Next week, on February 8, a large number of students preparing for competitive examinations for government jobs will hold a silent march in the city in support of demands that includes use of biometric-based attendance in recruitment exams and installation of mobile phone jammers at exam centres.
The students’ demands are a direct fall-out of the emergence of a large number of cases of impersonation in these tests in the past few years and the uncovering of a state-wide “dummy candidate racket”. Investigations have revealed an elaborate network, including serving government officers, who take lakhs of rupees from aspirants for providing imposter candidates and brightening their chances clearing exams.
A special investigation team has so far arrested 10 persons, including the alleged kingpin. But the case is still unfolding.
It all started after 28-year-old political science graduate Yogesh Jadhav, who is preparing for civil services exams, got to know in 2015 that several youths known to him had sold or mortgaged their ancestral land or houses to pay a middleman for their selection for government jobs.
What followed was a series of Right to Information applications by him into details about some candidates appearing for the tests that led to the unearthing of a state-wide dummy candidate racket. Jadhav approached police and filed an FIR, triggering an investigation that opened a minefield. Impersonation had been done in exams of a number of departments, including revenue, agriculture, police, treasury and administration for posts of clerks, office executives, sub inspectors, supervisors, civil engineering assistants and agriculture officers.
As per primary estimate of investigators, number of cases in which dummy candidates are suspected to have appeared is over 1,000 in six years. Several recruitment in departments like police, social welfare, government secretariat, agriculture, women and child development, are now under SIT scanner.
Photos of dummy candidates with different hairstyles were matched with original candidates and airbrushed to closely resemble them. These were then pasted on the hall tickets, enabling their entry. A statement of one of the accused, Baliram Bhatlondhe, which is part of the chargesheet, says how he met two officials from ACB, during an ACB probe against Rathod in 2015, and how money was paid to them to avoid inquiry. Bhatlondhe has told the police how the invigilators at the exams halls for the government exams were compromised and they did not properly check the dummy candidates.
Bhatlondhe alone has admitted to have appeared for over 20 selected candidates. Another dummy, suspended assistant police inspector, Sultan Barabba, has explained in his statement how the signatures were forged, among many other things. For each selected candidate, the racketeers were paid anywhere between Rs 5 and 10 lakh and a significant chunk of the money went to the impersonators.
Following a directive from the Chief Minister’s Office, Maharashtra Police had formed an SIT in April last year and asked it to probe around 50 cases registered across the state, including 10 in Pune. The SIT is now investigating hundreds of instances of dummy candidates appearing for government recruitment exams since 2009. The SIT has till now confirmed the names of 49 serving government employees recruited after impersonators provided by racketeers appeared for them in the exams.
The CID has arrested 10 persons who ran the racket, including the kingpin Prabodh Rathod, who is a dismissed government employee from Nanded. The impersonators include two serving police officers of assistant inspector rank, a CID handwriting expert, and a cop who was part of the initial probe of the racket.
The chargesheet filed by the SIT last year, which has been accessed by The Indian Express also shows how racketeers bribed Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) officials to avoid inquiry and bribed CID handwriting experts to mislead the probe even after the investigations had started.
In January, Mumbai Police arrested six people, some of whom were serving government employees, like a sales tax inspector who were appearing as dummy candidates. Cops claim that till date, 10 persons have joined government jobs through these six dummy candidates. Primary probe has revealed that two of the persons arrested in Mumbai, were in contact with the persons arrested by the CID.
“Though a chargesheet has been filed, the probe is not over. More names and information about other racketeers is surfacing and the we are working on it. The cases that are coming forward now are about exams for recruitment of important cadres of government services,” Shankar Kengar, the Superintendent of Police with the CID who is heading the SIT said.