For the lakhs of young men and women preparing for competitive examinations for government jobs in Maharashtra, the term ‘dummy candidate’ has almost become synonymous to anything that is dubious in these recruitment processes.
The notion has its origin in the large number of cases of impersonation in these exams between 2010 and 2016, and a statewide probe into the “dummy candidate racket”. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has unearthed an elaborate nexus between racketeers and government officers, who took lakhs of rupees from these aspirants for providing impostor candidates — who in most cases were government employees — to fraudulently clear the exams.
The Special Investigation Team of the CID has already arrested 10 persons who ran the racket, including the mastermind Prabodh Rathod – a dismissed government employee — and 23 serving government servants who were recruited through the racket. These 23 are from a total of 75 government officials identified by the CID who got jobs with the help of dummy candidates provided by the racketeers. Even as late as March this year, four fresh cases have come to light, in which offences have been registered and investigators believe that offshoots of these rackets may be still be active.
How the racket was busted
Yogesh Jadhav, a 29-year-old political science graduate from Nanded, who was preparing for the civil services examination, got to know in 2015 that several youths known to him had sold or mortgaged their ancestral lands or houses to pay a middleman, who would help them get selected for a government job.
He decided to dig further and filed several Right to Information (RTI) pleas, before approaching police and alleging that impersonators had helped the candidates clear the exams and secure jobs in a number of departments, including revenue, agriculture, police and treasury.
As per the primary estimate of investigators, the number of cases in which dummy candidates are suspected to have appeared between 2010 and 2016 is over 500. Since he helped unveil the racket, Jadhav has received several threats to life and has been given round-the-clock police security. He has also played a key role in organising students’ agitations demanding reforms in the recruitment exam systems.
How the racket operated
The probe by the CID, detailed in the chargesheets filed by the agency, reveals that photos of dummy candidates with different hairstyles were photoshopped to make them match with the original candidates. These were then pasted on the hall tickets. The confession by one of the accused in the case, Baliram Bhatlondhe, reveals how the invigilators at the exam halls were “compromised” and they did not properly check the dummy candidates.
Bhatlondhe himself has admitted to appearing for over 20 selected candidates. Another ‘dummy candidate’, assistant police inspector Sultan Barabba who has since been suspended, has revealed in his statement how the candidates’ signatures were forged. 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.
The CID probe has revealed that the initial investigation by local police in Nanded district was allegedly scuttled by the very officials conducting it and they have now been made accused in the case.
After repeated attempts by Jadhav and some social activists from Nanded to get the case investigated, the Chief Minister’s Office stepped in and on Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s directions, a special investigation team (SIT) was formed in April 2017. The SIT is now probing as many as 22 separate offences registered across Maharashtra and till now it has brought to light at least 75 instances in which the candidates have been recruited and over 500 cases of impostors appearing for 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 police officers of assistant inspector rank, a CID handwriting expert, and a policeman who was part of the initial probe of the racket.
The chargesheet filed by the SIT in 2017 also shows how racketeers bribed Anti-Corruption Bureau officials to avoid inquiry and also bribed CID handwriting experts to mislead the initial probe by Nanded Police.
In the last one year, while the probe was on, new cases of ‘dummy candidates’ have come to light from Mumbai, Satara, Pune and Kolhapur. In December 2018, it was revealed that a person who was recruited as a talathi through the racket in Pune in 2011 went on to run parallel scam of the same nature, in connivance with the main racketeers and four more government employees acting as dummy candidates.
CID officials, who are now focussing on the trial of the chargesheeted accused and continuing the probe, say that one of the challenges before them is establishing the paper trail in case of some recruited candidates because of either deliberate disappearance or loss of documents related to the exams.
In April this year, The Indian Express had reported that police officials who have been monitoring the investigation since the beginning have questioned the inordinate delays by the government in taking action against the 75 government officials who were allegedly recruited through the racket.