Ahmedabad/New Delhi: It was the last Sunday of January and 9.5 lakh candidates in Gujarat were getting ready to battle it out for 1,181 seats to become a panchayat junior clerk – a job that promised a salary of Rs 19,950. Among them was 22-year-old Manav Solanki from Rajkot. He was all set to take the exam at 11 am.
But around 7 am, he got a call informing him that the exam was cancelled — the question paper had leaked.
Since then, the Gujarat Panchayat Service Selection Board (GPSSB), responsible for conducting the competitive exam, has been hustling to hold the recruitment test again. The exam has been rescheduled to 9 April.
The Panchayat clerk exam isn’t the only one affected by a paper leak. Exam paper leaks have become an epidemic in Gujarat, with 11 leaks in 11 years derailing and demoralising tens of thousands of young job aspirants. Unofficial numbers claim the number is even higher. It underlines the obsession for government jobs in a state that’s known for private sector growth.
The board hopes that by the time the second exam is held, they will be armed with a brand new law that seeks to deter those indulging in the “organised crime” of paper leaks with a maximum jail time of 10 years and a fine of not less than Rs 1 crore.
The Gujarat Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2023 was swiftly passed in the state assembly last month and the state Governor Acharya Devvrat granted his assent to it on 8 March.
However, the new legislation hasn’t pacified the likes of Solanki, who is struggling to prepare for the exam.
“One needs to be at peace mentally, only then preparation is possible,” he says.
He is disappointed by how some govt services exams receive greater attention than others and their sanctity remains intact.
He questions how exams held by Gujarat Public Service Commission are immune to paper leaks but the same doesn’t apply to GPSSB and Gujarat Subordinate Service Selection Board (GSSSB).
Solanki’s father Anand Bhai terms the incidents of paper leaks as a “conspiracy” rather than a consequence of government oversight. He too has faint expectations from the new law.
“We can only say how effective it is when someone is imprisoned,” he says
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A sinister ‘modus operandi’?
By February the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), tasked to investigate the paper leak in the junior clerk exam, had arrested 19 of the accused in the case, according to SP Sunil Joshi.
Joshi explains how one of the accused got the paper from Hyderabad where it was being printed and leaked it — it was an inter-state operation.
“There are also organised gang members from Bihar and Odisha who find agents in Gujarat. Then there are education consultants in Gujarat, involved with various exam centres, who reach out to the students,” Joshi says, giving a breakdown of the nexus of crime leading up to a leak.
Among the accused held by ATS are Ketan Barot and Bhaskar Chaudhary, both part of education consultancy firms in the state. They were previously arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 2019 for manipulating a BITS, Pilani online entrance examination.
Gujarat AAP leader Yuvrajsinh Jadeja, who claims to be waging war against the menace in the state, alleges that these repeat offenders are able to continue with their operations because of bureaucratic assistance. He asserts that papers reach students because of political involvement.
“A leader will back that candidate [the one who gets the leaked paper], and will ensure nothing happens to him,” he claims, alleging that the question paper for the junior clerk exam was sold for Rs 12 lakh.
Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi termed paper leaks the “modus operandi” of the BJP government to recruit their “own people”.
Jadeja supplements this allegation by explaining the twin “advantage” of such incidents. “One, it will bring their own people into the system and if the exam gets delayed because the leak is exposed, the responsibility of the government to pay the salary gets stalled,” he claims.
While Jadeja welcomes the new law he is sceptical as to whether it will help end the problem. He underscores that a paper has to leak for the law to take effect. He fears that if someone in the exam hall is caught with a leaked answer key, it will be dismissed as cheating and not a case of paper leak.
He is concerned about lax implementation. He gives the example of Gujarat’s prohibition laws, “There’s not a single street where alcohol isn’t available. The success of a law depends on how it is implemented and what kind of actions are taken,” he says.
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People turning away from government jobs
The repeated paper leaks discourage young job aspirants and turn them cynical too.
Ankit Kumar, 22, says, “nothing will come out of” the newly-passed bill. He was set to appear for the junior clerk’s exam in January and had spent a year studying for it. But now he isn’t dedicatedly preparing for the rescheduled exam.
It’s the third time he signed up for a competitive exam but couldn’t reach the finish line.
Now, Kumar has changed his career plans altogether. He can’t risk wasting more years — even with the new law.
“I studied B.A. so that I could do coaching and prepare for government exams on the side. But with the government’s job sector turning out this way, I am focusing on getting my L.L.B. degree and aiming for a private job,” Kumar says.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)