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

With over 60 arrests and the rolling of heads of several top police officials, the PSI recruitment scam has shaken the Karnataka State Police and the government alike, while dealing a blow to the recruitment process.

Updated - July 06, 2022 06:24 pm IST

Published - July 06, 2022 02:28 pm IST

Police Sub Inspector (PSI) candidates protesting the Karnataka government’s announcement of a re-examination of the PSI recruitment exam after allegations of malpractices, at Freedom Park in Bengaluru on May 28, 2022.

Police Sub Inspector (PSI) candidates protesting the Karnataka government’s announcement of a re-examination of the PSI recruitment exam after allegations of malpractices, at Freedom Park in Bengaluru on May 28, 2022. | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K

Story so far: The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on Monday arrested Additional Director-General of Police (ADGP) Amrit Paul in the police sub inspectors’ (PSI) recruitment scam case. He was heading the Police Recruitment Cell, Karnataka, when the scam broke out and it was found that the OMR sheets were allegedly tampered with in the office. Since April, the CID officials have so far arrested over 60 persons, including the topper of the PSI exam, who were allegedly linked to middlemen and officials to get the OMR sheets filled up after submission.


January 1, 2021: A gazette notification for appointment of 545 civil PSIs is published.

October 3, 2021: The written examination is held. Over 54,000 candidates appear for the exam across 92 centres in the state.

January 19,2022: A provisional list of selected candidates is published. 178 candidates are selected from Bengaluru Urban centres and 93 from Kalaburagi.

How was the scam uncovered?

Irregularities were first noticed in Kalaburagi. In March 2022, Sridhar Pawar, a PSI aspirant who failed to clear the exam, collected a carbon copy of the OMR answer sheet of Veeresh Chandrashekhar, another candidate, who had ranked seventh among 67 candidates selected in the provisional list for the Kalyana Karnataka region. He found that the latter had been awarded 121 out of 150 marks even though he had attempted only 21 questions (out of 100) as per the carbon copy.

While the local police investigated the case at first, the government ordered a CID probe on April 7, 2022. On April 9, based on a complaint filed by the Financial intelligence Unit of CID with the Chowk police station in Kalaburgi, the police registered a case against Veeresh, charging him under cheating, forgery, fraud and criminal conspiracy.

More skeletons tumble out of the closet

The CID later arrested five other candidates and three invigilators who allegedly filled out the OMR answer sheets for some of the students after the exam. Further probe into the provisional selection list revealed that all the six arrested candidates wrote the exam at the same centre — Jnana Jyoti English School in Kalaburagi.

Divya Hagaragi, former president of the women's wing in BJP's Kalaburagi unit, and her husband Rajesh Hagaragi — who ran the school — went absconding on April 10 and were arrested by CID officials after a pursuit of 18 days. Three teachers and headmaster of the school were also arrested.

The scam was found to have been masterminded at the local level in Kalaburagi by Congress politicians Rudragowda Patil and his brother Mahantesh. The Patil brothers and Ms Hagaragi were named prime accused in the alleged malpractices in the recruitment scam.

Two methods of malpractice found

The format of exam includes two papers.

Paper I: Comprehension and essay type - 50 marks

Paper II: Multiple choice questions - 150 marks (100 questions for 1.5 marks each) to be filled in OMR sheet

To avoid subjectivity in evaluation and corruption, most recruitment tests now focus on multiple choice questions that need to be filled in an OMR sheet, with a carbon copy for the candidate. However, that system itself seems to have helped malpractices as CID officials uncovered two methods of cheating employed to score high marks in Paper II.

Method 1: Help of invigilators — Candidates leave most questions unanswered on OMR sheets and invigilators later fill them up with correct answers. Till 2016, police officials used to be invigilators for these exams. But following allegations that they helped candidates, the department outsourced invigilation to those working as staff at the selected as exam centres. However, most malpractices have occurred at these centres with help by these invigilators itself.

Method 2: Via Bluetooth devices — Question paper is leaked from examination centres to touts who have a panel of experts answer the questions and relay them to aspiring PSI candidates via bluetooth devices. Following malpractices in other recruitment exams, though metal detectors have been deployed at the centres, the ones used in the PSI recruitment exams were very sophisticated, small, skin-coloured, entirely made of plastic and hence, undetectable.

Investigation by the CID revealed that the scam also occurred at other levels - such as seating arrangements, during physical selection and booking of exam centres.

Selection list cancelled

On April 30, 2022, the State Government annulled the recruitment exam process, cancelled the provisional selection list of the 545 PSIs announced in January and decided to conduct a re-examination. Meanwhile, the CID began forensic analysis of 545 OMR sheets of all selected candidates.

