Four months after registering an FIR in connection with an alleged scam in examinations conducted by the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), the CBI has found more evidence against a key suspect who allegedly ensured that candidates cleared examinations without appearing for them, sources said.
About 1,800 candidates had cleared Class X and Class XII examinations conducted by NIOS in March-April 2017 even though they were not present at three examination centres in Sehore, Umaria and Ratlam districts. CBI sources told The Indian Express on Friday that each candidate paid Rs 25,000-30,000 to rig the system, that involved producing fake address proofs to beat the domicile condition and filling up duplicate answer sheets at evaluation centres.
An alleged middleman in the scam, Ashish Massy is at large along with his wife. He used to run Oscar Polytechnic Institute in Delhi’s Mayur Vihar. In addition to the institute, Massy owns at least two or three properties in and around the national capital.
On November 28, the CBI conducted searches in 26 locations in Madhya Pradesh, New Delhi, Haryana, Odisha, Assam and Sikkim and reportedly found incriminating documents. The searches were carried out at the premises of NIOS officials, ex-NIOS employees, study centres and private persons, and 200 items were seized including hard disk drives, mobile phones and documents like admit cards, vouchers, passbooks, marksheets, answer sheets, cheque books, diaries, seating plan and details of payments received from candidates and to NIOS.
The CBI searched the premises of two employees of NIOS, including Sudarshan Singh who was posted in Bhopal but transferred to Gangtok last year, and three ex-NIOS employees in Bhopal. They recovered a cheque for Rs 1 lakh issued by Massy from an ex-employee in Bhopal and found that money had been transferred to the account of a peon in Bhopal, sources said.
The CBI teams found that admission money had been paid in bulk by middlemen. A senior CBI officer said that it was not possible for the racket to function without involvement of some staffers at NIOS Bhopal and NIOS Guwahati.
A former employee of NIOS told The Indian Express that Massy used to frequent Bhopal NIOS at the time of admissions till a couple of years ago. Sources alleged that the racket first flourished in Bhind, where invigilation at examination centres was very weak till a few years ago.
A CBI officer said they seized documents that suggest Massy ran an accredited institute in Betul in 2014. A complaint was made about irregularities in Betul centre to district authorities. He said a case was registered against an employee of the institute, and this could have forced Massy to shift focus to study centres in Sehore, Ratlam and Umaria.
Under the NIOS system, students have to enrol with accredited institutes called study centres in the district to which they belong, and appear for examination at centres at government schools.
The CBI had registered the FIR on a complaint from HRD Ministry, under which the NIOS functions, on July 23 this year, nearly a year after the irregularities came to the fore. After receiving alerts about malpractices, the NIOS carried out a preliminary probe in June 2017 and found that hundreds of candidates cleared the examinations without appearing for them.
Even though the beneficiary candidates belonged to nearly two dozen states, a majority hailed from Punjab and Odisha. While the examination centres would mark them absent, their answer sheets would be written later by racketeers.