Rajasthan question paper leak: The politics and the nexus behind it

Hundreds have been arrested and crores of rupees seized

18-Job-aspirants-protest Up in arms: Job aspirants protest in front of the Rajasthan Staff Selection Board office in Jaipur on August 4 | Sanjay Ahlawat

Prem Chaudhary, 25, of Barmer district took the Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers (REET) in September 2021. He did well and had high hopes of being employed in a government school. His hopes were soon dashed, as news broke that the question paper was leaked to certain candidates. The exam was subsequently cancelled.

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For Chaudhary, who hails from a family of farmers in western Rajasthan, the paper leak controversy was a huge setback. He had lived for year in a hostel in Jaipur to attend a coaching centre. The preparations had cost him around Rs2 lakh, a sum his parents raised with great difficulty.

“All the effort and investment went up in smoke,” he said. “I sat for the re-exam this February, and the final result is still not out.”

For Rakesh Kumar, 38, REET 2021 was a last-ditch attempt at rescuing himself and his family of landless farmers in Alwar district from their bleak agrarian existence. Kumar said completing school and college education was in itself a tall order. He had for years been appearing in recruitment exams.

“The paper leak in 2021 felt like the end of the road for me. I am nearing 40 and will have to soon [stop taking exams because of the age limit]. I did sit for the re-exam―perhaps my last chance,” he said.

Prem chaudhary, 25 - took the Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers in September 2021, which was cancelled because of leaks. “All the effort and investment went up in smoke,” he said | Sanjay Ahlawat Prem chaudhary, 25 - took the Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers in September 2021, which was cancelled because of leaks. “All the effort and investment went up in smoke,” he said | Sanjay Ahlawat

There have been several paper leaks related to recruitment exams in Rajasthan in recent years. But REET 2021 was as a shocker because of its scale. More than 25 lakh candidates had taken the annual exam, which is hugely popular in a state plagued by a high unemployment rate. The Special Operations Group (SOG) of the state police, which has been investigating paper leak cases, received many calls, especially from female candidates, who did not want REET 2021 to be cancelled. They feared that their family would not give them another chance.

The scandal has put focus on the organised paper leak nexus in the state. According to the SOG, 20 first information reports were registered, and 165 persons booked, in cases related to paper leaks in 12 exams held between 2019 and 2022. Four exams were cancelled. As many as 19 FIRs were registered against 322 accused in cases related to paper leaks in 15 exams. Five of them were cancelled.

With the issue gaining momentum in the run-up to the assembly polls due later this year, the state administration has taken unprecedented steps. More than 494 persons have been arrested in cases related to paper leaks. One of them is a juvenile. The SOG has also made seizures amounting to Rs2.17 crore; it said candidates paid Rs4 lakh to Rs8 lakh to buy leaked question papers.

Analysis of cases has found that institutions and individuals who were involved in conducting exams were involved in the leaks. Most of the alleged masterminds were residents of Jalore district. Most candidates who purchased the papers, too, were from Jalore.

20-Ashok-Gehlot Damage control: Gehlot has announced that changes would be made in the manner in which appointments are made to the Rajasthan Public Service Commission | Sanjay Ahlawat

Investigations, said the SOG, revealed a shady network of officials, former government employees and people running coaching institutes.

REET 2021 was conducted by the Secondary Education Board, which is headquartered in Ajmer. The SOG’s investigation found that the leak happened at an education centre in Jaipur that doubled as a storage point for question papers that were to be distributed across the district. Allegedly, certain individuals who had access to the centre got hold of the question papers and sold them to candidates through organised gangs.

Pilot wants compensation given to affected candidates | Josekutty Panackal Pilot wants compensation given to affected candidates | Josekutty Panackal

The REET’s district coordinator in Jaipur was Pradeep Parashar, a retired professor. Parashar brought in Ramkripal Meena, who ran a private school in Jaipur, as deputy district coordinator in charge of safe-keeping the papers. Meena allegedly sold a paper to a group from western Rajasthan. So far, 102 accused have been arrested in the REET 2021 case.

Uproar over the leak had the Ashok Gehlot government bringing in the Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022, which provided for imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine of Rs10 crore. The recently concluded monsoon session of the assembly passed an amendment enhancing the punishment to life term.

In December 2022, months after the act was passed, questions for an examination to recruit second-grade teachers, organised by the Rajasthan Public Service Commission, were found to be leaked. Investigation found that it was not a copy of the question paper that was leaked, but a set of questions. A member of the commission, Babulal Katara, who was in charge of setting the paper, had allegedly leaked the questions.

The police got a tip-off hours before the exam was to begin. It said candidates in a moving bus in Udaipur were being given the questions. The police chased down the bus and apprehended the accused. The exam was cancelled.

In an indication of the influence wielded by the paper-leak nexus, an accused in the case, Suresh Dhaka, was represented by senior advocate Salman Khurshid in a bail application filed in the Rajasthan High Court. Dhaka runs a coaching centre in Jaipur, which was demolished by the government in the wake of the case. The High Court rejected the bail application, saying the act of leaking competitive exam papers was more heinous than murder.

