Tamil Nadu

Mired in exam scams, it’s testing times for Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu has seen a string of cases of exam fraud in recent times. The TNPSC scam — the latest to rock the State — may have not even come to light if not for the suspicions raised by a few candidates. Moreover, with fraudsters employing increasingly innovative methods to game the system, investigators have their work cut out

When it comes to examination fraud, Tamil Nadu has hit the headlines on quite a few occasions in the recent past. Be it in the case of the infamous question paper leak ahead of the police recruitment examination in 2005 or the sensational National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) impersonation scam in 2019, the suspects had come up with novel ways to game the system.

The NEET scam was innovative, in that candidates from Tamil Nadu had hired proxies to take the test on their behalf in other centres across north India to gain admission into medical colleges. In another case, a serving IPS officer was caught cheating in the Civil Services Examination in Chennai. It was found that his wife and an associate had been dictating the answers to him from Hyderabad through a mini wireless earpiece. He was caught following a tip-off from the Central intelligence agencies.

 

The latest exam scam to rock the State is the one involving the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC). The Crime Branch-CID of the Tamil Nadu police, which is investigating the case, has arrested dozens of suspects so far, including candidates, government employees and middlemen.

The TNPSC scam surfaced when a few candidates questioned how it could be that around 40 of the top 100 candidates who had cleared the Group-IV examination had taken the test at the Rameswaram and Keelakarai centres in Ramanathapuram district. Had they not flagged the issue, the scam may, perhaps, have not come to light at all. The TNPSC was quick to react by ordering an internal probe. After prima facie evidence of serious irregularities was established, a formal complaint was lodged with the CB-CID for further investigation.

It didn’t take much time for the agency to question the suspects and unravel the truth. But what emerged was an unprecedented fraud in the history of competitive examinations. The investigators established that the answer scripts had been tampered with to favour select candidates who had appeared for the exam at the centres in question. As many as 39 of the top 100 candidates who had passed the examination had indeed written the test at the centres in Ramanathapuram district, though they all belonged to other districts.

Vanishing ink

S. Jayakumar of Chennai is alleged to have been the man behind the scam. He had chalked out a meticulous plan by colluding with a few TNPSC officials. The gang of fraudsters had contacted around 100 candidates and had asked them to opt for either the Rameswaram or the Keelakarai centre. The modus operandi was that the candidates would use two pens. First, an ordinary pen would be used to write the registration number. Then, another pen, filled with evaporating ink, would be used to mark answers for the objective-type questions.

 

The candidates were told that the markings made with the evaporating ink will vanish after a couple of hours, and that the correct answers will be entered later. A TNPSC Record Clerk, entrusted with the task of transporting the answer scripts to Chennai, colluded with Jayakumar and gave him access to the sealed bundles. In filmy style, the suspects moved the answer scripts from one vehicle to another and made fresh entries. The answer scripts that were tampered with were replaced in the designated vehicle, which reached the TNPSC headquarters the following day. The question of why the seals on the vehicle’s door and the bundles were not checked properly by the officials who received the scripts remains a part of the investigation.

While the CB-CID was focusing on the Group-IV Services examination, information from different sources pointed to Jayakumar’s role in irregularities in other examinations conducted by the TNPSC earlier. In-depth inquiries with suspects and sources led to the shocking revelation that Jayakumar had also helped candidates pass the Village Administrative Officer (VAO) and Group-IIA Services examinations in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

 

The Investigating Officer has begun the process of summoning and examining the candidates who had paid the suspects to help them pass the Group-IV Services examination. The CB-CID’s Director General of Police, M.S. Jaffar Sait, recently formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT), led by a senior police officer, to exclusively probe the scam. So far, the police have arrested 41 persons who were allegedly involved in the Group-IIA Services, VAO and Group-IV Services recruitment exam scams. Many of the arrested persons were in government service before being suspended.

The fraud in the Group-IIA Services exam was different. Jayakumar and his associates had told the suspect candidates not to attempt the questions to which they didn’t know the answers. The candidates left many questions unanswered, since the norm of recording the number of questions answered was not in force then.

