Lucknow: The Uttar Pradesh government finds itself in fresh trouble, with a section of candidates who appeared for the 2021-22 National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to Ayurveda, Homeopathy and Unani courses approaching the President and the Ministry of Ayush in October, alleging that those who did not clear the examination were allotted seats in state colleges.
The Ministry of Ayush was formed in 2014 to look after the development of education, research and propagation of traditional medicine systems in India.
The tests were held in September last year and the results were released in the public domain.
“The students realised that while they had failed to get admission, those who received lesser marks than them in the test had managed to get admission. They then wrote to the central Ayush ministry and the President,” said an official in the state Ayush department.
After the ministry wrote to the office of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in October-end drawing its attention to the allegation, the latter ordered a probe in the matter, the official added.
An FIR was registered at Lucknow’s Hazratganj police station by the director (Ayurveda), Ayush department, S.N. Singh. But on Monday evening, the UP government said in a statement that it had written to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) recommending a CBI probe into the ‘scam’ and that action was initiated against four senior officials, including Singh and officer-in-charge of education Umakant Yadav, of the state Ayush department.
The Ayush department has ordered colleges to suspend 891 students who allegedly secured admission through fraudulent means, if colleges find their NEET results do not match the required cut-off, or if they fail to submit documents to support their admission.
Sources privy to the probe claim, meanwhile, that the alleged scam amounts to crores.
Asked about the reports of each seat being allotted for lakhs of rupees, UP minister of state for Ayush, Daya Shankar Mishra, told ThePrint that the government has fixed a fee for study in Ayush, Ayurvedic and Unani colleges.
“The government has fixed a fee for studying each of the courses. If there is any money exchange in the fake admissions, the investigation will reveal it. Those involved should know about it and action will be taken against them. Many other people will come under the purview of the probe,” he said.
FIR against state & outside agencies
According to the FIR lodged by Singh, in the 2021-22 academic year, UP’s Ayush department initiated the counseling process for admissions to 7,338 government college seats and 6,797 private college seats, for Ayurveda, Unani and Homeopathy aspirants.
ThePrint has a copy of the FIR.
According to an official in one of the government colleges, a counseling board was constituted on 10 December last year, to carry out the process of merit list preparation and online counseling.
Headed by Singh, the board included the officer-in-charge (Ayurveda education) of the Ayush department, Dr. Umakant Yadav, officer-in-charge (Unani directorate) Dr. Mohd Waseem and joint director (Homeopathy education) professor Vijay Kumar Pushkar, the FIR added.
According to the FIR, the Ayush department appointed UPTRON Powertronics Limited, a UP government-owned technical agency, to conduct the online counseling, through a letter dated 7 December, 2021. The FIR adds that UPTRON delegated the work to V3 Soft Solutions Private Limited.
The FIR adds that after procuring the NEET results data in a hard disc (pen drive) from Singh’s office, Yadav transferred the information to the V3 representative.
The verification of documents (of students) was done by the agency, claimed Pushkar and Waseem, adding that their role in the allotting of seats was restricted.
“Our role was mainly to ensure that issues of the students, like checking caste certificates are resolved,” claimed Pushkar.
According to Waseem, their (the committee’s) role was mainly to coordinate with the chairman of the committee.
The FIR registered by Singh was filed against UPTRON Powertronics Private Limited, which had been tasked with the online counseling, the vendor V-3 Soft Solutions Private Limited, and V-3 representative Kuldeep Singh, as well as other unnamed people.
They have been booked under Sections 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (whoever fraudulently or dishonestly uses as genuine a forged document), 120-b (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
ThePrint reached out to Kuldeep Singh through call and WhatsApp, but received no response till the time of publication of this report.
“The all-India quota for allotment of undergraduate (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery, Bachelor of Unani Medicine and Surgery, Bachelor of Sidhha Medicine and Surgery and Bachelor of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery) seats in central government/government-aided colleges stands at 15 per cent,” Dr. Ashish Verma, general secretary, Prantiye Homeopathic Chikitsa Sewa Sangh told ThePrint.
“The data of the NEET result that is shared with the states includes details of all students who have qualified for NEET and their ranks, after the Centre’s 15 per cent quota is filled. The state then applies its reservation (for SC, ST, OBC, etc) and prepares a merit list.”
However, the list that was prepared by the committee and the agency involved was forged, alleged a senior government official privy to the investigation.
“1,181 names of students who had made it to the list were changed, while the ranks and numbers [in NEET] were retained. So, the names of those students who paid money in exchange for a seat were arranged in a manner that they are allocated the seats. Of the 1,181 names on the list, 927 were of those who had not got the NEET cut-off marks. The merit list was changed and seats were allocated to them,” the official said.
Of these 927 students, as many as 891 got seats in government and private Ayurvedic, Unani and Homeopathic colleges across UP, the FIR notes, adding that at least 22 of them had not appeared for the exam at all.
Sources in the government said that after the Ayush ministry’s letter reached the CMO last week, a probe was directed after which a special task force (STF) of UP Police sought the documents based on which the merit list was prepared, but the probe agency was first given a corrupt file by the agency concerned.
“The file handed over to the STF was corrupted. Data was sought from the Ayush department a second time,” an official source said.
891 students suspended
While reports suggest that the accused involved in the ‘scam’ allegedly charged Rs 5 lakhs to Rs 2.5 lakhs for seats in government and private colleges respectively, official sources said that the total money exchange could run into crores.
“Money exchange has happened at the level of those in the committee and other department officials in the previous regime (last Yogi government between 2017-2022),” said the senior government official privy to the investigation quoted above.
According to a statement issued by the UP government late Monday evening, following directions of Yogi Adityanath, the state government recommended a CBI probe into the alleged irregularities in Ayush admissions in 2021-22.
“Dr. S.N. Singh acting director (Ayurveda) and officer-in-charge (Ayurveda education) Dr. Umakant Yadav have been suspended on the directions of the CM. Departmental action has been initiated against officer-in-charge (Unani directorate) Dr. Mohd Waseem and joint director (Homeopathy education) professor Vijay Kumar Pushkar,” the statement said.
The Ayush department has also issued orders to all Ayurveda, Homeopathy and Unani colleges to suspend as many as 891 students who allegedly managed to get admissions through fraudulent means. ThePrint has seen the order dated 28 October.
Colleges were told to give students identified in the order seven days to furnish their NEET results and other documents submitted at the time of counselling. The letter states that action against them can be taken in case of failure to produce the documents, or if they are found to have not met the required cut-off for admission.
“The students have been suspended [as of now], but the admissions may have to be cancelled as genuine students have suffered,” said UP Ayush minister Mishra.
He added: “The students enrolled in this [fraudulent] manner can withdraw their admissions and plan for their future. Currently, a CBI investigation has been recommended and we are already going to start the counseling for the next batch.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)