Corruption News

Karnataka’s PSI recruitment scam and the rot at the top 

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How was the recruitment scam carried out and who were the accused? How will the scam affect the recruitment drive?

How was the recruitment scam carried out and who were the accused? How will the scam affect the recruitment drive?

The story so far: The Karnataka State Police issued a gazette notification early last year to fill 545 Police sub-inspector (PSI) vacancies. Following physical tests, over 54,000 candidates appeared for the written exam across 92 centres in the State in January 2022. However, in March, irregularities first came to light when a social media post revealed that Veeresh Chandrashekhar, a candidate from Kalaburagi who had ranked 7th, had been awarded 121 out of 150 marks even though he had attempted only 21 questions as per the carbon copy of his OMR sheet. The Crime Investigation Department (CID) probe that followed unveiled one of the biggest recruitment scams in the State, which saw lakhs given in bribes and the arrests of over 60 candidates, local politicians, and top police officials in the Karnataka Police recruitment cell, including its then chief Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Amrit Paul. 

How did the malpractice take place? 

The format of the PSI exam includes two papers. A comprehension paper for 50 marks and an MCQ paper for 150 marks (100 questions for 1.5 marks each) are to be filled on an OMR sheet. It is in the second paper that the CID officials uncovered two methods of cheating employed to score high marks. 

First, the candidates took help from the invigilators. They left most questions unanswered on OMR sheets, attempting only what they knew while invigilators later filled the rest with correct answers.

Second, the candidates used Bluetooth devices. The question paper was leaked from examination centres to touts who had a panel of experts relay the answers to the candidates via Bluetooth devices. While metal detectors had been deployed at the centres, the ones used in the PSI recruitment exams were very small, skin-coloured and undetectable. 

Who were involved? 

Lasting over four months, the investigation uncovered the systematic way in which the entire recruitment process was rigged, tracing the rot all the way to the top of the chain. Those arrested include the candidates, the kingpin and his associates, the touts and middlemen, the invigilators, police personnel, and officers at the recruitment cell. The scam was found to have been masterminded at the local level in Kalaburagi by Congress politicians Rudragowda Patil and his brother Mahantesh Patil.

The other prime accused was Divya Hagaragi, former president of the women’s wing in Bharatiya Janata Party’s Kalaburagi unit.

What was the role of the recruitment cell? 

The probe revealed that ADGP Amrit Paul — who was heading the recruitment division when the scam broke out — had given the keys of the strongroom, where the OMR sheets were kept under tight security, to Deputy Superintendent of Police Shantha Kumar.

Mr. Kumar then allegedly roped in first division assistant Harsha and Reserve Sub-Inspectors (RSIs) Sridhar and Srinivas to help him switch off the CCTV and fill up the blank OMR sheets. 

The CID arrested Mr. Kumar and four junior officers. ADGP Amrit Paul was initially transferred to the Internal Security Division before being arrested in July 2022.

What led to the malpractice?

Being a police sub-inspector is a coveted government post that comes with the promise of job security and promotions. This year though, about 1.29 lakh aspirants had applied for a mere 545 vacancies. 

 According to sources, 30 aspirants had paid between ₹30 lakh to ₹1 crore to help tamper the OMR sheets and get into the toppers’ list. Some of them had sold their land while others pledged their valuables to pay bribes.

The expansive nature of the scam, yet again, brought to the fore the corruption at the higher levels of the police force. 

How did the State government react? 

On April 30, 2022, the State Government annulled the recruitment process, cancelled the provisional list of the 545 PSIs announced, and decided to conduct a fresh examination. This led to a furore among selected candidates, who launched a protest demanding that only those who had indulged in the malpractice must be punished. Their contention was that, with the cut-off for the PSI exam set at 30 years of age, many of them would have crossed that limit, making them ineligible to take the re-examination. 

How has the scam affected recruitment? 

The 90,000-plus strong Karnataka State Police, which had been suffering with over 30% vacancies, had taken up an aggressive recruitment drive since 2016, with an aim to have no vacancies by 2023-24. However, the scam has shaken the police department and government alike, while the cancellation of the selection list has dealt a major blow to the recruitment drive, officials believe. 

THE GIST

Lasting over four months, the investigation uncovered the systematic way in which the entire recruitment process was rigged, tracing the rot all the way to the top of the chain.

The scam was found to have been masterminded at the local level in Kalaburagi by Congress politician Rudragowda Patil.

On April 30, 2022, the State Government annulled the recruitment process, cancelled the provisional list of the 545 PSIs announced and decided to conduct a fresh examination.


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