The arrest of APSC Chairperson Rakesh Paul and some other associates last month have brought home the reality of deep rooted corruption in State institutions like the Assam Public Service Commission. Established on 1st April 1937, the APSC has been led by many stalwarts in the past but recent cases of corruption have questioned the very credibility of the institution. While allegations of corruption and nepotism in distributing coveted jobs in the State administration and similar jobs has become almost an annual affair, the arrest of the kingpin and his associates is being hailed by many as a positive step towards a much required clean-up.
No Action on Past Allegations
Around a year ago, an NGO named Assam Public Works wrote to President Pranab Mukherjee to intervene in APSC appointments quoting massive corruption. Newspapers were flooded with reports highlighting the dubious credibility of some successful candidates. Be it the poor academic records of many, criminal cases registered against some or candidates being way above permissible age limit – allegations were many. The then Chief Minister and Governor were even at loggerheads on this issue; however, no concrete steps were taken. While some committees were formed to look into the cases of corruption, nothing much came out of it.
Something is Rotten…
One point to be noted is that cash for jobs is not limited to administrative services alone. Similar allegations were made in case of appointments made in other departments as well. Be it the appointment of Assistant Professors to the premier institution of Cotton College or selecting dentists, veterinary doctors or officials of fisheries, a similar method of cash for jobs have been employed. Even the very method of selecting Assistant Professors for government colleges is faulty to an extent. While the expert panel which is better equipped to test a candidate is allowed to only grade the applicants, it is the Commission official who gives the deciding marks for being appointed. The last time appointments to Cotton College were made, a row broke out between the expert panel of English department and the APSC as experts alleged that the candidate whom they gave the lowest grades to were given the job.
Serious allegations were made: one such allegation pointed out that candidates who did not even appear for their interviews were also being appointed. Despite such charges, the Commission continued its work with certain impunity. The ongoing investigation continues to bring forth newer revelations which shows how deep rooted and institutionalized corruption has become. After the arrest of Rakesh Paul, facts like how he printed question papers in his brother’s printing press and even used the same place for retaking exams of candidates who have paid a huge amount of money was made public. Going by the newspaper reports, it seems that some candidates would submit almost blank answer scripts. Later, they would be allowed to write the exam a second time in various secretive places. Raids in different areas have shown answer scripts of successful candidates whose marks in just one subject and interview is too high and hence inconsistent with what the same candidate scored in other subjects. This points to massive discrepancy in the appointing procedure.
Part of a Larger Malaise
The APSC row clearly proves how systematic corruption has become. It has put into place an alternative mechanism whereby some people try to dismiss the need of merit and hard work to get prestigious jobs. In exchange of money, even wrong answer keys are fed to help certain candidates. What is utterly disturbing is the lack of serious official probing into such allegations. While the erstwhile government may not directly be involved in this issue, they did not do much to address these charges against the APSC either. What is required is to dismantle this entire mechanism and not just stop at Rakesh Paul who is just a cog in a bigger wheel.
How this entire issue is solved will decide a lot for the State. It has to counter the rot within the larger society. It has to convince people that the wallets of some will not outweigh the effort and hard work of the deserving candidates. Candidates who have paid bribe should also be brought to book to stop this menace once and for all. If not, this will be another hogwash which will be merely a stop gap arrangement in the market where jobs are auctioned to the highest bidders.
The Way Forward
The cash for jobs scam has systematically bypassed genuine meritorious candidates who are incapable of paying such impossibly huge amounts of money. However, the rot is much deeper. While one must appreciate the initiative of the new government to clean up this institution which is bestowed with the responsibility of selecting officials which will keep the governance running, a full-fledged neutral investigation must be put into place to hold the guilty accountable. Questions starting from how the members of the Public Service Commission are selected need to be raised. To what extent political preference bypasses efficiency in such crucial appointments needs to be evaluated. Also in the interview, more weightage should be given to the decision of the expert panel who are better equipped to evaluate candidates.
Written by: Parvin Sultana
The writer is working as an Assistant Professor in Pramathesh Barua College, Gauripur