Saturday, May 18, 2024

Recruitment Racket


With the selection list of police sub-inspectors already binned, there are strong possibilities that the Finance Accounts Assistant list and also the JE selection process may also be trashed. While the protests continue, the administration is yet to offer an idea about how it wishes to tackle its failure in making selections transparent, reports Masood Hussain

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Ms A has a master’s in a science subject. She lives in a remote north Kashmir village. After studying for more than 14 months to crack an examination for the position of Finance Accounts Assistant (FAA) advertised by the Jammu and Kashmir Service Selection Board (JKSSB) on December 16, 2020, she finally got on the merit list that was made public on April 22, 2022.

“These were 972 positions and almost one lakh applicants wrote their examinations,” A said. The recruiting service even made scrutiny of their documents and the candidates were expecting the provisional list. “Then, we got some information that the JKSSB was investing the whole process and there is the possibility of scarping of the selection list.”

A was one of the hundreds of these candidates who are protesting on daily basis in Srinagar, against the possible binning of the process. “It is a new aspect of life, we never knew,” she said. “After travelling from the remote north Kashmir village, they sat on protest with the hope that they will get some assurance and they will go home. But nothing happened till it was 11 pm. Then the police came, took the boys and kept them in some hotels as the girls were asked to identify their relations, if any, in Srinagar and they were dropped there. Even after that, many females not having any acquaintance in Srinagar had to arrange their stay with the co-protesters of Srinagar.”

It took Ms A two days to locate a distant aunt in Srinagar with whom she can put up as the protests continue. “We never had lunch and we fought our thirst with the tap water under an open sky,” Ms A said. “Even after so many days, the government is not offering us anything. Last time, the police had promised us that they will arrange our meeting with the Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha but they forgot to keep the word.”

The PSI List

In order to understand the FAA controversy, it is important to know how happed with the selection process of the assistant sub-inspector (ASI), that the JKSSB was asked to make for the first time in history. Of more than 113 thousand candidates who applied, 97793 were invited to write their examination. Finally, the list of 1200 selected candidates was made public on June 4.

163rd Board meeting of J&K Services Selection Board in February 2020.

Within days, the hell broke loose as the candidates started questioning the process on basis of hard facts. They came to the streets asking the government to wind up this shady business that kills merit. They had the facts. They identified as many as 20 siblings who secured more than 100 marks and became eligible for the appointment. They linked the ‘leak’ of question paper with some libraries in Jammu where the successful were enrolled. They located some of the successful candidates having 100 per cent marks in police jobs while they had only 19 in the FAA examination. Besides, they located the families in which more than one person had got the best in the ‘merit’ list.

There are various families in the Akhnoor area of Jammu where members have been selected in both examinations. Reports suggest that the PSI question paper leaked in Jalandhar was sold for Rs 15 lakh in a library at Akhnoor and the owners later traded it at a lower cost by making copies.

This forced the government to act. A senior officer was asked to look into the allegations and make recommendations. On July 5, the inquiry report was submitted to the government that almost vindicated the young men and women who came out on the streets in Jammu to highlight the fraud. It is now known that some families in Jammu had sold their shops and even land to secure the question paper that was put on sale by people, very important in Jammu and Kashmir’s shadow power structure. On July 9, Sinha announced that the case will now be investigated by the federal investigator, CBI.

Linking The Two

For FAA, the JKSSB held examinations on March 6, 2022. It was followed by the PSI examination on March 27. It seemed logical that if there was a crisis in PSI examination, there has to be a crisis in FAA too. With the PSI selection list binned, the FAA-selected lot got conscious of the possible impact and they came on the roads.

Now, there are two sections of the selected candidates. Those who stand selected are on roads that the list should not be binned. Their argument is that since they put in their best efforts and cracked the examination, they should not be victimised for the failure of the recruiting agency in keeping the secrecy. The other section – mostly compromising candidates who could not make it – demands the list to be trashed. This, they demand on basis of various questionable things they located in the list. They see similar leads in the FAA examination as they had traced in the JKPSI examination earlier.