The selected candidates launched a protest demanding that only those who indulged in the malpractice must be punished and not the majority of the untainted lot. A few of them approached the Karnataka State Administrative Tribunal contesting the government’s decision.

On May 6, 2022, Home Minister Araga Jnanendra announced in Kalaburagi that the government would setup a fast-track court to hear the case.

Investigation reaches Bengaluru

As forensic analysis of the OMR sheets progressed, more evidence of irregularities emerged from those who took the exams at centres in Bengaluru. Overall, the CID uncovered malpractices at two centres in Kalaburagi and 7 centres in Bengaluru, while suspecting malpractices in over 10 other centres. Today, the total number of candidates arrested in the scam is 48, including 8 from Kalaburagi and 22 from Bengaluru Urban.

Initially, the CID officials arrested 16 candidates from Bengaluru and handed them over to the High Grounds Police. The other six, however, went absconding. On July 3, the officials finally arrested Jagruth, who topped the selection list and is the prime accused in the PSI scam.

A few touts arrested in the PSI recruitment scam were also accused in other recruitment exam malpractices of 2021, including Rudragowda Patil, who was booked under a case related to fraud in enrolment of engineers in the Public Works Department (PWD). Arrest of more touts was an indication of organised groups actively rigging recruitment exams. Several coaching centres preparing students for competitive exams also emerged as fertile grounds for such malpractices and for touts to broker deals, said police officials. 

Role of the recruitment cell

With the controversy heating up, it was only a matter of time before the CID sleuths traced the rot all the way to the strongroom of the Police Recruitment Cell — the first time a malpractice at the cell has come to light.

In mid-May, close on the heels of the arrest of four other junior personnel posted in the cell at the time of the exam, the CID arrested P. Shantha Kumar, Dy. SP, a key personnel in the police recruitment cell. Pending probe into his role in the scam, ADGP Amrit Paul — who was heading the recruitment division when the scam broke out — was transferred to the Internal Security Division, replacing him with Kamal Pant. On July 4, 2022, Mr. Paul was also arrested after being questioned by the CID four times.

Probe revealed that Mr. Paul had given the keys of the strongroom in CID annexe building, where the OMR sheets were kept under tight security, to Mr. Shantha Kumar. Since he was in-charge, Mr. Shantha Kumar allegedly roped in first division assistant Harsha and RSIs Sridhar and Srinivas to help him in different roles: from filling the blank OMR sheets to switching off the CCTV cameras.

While in Kalaburagi, OMR sheets were tampered with at the exam centres, for many other candidates in Bengaluru and elsewhere, it later emerged that the OMR sheets were allegedly tampered with at the recruitment cell itself, compromising the very process of the examination.

Political slugfest ensues

Meanwhile, the Opposition Congress, which has been trying to corner the State Government with repeated allegations of complicity in the PSI scam, and the BJP engaged in a war of words over the arrests.

The Congress had claimed cover-up by the BJP alleging Higher Education Minister CN Ashwath Narayan’s brother to be one of the touts; this was denied by the BJP. Congress leader Priyank Kharge, who had released an audio clip of a purported conversation of a tout, declined three notices served by the CID to join probe and give evidence.

Following Mr. Paul’s arrest, Opposition Congress demanded the resignation of Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai for allegedly attempting to protect some politicians and officials involved in the scam. The Congress also demanded immediate sacking of Home Minister Araga Jnanendra who, it said, misled the government and the public by denying the irregularities in recruitment in the State legislature in March 2022.

Rigging the selection process

Lasting over four months, the probe uncovered the systematic way in which the entire recruitment process was rigged all the way to the top of the chain. Those arrested included the candidates, the kingpin and his associates, the touts and middlemen, the staff at the exam centre, police personnel and the officers at recruitment cell itself.

The expansive nature of the scam, yet again, brought to fore the culture of bribe at the higher echelons of the police force. The post of a police sub-inspector is a coveted government job that comes with the promise of perks and promotions. This year though, about 1.29 lakh aspirants had applied for a mere 545 vacancies.

With limited vacancies, it is no surprise that illegal tampering has found its way into the recruitment of not just police sub-inspectors, but also assistant professors, PWD engineers among others. However, the involvement of top police officials and those with political ties has raised serious concerns about a network that is attempting to recruit candidates who are more likely to toe the line of their political masters.

According to sources, 30 aspirants had paid money, about ₹30 lakh to ₹40 lakh each, to Shanthkumar and Paul to help tamper the OMR sheets and get into the toppers’ list. While some candidates sold land, others pledged their valuables to pay bribes ranging from ₹30 lakh to ₹1 crore to get a job as a PSI. The police are now probing the money trail.

Setback for 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. The PSI recruitment scam and the cancellation of the selection list is bound to be a big setback for the recruitment drive, believe officials. 

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