JKSSB exams postponed, aspirants approach SC over hiring of blacklisted agency to conduct tests

JK SSB aspirants protesting in Srinagar against the administration's decision to hire Aptech to conduct examinations. | Photo: Ubair ul Hameed

The postponement has come amid growing protests by aspirants over the administration’s decision to hire tainted Aptech Limited to conduct the exams. 

Ubair ul Hameed | TwoCircles.net 

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SRINAGAR (JAMMU & KASHMIR) — On March 14, the Jammu and Kashmir Services Selection Board (JKSSB) announced the postponement of the computer-based written test (CBT) for recruitment for 972 vacant positions across several government departments. The exams were scheduled to be held from March 16 to April 5, 2023.

“The Computer Based Examination for various posts scheduled w.e.f. 16.03.2023 to 05.04.2023 are deferred till further intimation,” the JKSSB said in a tweet.

The postponement has come amid growing protests by aspirants over the administration’s decision to hire Aptech Limited to conduct the exams.

Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said on Wednesday that there will be “no compromise on transparency and merit”. “Exams won’t be held unless the Jammu and Kashmir Service Selection Board is completely ready and satisfied. Any doubt will prevent the board from holding the tests. Our first aim is transparency,” he said.

Mumbai-based Aptech Limited is blacklisted in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Assam over allegations of corruption in conducting computer-based exams for government departments.

The J&K administration was reprimanded in December by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court for awarding the exam contract to the company. Declaring the administration’s decision to be “mala fide”, the court observed, “The alteration in tender conditions was made with the intent to favour the private agency.”

Since the JKSSB published the vacancies on November 11, 2022, aspirants have taken to the streets, holding “Go, Aptech, Go!” placards, and demanding “justice and jobs”.

Naseer Bhat, 29, an aspirant in Baramulla, while talking to TwoCircles.net, said that he cleared the sub-inspector examination last year but could not get hired because it emerged that exam papers were leaked and sold to some aspirants. The scam is known as the 2022 J&K Police Sub-Inspectors (JKPSI) Recruitment Scam.

“I worked hard for the exam, even borrowed money from a friend to manage the expenses to reach the exam centre,” said Bhat.

He doesn’t want to risk “the scrapping of another exam due to corruption”. “Now I feel ashamed to ask for money from anyone. For how long do we have to do this?” he said.

Sahil Parray, another aspirant who participated in peaceful protests in Jammu, questioned the role of the Centre in the recruitment process. “If the aspirants are not satisfied with the hiring process, the government should listen to us. They can’t play with our careers like this,” he said.

Meanwhile, the aspirants have petitioned the Supreme Court to bar Aptech from administering the exam. In their plea, they claimed that to allow the corporation to participate in the bidding process, the JKSSB willfully altered the tender’s eligibility requirements. The petition was filed by Advocate Yugandhara Pawar Jha, Advocate-on-Record, and Advocate Satya Sabharwal.

The petitioners said that the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam hired Aptech in 2016 to conduct recruitment exams for 1,300 positions. A special investigative team discovered various irregularities in the appointments, leading the Yogi government to reject 1,188 junior engineer and clerk positions in 2020.

Another similar incident is cited in the petition, in which the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (UPPCL) contracted Aptech in 2018 to conduct a recruiting test for junior engineers. The exam was scrapped the following year after the UP Special Task Force found evidence of irregularities in the online recruiting exams. The state subsequently placed Aptech on a three-year blacklist, from May 2019 to May 2022.

They have also cited the Delhi High Court fining Aptech Rs 10 lakh in February 2021 for “unethical hiring practices” after the company challenged its disqualification by the Directorate of General Training (DGT) for conducting end-to-end computer-based tests under its various programmes.

Former chief ministers of the state Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah also hit out at the administration over the alleged recruitment scams.

“JKSSB’s decision to continue with a fraudulent blacklisted company indicates how deeply entrenched corruption is in J&K. Sarkari babus responsible for this continue enjoying their positions at the cost of sabotaging the future of J&K youth. So much for corruption-free J&K,” said Mehbooba Mufti in a tweet.

Omar Abdullah said that the contract between Aptech and JKSSB “must immediately be cancelled.”

“What is the point of black listing company if they are going to be awarded plum contracts,” he said.

Interestingly, the Virat Hindustan Sangam, an Indian right-wing cultural organisation founded by senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, is backing the petitioners.
Ubair Ul Hameed is a fellow with the TCN-SEED mentorship program.