22-Arun-Kamawat Arun Kamawat, 29 - appeared for an examination held by the Rajasthan Public Service Commission. The exam was cancelled after it was found that the question paper had leaked. “I have no faith left in the system,” he says | Sanjay Ahlawat

According to Ashok Rathore, additional director-general of police (SOG), most alleged masterminds of paper leaks have been arrested in different cases. “In the recent past, if we take the REET 2021 exam, the paper leak related to the constable recruitment exam and the RPSC exam (Rajasthan Public Service Commission exam for teacher recruitment), we have tried to find the modus operandi. We have come to know that most of the paper leaks have taken place at the [storage] centre itself,” Rathore told THE WEEK.

Rathore said the REET re-exam was conducted flawlessly because arrangements were made based on the findings of the investigations. “We have taken cues from various such exams and noted the shortcomings. We are now trying to plug them, and we are in a position to say that we can conduct exams in a free and fair manner,” he said.

But a lot needs to be done to regain the trust of the youth. “I was already inside the exam centre in Ajmer when we were told that the exam would not take place,” said Arun Kamawat, 29, of Beawar district, referring to the RPSC exam that was cancelled in December 2022. “I did not appear for the second paper in the exam that was held in January 2023, because if the first paper had got leaked, the second paper would also have got leaked. I have been preparing for these exams for the last five years. I have no faith left in the system.”

ashok-rathore Ashok Rathore, additional director-general of police, Rajasthan | Sanjay Ahlawat

Youth rights activist Upen Yadav said there was an urgent need to change the manner in which RPSC members were appointed. “If we want to cleanse the system, the main thing that needs to be done is to reform the manner in which appointments are made to the RPSC. Babulal Katara’s alleged involvement in a paper leak has proved that there has to be a stricter check on the kind of people who are appointed to the commission. Also, questions arise whether the buck actually stops with people like Katara and Parashar,” said Yadav.

With the assembly polls drawing near, the issue has been reverberating politically. Questions about the paper leaks dominated the monsoon session of the assembly. Sachin Pilot, Congress leader and former deputy chief minister, undertook a five-day padyatra from Ajmer, where the RPSC is headquartered, to Jaipur in May. The stated purpose of the padyatra was to highlight the paper leaks issue, but it was largely seen as a challenge to Gehlot. Pilot demanded that the RPSC be revamped and compensation given to affected candidates. Gehlot met the demands midway, announcing that changes would be made in the manner in which appointments are made to the commission.

“What is unacceptable is that paper leaks are happening at a large scale,” Pilot told THE WEEK. “People in villages spend their life’s savings on coaching and renting rooms in cities to prepare for these exams. And when the exams are cancelled, they lose their time, money and hope. The faith of young people in the system is shaken.”

While the government has raised the punishment for leaking papers to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs10 crore, he said, the real challenge lies in implementing the law. “I feel that mere severity of the law is not a deterrent,” Pilot said. “It is the surety of implementation of that law that is actually a deterrent.”

The opposition BJP is seeking to corner Gehlot, sensing that the issue could affect the Congress in the assembly polls. The BJP has accused the government of being hand-in-glove with the paper-leak nexus. It has also alleged that the NGO Rajiv Gandhi Study Circle, whose list of trustees includes Gehlot and other Congress leaders, and those involved in paper leaks are connected. Parashar was an official in the organisation.

The BJP also wants the CBI to investigate the leaks. “Paper leaks of this scale have not taken place in any other state,” Rajasthan BJP president C.P. Joshi told THE WEEK. “The Congress government is protecting those involved in the leaks. The role of the Rajiv Gandhi Study Circle, which is headed by the chief minister himself, is under question.”

The SOG’s investigation, however, has not found any evidence that the Rajiv Gandhi Study Circle is involved. The probe has also not unearthed evidence of any political links to the leaks.

On July 7, 2022, a Rajasthan High Court bench monitoring the investigation into paper leaks heard a petition filed by the BJP’s student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. The ABVP wanted the CBI to investigate the leaks, but the court said there was currently no need to transfer cases to the CBI. The court, however, refused to dispose of the petition, saying the SOG investigation must not only be fair, but also free from pulls and pressures.

The Enforcement Directorate has, meanwhile, launched its own probe into the matter. It has carried out raids and made arrests. A coaching institute that the ED has raided is Kalam Academy in Sikar, which is said to have links with state Congress president Govind Singh Dotasra.

But Dotasra has denied having any link to the academy. He said action would be taken against anyone found to have been involved in the leaks. “It is only for political reasons that the BJP is demanding a CBI probe,” he said. “The High Court, too, has said that there is no need for a CBI probe. It has said that the report of the SOG in the paper leak cases is correct. The ED has also lodged FIRs and conducted raids. But, has it found anything beyond what the state police have already found?”