W ith the chairman and two members of the Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) now in judicial custody, a constitutiol crisis of sorts has been created. Results of 14 examitions conducted by the Commission are stuck; if the results are to be declared, sigtures of the arrested members are needed as they had conducted it. The situation is bizarre, to say the least. So much so, that a reconstituted APSC will have to seek legal counsel to find a way out of the mess. The widening probe into the cash-for-jobs scam in APSC has utterly tainted its examition process. Yet the Commission must salvage whatever it can, so that at least the honest candidates get some justice. In-charge APSC chairman Ranjit Barthakur has assured that the pending screening and oral interviews ‘will be conducted as soon as possible’. But it will be a daunting task to access the database, as sleuths are going through the computers, servers and technical material seized from the APSC. A shocking picture is coming to light, showing the extent to which this State’s public recruiter sold itself to the influential and the wealthy. The APSC’s principal controller of examition has now revealed that though he took charge in May last, he got his booklet of standard operating procedure (SOP) only recently. Why? Maybe the powers-be thought he would know a thing or two that he should best be in the dark about — like the rule that says that one of the two keys of the strong-room should be with the principal examition controller, or that whosoever is entitled to have access to the strong-room must do so only when accompanied by another official. The principal controller Dr Babul Saharia has now gone public that suspended APSC chairman Rakesh Paul kept with himself both keys to the strong-room where question papers, answer scripts and other key documents are kept. And very conveniently, the CCTV camera inside the strong-room has long been defunct.
The in-charge APSC chairman has stated that he too had confronted Rakesh Paul over due procedure, that he had refused to append his sigture to the result packet for recruitment of assistant engineers in Irrigation department. He has also made the right noises by claiming that 95 percent of the officials in the Commission ‘are clean and honest’. Only a properly conducted investigation will prove whether his contention is at all well founded, but there are troubling questions. It seems to have been an open secret inside the APSC that chairman Rakesh Paul and assistant examition controller Pabitra Koibartya were running the show as far as examitions were concerned. Were other key officials like Saharia browbeaten into silence, or did they consider it prudent to look the other way? On one hand, there was the threat of retribution from powerful politicians and bureaucrats, while on the other, the rewards for joining the conspiracy of silence may have been just too tempting. It is also strange that two other APSC members are now claiming that they had no knowledge at all about how the commission’s examitions were being conducted, how the candidates were being evaluated and selected. Really? They had a duty to know better, being senior public functiories in constitutiol posts. If they found it impossible to take a principled stand within the Commission, what hope is there for public-spirited officials blowing the whistle against malpractices in government departments? Still, whatever has been perpetrated within the APSC may be difficult to undo now — but the in-charge chairman has made the point that he will be stressing on adherence to laid-down procedures. This is what the government as well as civil society must watch out for, whether SOPs are being followed or not. Brig Barthakur has also called for introduction of computer-based test programmes in the APSC selection process to improve its efficiency and curb malpractices, as well as a vigilance mechanism to check use of fake documents by candidates. If the APSC is at all serious about regaining a modicum of public trust if not respect, it would do well to bring out from cold storage the MP Bezbaruah-led committee’s detailed report on how to clean up its entire examition, evaluation and selection process.