A scam similar to the infamous Vyapam of Madhya Pradesh has come to light in Bihar, in which question papers for lower grade government jobs, examinations for which were conducted by the Bihar State Staff Selection Commission (BSSSC), were either sold to examinees or were provided to the relatives of bureaucrats and leaders in power.

This is the second mega examination scam to have surfaced in the state after last year’s toppers’ scandal. Last year’s scandal was for getting top positions in examinations, while this scam is related to getting jobs in state government, for which the Bihar State Staff Selection Commission conducted examinations on 29 January and 5 February.

Even after the arrest of Parmeshwar Ram, the secretary of the BSSSC, the chairman of the commission, Sudhir Kumar, a senior IAS officer, initially continued to maintain that the examinations were conducted fairly and denied the claim of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) led by senior SP of Patna, Manu Maharaj that the question papers were leaked on WhatsApp, seven to 10 days before the scheduled dates of the examinations.

However, after his call records were analysed by the SIT, Sudhir Kumar issued a statement on Friday in which he admitted to having received calls from influential leaders recommending names. Some of these leaders even visited him and did “pairavi” (recommendation) for arranging jobs for their known ones.

SIT sources said that the recruitment examination scam is far bigger than the toppers’ scam in which the chairman of the board Lalkeshwar Prasad Singh and his wife Usha Singh, a former Janata Dal United legislator, were among those who were arrested.

“In the latest scam, the involvement of at least nine ministers, 10 IAS officers and 30 ruling party legislators have surfaced. This was found out after analysing the call detail records of the mobile numbers of the commission staff, the examination superintendent and the commission secretary,” a source with the SIT said.

According to these sources, during his interrogation, Parmeshwar Ram allegedly told the investigators that “the scam was happening for the last five years and I am a small fry. Why don’t you touch the top bureaucrats and ministers who influenced me?”

Ram, according to sources, has given a complete list of leaders and senior IAS officers who had approached him, directing him to “arrange” for the recruitment of their kith and kin to the SIT team, which is being headed by Patna SSP Manu Maharaj, an IPS officer of the 2005 batch.

The uncovering of the scam has severely dented the carefully cultivated “clean image” of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Bihar, who is keen to project himself on the national platform.

The initial response of the Bihar government was to deny media reports about question paper leaks, but after both question papers and answer sheets went viral on social media and some of the frustrated young candidates entered the commission office and blackened the face of the secretary, the Bihar government was forced to set up a SIT.

During his questioning, Ram reportedly told the investigators that the examinations for recruitment for motor vehicle inspectors, junior engineers were also “influenced” and question papers were leaked for anything between Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh.

As per the officials, the Commission had received 18.5 lakh applications for recruitment of 13,500 Grade 3 employees. “The leaked question papers were sold like newspapers in which fried grams are served on roadside stalls”, one of the SIT officers said.

Senior Patna based police officials said that unless and until the probe was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), there was very little chance that the people who benefited from the probe would be caught. “Senior leaders, ministers and bureaucrats have benefited from this scam. It will be wishful to think that an SIT that comprises the local Patna police will be able to uncover the scam. The CM was forced to form the SIT to assuage the anger of the people. Unless and until this scam is investigated by the CBI, the real mastermind will never be caught,” a senior Patna based police official said.

Sushil Kumar Modi, former Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader, who had filed PILs in the 1990s in Patna High Court for a CBI probe into the infamous fodder scam, said that this scam was bigger than the fodder scandal in which Lalu Prasad Yadav, then CM of Bihar and seven IAS officers, were sent to jail following a CBI probe.

Demanding a CBI probe, Modi said that a SIT consisting of local officers would not dare to touch the “crocodiles”, but would confine themselves to small fishes and apprehended the direct involvement of a national level JDU leader. “Nitish Kumar has learnt the unique art of taking a bath with the raincoat on,” Sushil Modi said.

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