JOBS ON SALE
The Assam police busts a mega job scam. Coming in the first year of CM Sarbananda Sonowal’s government, it’s also being seen as a personal victory for him
OON JUNE 17, 2016, WITHIN THREE weeks of taking charge as the chief minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal summoned all the members of the Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) and pulled them up over the multiple allegations that the commission sells jobs for cash. The constitutional body’s chairman, Rakesh Paul, responded by saying that the chief minister had no authority to instruct him or interfere in his work. The APSC chairman was right—the power to remove the chairman or the members of the public service commission has been vested exclusively with the President of India.
The chief minister was forced to remain a mute spectator, but not for too long. Help came from Dibrugarh, his hometown. On October 25, 2016, Angshumita Gogoi, a dentist, approached the district superintendent of police saying Nabakanta Patir, an assistant engineer with the town and country planning department in Dibrugarh, had asked for Rs 10 lakh for a ‘confirmed’ selection by the APSC for a government job. Gogoi had failed to secure a job in
an earlier attempt through the APSC. Two days later, the police laid a trap and caught Patir red-handed with the cash. Patir’s arrest led to the arrest of Mamud Ali Choudhury, PSO of APSC member Samedur Rahman, in Rangiya on October 30, the chain of arrests finally leading up to Paul.
“Patir’s phone records revealed he was in regular contact with Paul and Rahman. We found text messages he sent to the two detailing payments from aspiring candidates,” says Additional SP Surjit Singh Panesar, the investigating officer in this case. On November 4, Paul was arrested and, two days later, police raids in his houses as well as on a printing press run by his brother Rajib Paul in Guwahati unearthed answer scripts and question papers of examinations conducted by the APSC. Several candidates of the 2013 batch of Assam civil service, Assam police service and other services had allegedly written their answer scripts for the second time at Paul’s residence. The duplicate answer sheets were printed at Paul’s brother’s press. The answer copies either had forged signatures of the invigilator or had signatures of invigilators who were not on duty on that particular date.
Based on the forensic examination of these copies of answer sheets, the Assam police on May 3 arrested three officers—Bhaskarjyoti Dev Sharma, Bhaskar Dutta and Amrit Sharma— who had sat for the APSC examination in 2013. They had allegedly submitted duplicate answer scripts. Assam police DGP Mukesh Sahay says that the three were picked up after investigators found two sets of their answer scripts at Paul’s home.
The investigating team then seized the answer scripts of all the 241 candidates who had cleared the 2013 exam and the 180 who had cleared the 2014 exam. Based on a scrutiny of these scripts, 25 serving Assam government officers, including the son of former Congress minister Nilamoni Sen Deka, were interrogated at the office of the Assam police special branch in Guwahati on June 9. “Apart from being interrogated, these officers were asked to append their signatures and write a short note on a blank sheet. Forensic laboratories outside the state will compare the papers with the handwriting in their examination answer scripts,” Sahay said.
Paul, who had been serving as a notary in a district court, was made a member of the APSC in 2008 by the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government. He was elevated as chairman on December 7, 2013. The same month, Mukul Saikia, an SP of the vigilance and anti-corruption department of the Assam police, submitted a report saying that the APSC chairman was running a “job bazaar” and had managed to acquire flats in Guwahati, Kolkata and Bengaluru after becoming an APSC member. The state government did not act on the report. Instead, the SP was transferred out.
On March 15, 2015, the CBI forwarded a complaint against Paul to the Assam police’s vigilance and anti-corruption wing. The complainant had alleged that Paul manipulated the records of the APSC recruitment process and had been collecting “Rs 10 to 40 lakh” from candidates. But nothing happened.
A few months later, Akhil Gogoi, a social activist, filed a PIL seeking a thorough inquiry against the alleged disproportionate wealth of Paul and into the functioning of APSC. The Gauhati High Court, on October 15, 2015, ordered a CBI probe into the assets of Paul, his wife Sunanda, brother Rajeev and driver Sanjay Saha. The HC also asked the state government to institute a judicial inquiry into the anomalies in the APSC. Paul moved the Supreme Court and on November 21, 2015, obtained a stay on the high court’s order.
When questioned about the allegations against Paul whom he had appointed, former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi blamed the BJP government for politicising the issue. He even challenged the government to hand over the case to the CBI. “The BJP has been selective in its drive against corruption. The government is silent and slow on scams in which BJP ministers are involved,” Gogoi said.
Despite his fall from grace, Paul has remained defiant, even threatening a senior police official during an interrogation at the central jail in Guwahati where he is currently lodged.
Meanwhile, the President has made a reference to the Supreme Court on the Assam government’s petition for the removal of Paul as APSC chairman. The Sonowal government had already suspended him on November 26. The matter would now be viewed by the Supreme Court, after which it will revert to the President’s office with an opinion. “That the President has made a reference to the Supreme Court means that he is satisfied that a prima facie case has been made out against the APSC chairman,” says Bijan Mahajan, special public prosecutor, who is also a BJP spokesperson.
But Sonowal is not worried about the apex court’s decision nor does he see these developments as a game of one-upmanship. “It’s not a personal issue. Our government has already declared zero tolerance against corruption. The probing agencies have full freedom to act against the corrupt within the ambit of law,” he says.
“It’s not a personal issue. Our government has already declared zero tolerance against corruption” SARBANANDA SONOWAL Assam chief minister
ANSWER TO EVERYTHING APSC chairman Rakesh Paul after his arrest