Act on APSC taint
Yet another examition conducted by the Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) has been tainted by cash-for-job allegations. Considering the leads already unearthed by police investigators in the latest expose, the Assam government has rightly scrapped the dental surgeon recruitment examition, 2016. The APSC has hardly shown any sincerity in making its examition process clean and transparent, despite the pro-active stance taken by Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal, cases lodged in court and numerous public agitations. The State government is therefore within its rights to reject this recruitment process altogether and start afresh. In every State, the State Public Service Commission is the central recruiting agency, with the Constitution visualizing its role as ‘watchdog of the merit system’. So when a State PSC fails, or is perceived to fail, in fulfilling this role — the government should scrap any unclean selection and throw out its recommendations. The latest expose involves an assistant engineer of the Town and Country Planning department, posted in Dibrugarh, who was caught red-handed by the police last month while accepting a bribe of Rs 10 lakh from a candidate, a private dental surgeon from Amguri in Sivasagar district. The candidate had recently appeared for the APSC dental surgeon recruitment exam held to fill up 60 posts in the Health and Family Welfare department. Before the interview was conducted, the accused had called her up to demand Rs 15 lakh if she wanted the job, claiming that he had solid links within the APSC. After ascertaining from earlier successful candidates that the tout’s claim was ‘genuine’, this candidate tipped off the police before setting out to make the payment by drawing on her savings and life insurance money. After arresting the tout, the police seized his bank accounts and reportedly uncovered details of huge transactions, also making a large cash haul by raiding the house of his close relative at Golaghat. Following another lead, police have bbed a persol security officer of an APSC member.
If the money trail is assiduously followed and leads directly to the APSC, what then? Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal has time and again vowed ‘zero tolerance’ against graft; his government has begun a laudable campaign to catch corrupt officials in the act, and already several are in the net. But will this government now really go after the big fish, if and when they come to view? Let us remember that even a State PSC chairman or member is not above the law, even though theirs is a constitutiol post. It is the Governor who appoints a State PSC chairman or member and determines his conditions of service, but it is the President of India who can remove him from office, that too only upon report by the Supreme Court. But there have been scams galore in PSC recruitments in other States, and the long arm of the law has reached the top recruiters in some highly publicized cases. Only last year, former chairman of Punjab Public Service Commission Ravinder Pal Singh Sidhu was handed a 7-year rigorous imprisonment by a Patiala court in a cash-for-job scam was busted by the Punjab Vigilance Bureau in 2002. A decade back, the Bihar Vigilance Bureau arrested 11 government officials including two former BPSC chairpersons on charges of forgery, cheating and corruption in the selection of 184 candidates for promotion to the Bihar Administrative Service cadre. In fact, the emergence of State Vigilance Commissions in the Sixties has clipped the wings of State PSCs when it comes to discipliry matters. When the government can take action against a corrupt civil servant, based on the recommendations of the Vigilance Commission, why should it treat recruiters with kid gloves if their guilt stands established? There is a strong need for the government to keep tabs on the properties of PSC heads and members, apart from insisting on cleaning up the entire recruitment process from bribery and favoritism. There must be no more dithering on the use of appropriate technology to make the process transparent and accountable in all its phases.