A WHATSAPP group was the unlikely platform where signs of a nationwide scam — irregularities in class X and class XII results of the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) — first came to light, long before the Ministry of HRD approached the CBI for a probe. Members of a newly formed group, including principals of Kendriya Vidyalayas, Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas and some officials of the Regional Centre of NIOS, Bhopal, had raised questions about unusually low attendance figures at some examination centres, interpreting these differently before and after the results.
The examinations were held in March-April, the results announced on May 31 and June 1. Before the results, most members of the group had read the low attendance as a signal that the possibility of strict vigilance at new examination centres had deterred students who had planned on using fraudulent means. After the results, however, members were surprised that everyone at Sagod (Sehore) centre were declared passed although only two of the 353 students had appeared. All candidates were declared passed also from Umaria and Ratlam centres, although only three of 178 candidates and 19 of 693, respectively, had appeared.
After the results were declared on the NIOS website, anonymous complaints started reaching the headquarters about a mismatch between those who had appeared and those who cleared the exam. Attendance sheets and answer-sheets from each centre were sent to the evaluation centre in Guwahati. The alleged scam could not have taken place, sources who have dealt with irregularities in the examination system told The Indian Express, without the collusion of Delhi-based NIOS officials, officials in the Guwahati evaluation centre and at least one staff-member at the Bhopal-based regional centre. Middlemen who had taken money from students took care of online admission procedure to ensure the beneficiaries need not attend classes or appear in the exam, the sources said.
Under the NIOS system, students enroll in the accredited institutes (AIs) called study centres in their districts, and take the examination at centres recommended by the district education officer, with science practicals in the AIs. Insiders alleged that most students who did not take the exams belonged to states other than MP. The NIOS has now made Aadhaar number compulsory for admissions.
Until a few years ago, students had to appear in person to complete the admission formalities. The regional centres are expected to verify the documents but that is not always done. J P Shukla of Diamond Convent High School, a study centre in Ratlam, said he had complained about an unusually high number of online admissions three years ago because they were being done at the cost of local students. He said he was aware of less than 300 admissions at his centre, not 693 as declared passed.
“The fraud [only 19 had actually appeared] must have taken place at Bhopal or Delhi level. File FIRs against fake students and officers responsible for the fraud but don’t withhold the result of genuine students,’’ he said. He did not reply to questions about fees he received for coaching, and about the exact number of “genuine students” whose results had been withheld. “We are small fry. They enrol outsiders. A CBI probe will establish those behind the irregularities,” he told The Indian Express.
“We act only like postmen,” said Vidhu Bajpai, principal of JNV in Sehore. “We held the examination and sent answer-sheets and attendance sheets to the regional centre in Bhopal. Beyond that we have no role or responsibility. I don’t know what happened later.” She said NIOS has collected scanned copies of the documents. “The moment irregularities were detected after an internal probe, we withheld results. Not one student who remained absent has got the marksheet,” NIOS chairman Chandra B Sharma told The Indian Express. “I don’t know the modus operandi. I recommended a further probe essentially to find out who was behind it. If I knew how it was done, I would have acted if it was within my jurisdiction.” He said attendance is not compulsory at study centres.
“If someone produces a rent agreement with local address, we have to accept it,” he said, when asked about the allegation that most of the students who enrolled at three centres in MP are outsiders. “An inquiry will establish all this’’ he said, while blaming the AIs for not doing their jobs properly. “They take money but don’t teach students.” Ashok Singh, who runs an AI in Amarpatan, Satna, alleged that middlemen offer money to AIs to ensure students need not be present, even for science practicals. Also, he alleged, the result of his study centre was withheld because he had pointed out irregularities in the examination system. Singh demonstrated near India Gate sporting a huge apron demanding a CBI probe into the irregularities.