Every summer, the CET set off a chain of reports about wrongdoings in the process. This year as the High Court sought status of investigations from the state government skeletons tumbled out of the cupboard forcing the government terminate the services of its top advisor, BOPEE former boss. If rackets recur every season why the policy makers are unable to constitute a foolproof mechanism for the selections, argues R S Gull.
Within 24 hours after the CET 2013 was conducted and dissatisfied candidates went home, a number of people claimed there was a “favourite” group of candidates. The rumor was that a few days ahead of the examination, they were picked up from their residences, driven to Gulmarg where they were “properly educated” and then driven to the respective examination centers in Srinagar.
That was in June 2013 when the Board of Professional Entrance Examination (BOPEE) was forced by its mess to annul the test, altogether. Its staff had mixed the question papers of different subject as a result of which candidates found Greek when they were supposed to appear for French. The colour coding was done away with and packaging was so lose that as if somebody had collected the old newspapers!
By the time, the new test was conducted in July and results made public in August, lot many had lost their bus. They had lost their opportunity at JEE (Mains) as the process had closed. One precious year was lost already. The government constituted (July 24) an inquiry committee that is still hanging fire despite extensions. RD Sharma continues to head the institution even after admitting “procedural lapse”.
Issues that government ignores to settle essentially land in the court of law. That happened in BOPEE case as well. State Police Crime Branch had received an anonymous complaint about the BOPEE mess in 2012. It “investigated” and found it meritless. However, CID had drafted a report suggesting hanky-panky. The government forwarded the report to crime branch with a direction to register an FIR and investigate it afresh. In September last, there was a PIL. Last week, when the court sought status report from government’s investigation arm, the cat was out of the bag.
SSP Crime Branch, Bashir Ahmad Ganie informed the court that while investigating the case they reliably learnt about a computer institute owner in south Kashmir’s Islamabad, Farooq Ahmad Itoo, had given question papers to some students for CET 2012. Itoo has a close liaison with Mushtaq Ahmad Peer, the BOPEE boss. On basis of this, the sleuths probed some of the best ranking CET 2012 students (40 out of 297) and collected evidences, in certain cases, suggesting some of them with average academic backgrounds had secured better CET rankings. Even in the medical college, 15 of them had performed below average that led them to miss a semester. Investigating it further, the sleuths found a parent selling land to manage the question papers for his ward.
Peer, a resident of Chattabal in Srinagar was a position holder in A S College where he graduated in sciences. He did his masters from Kashmir University and PhD as well following which he joined as lecturer. He rose through the ranks in Physical department and was assigned the job of managing those car-sized computers well before the militancy broke out. In 2009 when he was appointed BOPEE chairman, he was Director Computer Sciences department and member of three all India committees: NAC, AICT and AICTE. The sub-standard computer scam allegedly involving Peer dates back to that era.
His quantum jump into the academic administration was interestingly enigmatic. A penal headed by Prof Abdul Wahid that was constituted for finding a BOPEE boss in 2007 had suggested three names that had Peer not in it. But it was not considered by the government because it decided to extend the services of Prof Santokh Ram. A year later when another penal set up for the same job, it was Prof Reyaz Punjabi heading it. Given his strong connections, Peer was a potential candidate as Punjabi’s replacement. So Punjabi “favoured” him by nominating him as BOPEE chairman – far away from the campus!
Once in the governing circuit, Peer managed getting his wife appointed to the SSB. Even his tenure was extended by a quarter last year. Soon after he was appointed as an adviser for the fast track class-IV appointments in the SSB, a position that was terminated by the government once crime branch came with its status report.
The issue being sensitive and involving careers of youth, the Crime Branch status report set off a media blitzkrieg with focus on Peer. While Chief Minister Omar Abdullah publicly regretted the BOPEE racket and assured time-bound investigations, opposition PDP is pressing the government to prove that it can make an exception.
