Police in Assam last week arrested in a single day 17 people as part of the ongoing investigation into an alleged jobs for cash scam, including 11 officers from the Assam Civil Service (ACS) and Assam Police Service (APS). A relative of BJP Lok Sabha MP and MoS Railways Rajen Gohain was arrested subsequently, and on Monday, another absconding accused, the son of Nilamani Sen Deka, minister in the Congress government of Tarun Gogoi, surrendered. One of the arrested APS officers is related to a former Congress MP from the state.
What is the alleged Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) scam? When was it uncovered, and what is the status of the investigation currently?
Like many public service commissions (PSCs) across the country, the APSC, which recommends candidates for appointment to state government jobs, has been in the news for the wrong reasons for nearly three decades. The current investigation emerged out of a preliminary inquiry carried out by Mukul Saikia, a superintendent of police at the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Wing of the Assam Police, against Rakesh Kumar Paul, then chairman of the APSC, in December 2013. Saikia concluded that Paul had opened a “job bazaar”, and engaged two persons to “bargain and collect money” from candidates. Since becoming APSC chairman, Paul had acquired apartments in Guwahati, Kolkata and Bengaluru, the SP’s report said, and recommended a “detailed enquiry”.
Stop, start, stop
The Congress government took no action on the report; instead, Saikia was transferred out of his post. More than a year later, on March 15, 2015, the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Wing received a letter from the CBI, which mentioned an alleged manipulation in APSC’s recruitment process. Chairman Paul was collecting “Rs 10 lakh to Rs 40 lakh” from candidates, and had already amassed “between Rs 20 crore to Rs 40 crore”, the complaint forwarded by the CBI said. Again, the state government failed to react.
Some months later, Akhil Gogoi, leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), went to Gauhati High Court seeking an inquiry against Paul’s alleged disproportionate wealth, and into APSC’s functioning. The High Court put on record that among the candidates selected for the Assam Civil Service in 2013-14, was an ex-minister’s son, a minister’s son, a DIG’s son, two daughters of two MLAs, and two close relatives of two journalists. On October 15, 2015, the court ordered a CBI probe into Paul’s assets, and directed the state government to set up an inquiry headed by a retired HC judge into the working of APSC.
Just over a month later, however, on November 21, Paul obtained a stay from the Supreme Court on the HC’s order. This stay kept him in office for years — until he was arrested on November 4, 2016.
Change of pace
Things changed quickly after Sarbananda Sonowal’s BJP government came to power in May 2016. At a meeting of APSC members, the Chief Minister expressed displeasure at the commission’s functioning, and asked it to declare long pending results.
On October 27, 2016, police in Dibrugarh caught red-handed one Nabakanta Patir, a government engineer, while he was allegedly collecting Rs 10 lakh from a woman dentist who had applied for a government job through the APSC. Patir was allegedly engaged by APSC chairman Paul and two other members, Basanta Kumar Doley and Samedur Rahman, to spot candidates who were willing to “buy” the posts. Over the month that followed, Rahman, Paul and Doley were arrested, as were Rahman’s personal security officer and an assistant controller of exams in the APSC. By the end of November 2016, a total 11 people had been arrested.
In June 2017, investigators led by Dibrugarh Additional SP Surjit Singh Panesar seized the answer scripts of all 241 candidates who had been successful in the 2013 APSC exams, and gave a handwriting test to 25 candidates who had by then completed their training and taken up posts in the districts. Their handwriting samples have not matched with their APSC exam answerscripts, police have said; according to sources, each of these officers paid between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 30 lakh for their jobs.
Fifty-four-year-old Rakesh Kumar Paul, the son of a headmaster in Tura in Meghalaya, joined the LLM class at Gauhati University in the late 1990s and, after spending a couple of years as a lawyer, became a notary. Through Gautam Roy, a powerful minister in the Tarun Gogoi government, he became close to the Chief Minister himself.
In 2008, during Gogoi’s second term, Paul became a member of the APSC. His eligibility for the position that called for an “outstanding” and “competent” candidate was uncertain; however, he was the secretary of Satsang Vihar, a religious institution with a fairly large following of Bengali Hindus across Assam.
In 2013, Paul became acting chairman and, within days, asked Chief Minister Gogoi to be confirmed in the post. Despite a senior Personnel Department officer noting that making Paul chairman would give him an unprecedented 11 years at APSC (five years as member and six years as chairman), the Gogoi government made him chairman on December 7, 2013.