yadav alluded to this, saying, “The name of Vyapam has changed thrice over the years. But the corruption continues unabated.”
In recent years, the recruitments of nursing staff, school teachers, constables and agriculture development officers have attracted similar allegations of rigging but the Chouhan government brazened them out.
However, three tests – agriculture extension officers, senior agriculture officers and nursing staff in 2021 – had to be cancelled by the government because the scam appeared too glaring to ignore. The tests were mired in controversy after marks secured by the 10 toppers in the agriculture extension officers’ exam were found nearly identical and they all committed the same errors in their exam. Chief minister Chouhan ordered an inquiry, which showed that the paper was leaked by the private company which was contracted to conduct the exams. The company had already been mired in controversies due to the Vyapam case.
Congress cries foul
In the latest Patwari recruitment test too, there is a strong suspicion that the question paper may have been leaked. Congress leader Arun Yadav has pointed out alleged inconsistencies in the recruitment process. Some of these, he said, were:
- The top scorers belonged to a minuscule fraction of the total examinees, their roll numbers ranging from 2488 7991 to 2488 9693, from a pool of roughly 1,700 candidates. Considering that 9.8 lakh individuals took the exam, the odds of such a coincidence are highly suspicious
- The answer sheets of the toppers reveal that they signed their exam forms in Hindi but answered the papers in English.
- These candidates accurately answered 15 questions which were later cancelled by the ESB because incorrect options were provided as answers. No marks were awarded for these questions.
- One of the seven toppers scored 185 marks. With the ESB removing 15 questions, it meant that the candidate got 100% marks.
- In the body-marking column (in the answer sheet), one selected candidate wrote in English: ‘Cut on mark nose’; whereas the correct English would be ‘cut mark on nose’’. Arun Yadav wondered how she got 100% marks in English.
The Congress has demanded a CBI probe into the scam, alleging the involvement of BJP leaders in it.
BJP MLA Sanjeev Kumar Kushwaha, whose college in Gwalior is in the eye of the controversy, was elected on a BSP ticket but later joined the ruling party.
When contacted, Kushwaha told the Indian Express: “This institution belongs to me. It used to be an engineering college, which shut down because of low admissions. It has a computer lab and other facilities which are now used as a test centre. We rent out the place for conducting examinations. This (patwari) examination is conducted by the Employees Selection Board (ESB), you should ask them what happened.”
Former chief minister Kamal Nath stated that there have been large-scale irregularities in the recruitment examinations in the state. “Scams have engulfed recruitment exams such as nursing, constable, agriculture extension officers, and many others,” he said.