Crime Branch sleuths are claiming they have “clinched” evidence to nail Peer. Their story is Srigufwara resident Itoo had met Peer when the latter came inspecting his computer centre ‘Infotech Computers’. Since then, the two have been very close. “They are so close that he accompanied Peer to Apollo hospital in Delhi,” a Crime Branch insider said. “He would visit the family at least once a month and had managed certain appointments through his wife when she was member of the SSB.”
While investigating Itoo, they traced his brothers’ account and found a single transaction of Rs 15 lakh. It was this transaction that unearthed the mess. Once the depositor was contacted, the revelation came they had sold some land and paid for the examination papers. Once Farooq was questioned, he said one set of papers he gave to an engineer Sajjad, running a consultancy in Bangalore. Sajjad is arrested and he is offering certain leads that will eventually help Crime Branch to conclude the investigations. “We can establish at least 20 cases that students knew what the question paper would be,” an insider said. “They were driven to a hotel on the Boulevard and given the details.”
Now the bigger issue is how to link Peer with Itoo? Crime Branch says they have enough of cell phone records that suggested their association. But will it lead to establishing Peer passing on question papers to Itoo? Crime Branch has tried to make Farooq Itoo confront Peer but has not succeeded. Sajjad has already made it clear that he does not know Peer.
Peer’s house was raided immediately. Certain recoveries were made, mostly about the properties he has acquired. “There was gold worth six lakh rupees in the house but his (Peer’s) sister-in-law said it belongs to her so we did not touch it,” an official who was part of the raid said. “We could see the shock that dominated the palatial house and its inmates we raided.” One thing that perplexed the raiding party was that locals exhibited a lot of interest in the raid. Once, they were out of the house, some residents asked them that they should search the house again. “They live a highly luxurious life and there is lot of partying,” one resident told the crime branch. “We did not know they were living by killing talents.”
On day two, Peer was driven to the Crime Branch office by a friend. He walked in and surrendered. For most of the day, he was offering his version to the sleuths. While he completely denied having done what he is being accused of, he said he personally has sent complaints of “possible brokers” to various police agencies including State Vigilance and Crime Branch but everybody sat silent and did not work on the leads. As this newspaper goes to print, Peer has been going to the Crime Branch daily to help the investigators. Peer was not arrested so far. One version is that Crime Branch will formally arrest him once it gets hold of the entire story and the second version is the government is under pressure from a senior Congressman who is against the arrest. Which version is correct would prove within a few days. But this is a fact that it was a senior civilian (central government) officer who took him home on day one. This is also correct that a Congressman has had very good relations with Peer because the latter had helped him at a crucial juncture of his political career that eventually made him a Congressman.
“I am telling the investigators to look at all possible angle that must include mine as well,” Peer told Kashmir Life after he reached home the day he surrendered. “I am neither trying to take credit for the improvements I made in BOPEE nor am I asking why 2012 becomes important when similar allegations were there in 2011 and 2013 but I am just trying to understand how the brokers operated throughout even before me and after I left BOPEE?”
He said he wrote to the police agencies when he received a report about existence of a tout. “We got a number and we rang it up and it proved to be a shopkeeper from Pulwama,” Peer said. “I told SVO, Crime Branch and then I never got any response.”
By now Peer is completely disgraced. It will be heady task for the sleuths to have a water tight case against him even if he is involved neck deep. So far, the evidences are not so strong. But the investigations are still going on and expectation is that riddles are answered.
But the interesting question is why police closed the case in 2012 and came out with a status report that was otherwise in public domain as early as August 14, 2012. A Srinagar based news gathering agency CNS reported that CET papers were sold for Rs 65 lakh by Peer as the brokers involved amassed five crore rupees. It said “the middlemen and touts had sold the examination papers ahead of the examination to dozens of students, majority of them belonging to South Kashmir” and some of the parents had even sold their land to arrange the money. It identified Itoo and his two brokers Sajad Ahmed Sofi (Qaimoh) and Javid Ahmed (Kanilwan). The agency gave the entire story in 2012 that became a sensation in November 2013. It talked to Crime Branch, BOPEE’s Peer, Sajad and Javaid’s family but could not trace Itoo. The questions remain. Why the police did not act even after all this was in public domain including the names of the beneficiaries and their earlier academic record?