This led the government to formally announce that the committee that looked into the PSI selection process is also investigating the FAA selections. If the committee could locate certain similarities, there is a strong possibility of the process being binned.

Reports appearing in the media suggest that some links have been traced by the investigators that have connections with the CBT test of JE as well as FAA. The merit list of 103 positions of JE Civil is yet to be announced.

What is interesting, however, the question paper leak has taken place in Jammu and the Kashmir remained insulted from the “benefits” of the process. However, if the process is binned, it would impact the entire list. The decision-makers will have to find a way out. Why not examine the same lot, again?

Who Leaking It?

However, the larger question that the policymakers will have to eventually answer is how the “leak” took place. Who was the person or a group of individuals who have so much access that they can manage a question paper from a third party – Bangalore-based agency Merit Track? There are various names being named on social media including some politically connected but no security agency has even arrested any of them. At the same time, the question remains, how can a third party be trusted enough that the JKSSB can work with it in future? Is not the third party also part of the problem?

“These situations cannot be evaded at a place where parallel power centres exist,” a former official said. “People may not be talking but the fact is that there is a formal system and an informal system in Jammu and Kashmir governance. More often, it is the latter that is taking the decision and impacting the processes by the former.”

Selected FAA candidates protesting against possible scrapping of the list by the government in wake of alleged paper leak. KL Image: Hilal Shah

How far it is correct, only a fair investigation can reveal. Till then, the administration should soft-peddle its transparency and anti-corruption narrative.

No Jobs In Sight

These recruitment rackets – the biggest ever was in a bank earlier, have come at a time when Jammu and Kashmir is facing alarming joblessness within and outside the public sector. The government told the parliament last week that they have recruited 29,806 youth since August 5, 2019, when the Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was read down and the major state bifurcated into two federally governed Union Territories. “In addition, employment for 5.2 lakh persons is estimated to have been created through self-employment schemes from August 2019 up to June 2022,” the government response noted.

“The government of India’s false claims of providing 30,000 jobs in J&K couldn’t be further from the truth. Every recruitment process — be it JKPSI or now FAA — is blighted by scams. Instead of naming and punishing the culprits, collective punishment is being meted out to aspirants by scrapping the list,” Mehbooba Mufti said in a tweet. “It is very unfortunate that the selected FAA candidates are still struggling to get justice. Hopefully, someone in the J&K administration will listen to them & put an end to the uncertainty they face,” added Omar Abdullah.

This crisis revealed itself at a time when Jammu and Kashmir is struggling to improve its joblessness. In June, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) monthly frequency data suggested, that Jammu and Kashmir’s unemployment rate stood at 17.2 per cent, a slight improvement over May when it was 18.3 per cent. Even with improved data, Jammu and Kashmir is at the No 3 position in India with Haryana at the top and Rajasthan in second position.

Even Employees Protest

The youth’s desperation to get jobs is coinciding with a section of employees not performing their jobs. Unlike the PSI and FAA, their crisis is linked to the security situation. Hundreds of people including Kashmiri Pandits and non-locals migrated after a series of targeted killings. Seeking transfer to safer areas (read Jammu), they are routinely on protest.

Jammu-based employees who have secured their jobs under SC reservations in Kashmir are narking their attendance in a protest on daily basis for the last 50 days. They are in the hundreds. Off late, they are getting their children and family members to join the symbolic protests. The government has not taken a decision on their demands as Kashmir is suffering for not getting the services they are supposed to deliver. Most of them are teachers.

The same is the case with Kashmiri Pandits who say they are also out of their offices since May 12, 2022. Their number is said to be around 5500. Who is delivering their part of the service is still not known.

Sinha administration will have to offer quick solutions to both sides of the crisis that Jammu and Kashmir is facing right now.

Masood Hussain
Masood Hussain
Associated with the Srinagar dateline since 1987, Masood Hussain has served a number of media organisations in the last more than three decades. He served Kashmir Times for around a decade and joined The Economic Times which he left in 2015 after 17 years. He is currently the Editor of Kashmir Life.

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