 

When the answer script bundles were being moved from the Sub-Treasury office to Chennai by road, the suspects intervened at an opportune moment and broke open the seal. They moved the answer scripts to another vehicle and marked the right answers to the unanswered questions. An investigation is on to ascertain who provided the answers to the questions. In one case, the gang made fresh entries in black ink, while the candidate had used blue ink to attempt a few questions. The usage of different colours of ink in the answer scripts was in itself a reason to suspect foul play, but the candidate went on to pass the test and join government service, though he was arrested after the scam was exposed. The investigators have referred suspicious answer scripts for forensic analysis.

With suspicions being raised about irregularities in recruitment to other posts, the TNPSC, which has the answer scripts for the examinations held in the last five years, has been conducting random checks based on certain parameters to rule out irregularities.

Acting on reports that suspicions were being raised over the recruitment of Junior Engineer (Architects), the Commission had conducted a thorough check of the answer scripts and had come out with a clarification ruling out foul play. In a bid to strengthen the system further, the Commission had rolled out reforms, including measures that made the process of recruitment more transparent.

Aadhaar is a must

A significant move towards establishing the identities of the candidates was a rule making the Aadhaar card mandatory for appearing for the examinations conducted by the TNPSC. The fingerprints of the candidates would have to be verified before they were allowed to write the examination.

The exam timings were revised. An entire hour was allocated for ensuring the genuineness of candidates and completing other formalities before the commencement of the examination. Marking answers for all questions was made compulsory, and a new option, ‘E’, apart from the existing ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’, was brought in for candidates who did not know the answer to any given question. If any question was left unanswered, the answer script would become invalid. Besides, an internal inquiry was ordered to identify the staff who had colluded with the suspects involved in the scam.

 

But was the involvement of the main suspect limited to the TNPSC examinations? CB-CID sources said no evidence of his involvement in the 2015 Group-I examination scam had surfaced so far.

The interrogation of a few middlemen linked to the case revealed that Jayakumar was closely associated with a few persons in the Directorate of Public Instruction (DPI) complex, which houses the School Education Department. Investigators are now looking at the possibility of the suspect having played a role in other examinations in recent years. The storage devices and mobile phones seized from the premises of the suspects have been referred for forensic analysis, the outcome of which, the police say, could give more leads.

TNUSRB shocker

Even as the TNPSC scam sent shockwaves across Tamil Nadu, irregularities were reported in the recruitment of Grade-II police constables, prison warders and firemen conducted by the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board (TNUSRB). Around 1,000 candidates, who had appeared for the examination in centres across the State, were found to have submitted fake certificates for appointment under the 10% sports quota.

The TNUSRB had advertised the recruitment to as many as 8,888 vacant posts in the Police, Fire & Rescue Services and Prison Departments late last year. As many as 3.25 lakh candidates wrote the examination in 32 districts, and 47,000 of them cleared it and appeared for the Physical Efficiency Test.

 

Nearly 8,800 candidates who had qualified for appointment were called for certificate verification. However, during the process, it was found that at least 1,000 candidates claiming appointment under the 10% sports quota had submitted ‘ineligible’ certificates. The associations that had issued the sports certificates were not recognised by the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, and hence, were not competent to issue such certificates. The TNUSRB rejected the claims and brought the candidates concerned under the general quota. No decision has been taken yet to refer the matter to an investigation agency to probe the possibility of unrecognised sports associations issuing such certificates in exchange for cash.

Opposition parties, led by the DMK, have demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the TNPSC recruitment scams. While the CB-CID was able to unravel the modus operandi and arrest the suspects in the TNPSC-related frauds, not much progress has been made in apprehending the proxies in the NEET scam, since it is suspected that all of them are residing outside Tamil Nadu. The agency has sent the photographs/biometrics of the accused — suspected to be medics — to the National Medical Commission, the Unique Identification Authority of India, the Director-General of Health Services, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, among other institutions, seeking their assistance in tracking down the proxies.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 4:02:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/testing-times-for-a-state-mired-inexam-scams/article30832523.ece

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