“We knew it all then,” said CNS promoter Rashid Rahi. “We can report, we can’t make the government to act.” He said it satisfies him professionally that the news story his agency did in August 2012 was not used by many newspapers and now slivers of it are exclusives in November 2013.
It is discretion of the government to act on a report as late as a year or to simply ignore CET 2013 that has happened for the first time at huge costs. But 2010 preceded them both.
On August 21, 2010, police arrested seven non local impersonators including two girls for appearing in ASCOMS, Sidhra’s MBBS/BDS examination entrance test in Jammu University. It was Ms Shruti Gaur, a resident of Mathura in UP who was appearing for Huma Tabassum, the daughter of the then J&K Works Minister G M Saroori. Mobeen Akhter of Astham Nagar in Lucknow was appearing for Lovish Bhart son of Ram Pal, National Conference leader and former minister. CBI investigated the case and filed a series of charge-sheets against non-locals who appeared in place of moneyed locals. Saroori put in his papers because one of the beneficiary was his daughter. The cases are there but Saroori is free!
Hiring competent guys from poor backgrounds for taking professional examinations of the inept wards of moneyed and powerful has been going on for years in J&K, especially in Jammu. It was detected for the first time in 2006 and since then there have been many such cases. There are organized gangs who arrange the “surrogates” from Bihar, UP, Rajasthan after identifying the potential customers in the state.
In 2004, for instance, cops were investigating a similar paper leak case that they confronted a high end white collar crime syndicate that was offering fake certificates of MS and MD. When the cops started chasing the three beneficiaries, they could only stop once told that two of them are serving different Middle East hospitals.
As the State Vigilance Organization sleuths started investigating this case, a racket involving 2003 MBBS/BDS examination then conducted by J&K’s Contempt Authority was unearthed. Sleuths associated with the investigations said the dozen odd beneficiaries, mostly females, were a few moneyed including relatives of the ministers and kin of bureaucrats.
It was another Peer at the centre of this racket – a poultry-vendor Manzoor Ahmad Peer of Kupwara. Behind the racket were Ramesh Hasija (Sonipat) and Vikas Dhawan (Ludhiana) who had managed to steal a few copies of question papers being printed by Vishal Printing Press in Delhi. Vikas sent his son Rohit to market the catch. Rohit got in touch with Sajay Sharma – a Himachal resident based in Ludhiana – who knew Manzoor. The latter, a frequent visitor to Ludhiana to get the poultry supply would get the required clothes for Sharma’s wife to Baramulla where she was undergoing a B.Ed course. Peer cleverly managed help from two others – a lawyer and a lecturer – and after a joint meeting in a houseboat in Dal Lake, the trio appointed a Srinagar based agent. Then they sold one question paper from a state owned flat in uptown Chanepora on July 12, 2003. A day later they sold another paper from a house in Saffron rich Pampore township. The sales were made a day ahead of the examination for the particular subject. All the beneficiaries had bagged top slot in the merit list. Even Crime branch was asked to register an FIR. Any follow up?
In December 2007, BOPEE canceled admission of six students to MBBS, BDS and engineering courses because they had hired impersonators from Bihar to appear in their place in the CET 2005. The decision, taken after a Crime Branch investigation, was unprecedented in the history. Identified as Zahoor Ahmed, Vikrant Sharma, Arbab, Altaf Hussain Dar, Riaz Ahmed, and Apoorav Gupta, they were given impersonators from Bihar by some agency. Almost on the same day, four other students were permanently debarred from appearing in any professional course examination in the state after it was established that their answer sheets were tampered with by three disgruntled BOPEE staffers during re-totaling process.
By the way, BOPEE has been printing the question papers in Peer era from South India, Chennai to be precise. Is any link there?