The long tarnished reputation of the Assam Public Service Commission has taken a further beating in the last few days. For thousands of candidates preparing to compete for the few and far between administrative jobs in the State, recent developments concerning the APSC must be very depressing, to say the least. The Gauhati High Court has ordered the CBI to probe allegations of corruption against APSC chairman Rakesh Kumar Paul. The inquiry will be prelimiry with the CBI allowed to grill Paul but not arrest him. The interrogation will seek to get to the bottom of allegations that Paul, ever since he became an APSC member in 2009 and then went on to head it, had amassed assets disproportiote to his known sources of income during these six years. The court handed down its order after its dissatisfaction with the APSC chairman’s reply to the affidavit filed by the superintendent of police of vigilance and anti-corruption directorate. In that affidavit, the SP had stated in court about his findings in a prelimiry probe conducted earlier. He also said there were reasoble grounds for suspicion that some of Paul’s family members may have received large sums from him to invest in properties.
On court orders, the SP has now submitted the list of properties owned by Paul and his family members. It makes surprising reading, with Paul said to own to entire floors in two apartment buildings and a commercial property at three different locations in Guwahati, as well as two other apartments in New Delhi’s posh South Extension and Gurgaon where real estate prices are stratospherically high. Leaving aside the properties shown in Paul’s wife and brother’s mes, the question that arises is where did Paul get the money to acquire such properties worth crores? During the hearings in court, it also transpired that the vigilance and anti-corruption SP had received in March this year a complaint forwarded by the CBI’s anti-corruption branch in Guwahati. In that written complaint, it was alleged that the APSC chairman was collecting amounts like Rs 10 lakh to Rs 40 lakh from some examition candidates, depending on the post applied for. According to the complaint, as much as Rs 50 crores was amassed in this manner. Whether the complaint had any basis may be shown up once CBI sleuths begin probing the matter. The SP had himself written a letter on this matter to higher-ups in the vigilance and anti-corruption directorate, soon after which he was transferred. It was only at the High Court’s intervention that he was posted back to vigilance in September this year and asked to resume the probe.
And what did the State government do, apart from transferring the SP and being forced to bring him back? It constituted the Subhas Chandra Das committee to enquire into complaints received about the Combined Competitive Examition (CCE) 2013, conducted by APSC, the results of which were declared in May this year. Some of the complaints dealt with the conduct of the APSC chairman. But since those petitions were not covered by the terms of reference of the enquiry as notified by the government, they were not looked into. Filly, this administrative probe exonerated the APSC from all allegations of malpractices and anomalies. After the KMSS and other petitioners challenged this with PILs, the High Court had to go into anomalies like faulty answer-keys in general studies and some other subject papers of the APSC civil service prelims examition. On Friday last, the court directed the State government to nomite a High Court judge to go into the entire issue with widened terms of reference. This one-man commission will probe all allegations about malpractices in setting, evaluating and moderating papers, the viva-voce and competence of experts chosen in conducting the CCE 2013. Thus in the coming days, the APSC will be having its chairman probed by the CBI for alleged corruption and its competitive examition of 2013 subjected to judicial scrutiny for alleged malpractices. Surely, this is a disgraceful situation for the APSC to be in, but then it has assiduously dug its own hole. Like Caesar’s wife, the government recruiter ought to be above the slightest degree of suspicion. That the APSC is widely perceived to be running a job bazaar open to the highest bidders belonging to the powerful and the rich, is bad enough. What is worse is that it has badly compromised the administrative set-up of the State for the next three decades by recruiting candidates who used influence and paid their way in. What kind of work can the people of this State expect from such officials? Merit has long been consigned to the dustbin in the APSC’s scheme of things, which has had a cascading baneful effect in a State saddled with a serious unemployment problem.