What Is the SSC ‘Scam’ & Why Did it Lead to Massive Protests?

We try to answer some of the frequently asked question that have been cropping up about the SSC and the ‘scam.’

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Explainers
4 min read
SSC aspirants stage massive protests against the alleged ‘scam’ on 4 March. 
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Snapshot

The clamour around the purported Staff Selection Commission (SSC) examination paper leak scam has been continuing unabated for the last several days. Hundreds of aspirants have been staging protests in the heart of the national capital, while the Opposition has been lashing out at the Centre for its ‘inaction.’

On Monday, 5 March, the Centre ordered a CBI inquiry into the alleged scam. “We have accepted the demands of the protesting candidates and have given orders for CBI inquiry. Protests should now stop,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh said.

Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court had also agreed to hear on 12 March a plea seeking investigation into the alleged scam.

So, what is the scam that has brought hundreds of candidates to the streets, camping right outside the SSC headquarters in New Delhi, all about?

We try to answer some of the frequently asked question that have been cropping up about the SSC and the ‘scam.’

First, What Is the SSC and What Does It Do?

To understand the ‘scam,’ we first need to know what the SSC is and what its functions are.

To the uninitiated, the Staff Selection Commission is an autonomous body falling under the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) that is tasked with conducting examinations for the recruitment of non-gazetted staff to Group ‘C’ (Class III) and Group ‘B’ posts in a number of central government ministries and departments as well as subordinate offices.

The SSC was established on 4 November 1975. It was first established as the Subordinate Services Commission and was later renamed the Staff Selection Commission on 26 September 1977. The commission constitutes a chairperson (currently Ashim Khurana), two members, and a secretary-cum-controller of examinations.

Among the posts the aspirants take the SSC exam for are lower division clerks, stenographers, central excise inspectors, income tax inspectors, and sub-inspectors working for the CBI and central police organisations.

While it conducts a number of examinations, the most significant one, which attracts the maximum number of aspirants as well, is the Combined Graduate Level (CGL) examination.

This, like various other exams which are conducted on a mammoth scale in India, takes place across several stage or tiers. The four tiers that are followed currently are: 1. Preliminary examination; 2. Main examination; 3. Descriptive paper, and 4. Computer proficiency test or skill test (which is applicable only for some posts).

So, What Is the Recent 'Scam' All About? 

The SSC 'scam', which has come to the spotlight in the last few days, pertains to the Tier II CGL examination, which was held across the country from 17 February to 22 February, with 1,89,843 aspirants appearing to fill 9,372 vacancies.

Barring the cancellation of the second shift of the exam on 17 February at the Animate Infotech Centre in Delhi owing to an attempt to disrupt it by "some unruly elements," the examination seemed to have been conducted smoothly.

However, on 21 February, several irregularities were reported in centres across the country — starting with technical glitches which delayed the examination for the 33,075 candidates who were appearing for it (on the day).

Following this, it was alleged that screenshots of question papers and answers were doing the rounds on social media, before the examination even began or while it was underway.

Three days later, on 24 February, the SSC cancelled the concerned examination and said that it would be re-conducted on 9 March.

However, what transpired on 21 February led to massive protests by aspirants who alleged “mass cheating” and leaking of the exam paper.

How Did the Authorities Respond?

As massive protests broke out in the capital, the SSC — including its chairperson Ashim Khurana — met with the delegations of candidates multiple times and asked them to furnish evidence to back their allegations. However, in a statement on 28 February, the SSC chairperson stated the protests were “being actively instigated and sponsored by two coaching institutes/agencies with vested interests.”

A delegation of protesting candidates also had a meeting with Jitendra Singh, Minister of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, on 1 March, with the latter reportedly assuring them that the issue would be referred to the CBI if the evidence was found to be substantiated.

In the meantime, the alleged scam became the subject of political mudslinging, with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor demanding a CBI probe.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also trained his guns on the Narendra Modi government, asking why the prime minister was silent on the issue. Student groups such as the NSUI also joined in.

As pressure for a CBI probe from the protesters and political leaders increased, the SSC, on 4 March, “agreed for recommending to the DoPT to request the government to conduct a CBI inquiry” into the issue, reported NDTV.

And on 5 March, the Centre ordered a CBI probe and the Supreme Court agreed to hear a petition seeking investigation into the alleged scam on 12 March.

On the Centre’s decision, Piyush, a protesting SSC candidate, said:

We welcome Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s decision of a CBI probe. (But) We are not going to call off the protest until a proper format is released. We will see if our demands are being met or not.
Piyush, SSC aspirant
What Is the SSC ‘Scam’ & Why Did it Lead to Massive Protests?
(Photo: ANI)

Aspirants Have Had Other Objections to the SSC Exam Too

Notably, it has not just been the recent alleged paper leak and mass cheating that the aspirants have been protesting against. The lack of standardisation in the difficulty level of question papers has also been a primary grievance – one that was raised in the previous year too.

In a nutshell, the lack of standardisation means that different candidates get different question papers of varying difficulty, unlike various other competitive exams like the UPSC and CAT where the difficulty level are supposed to be more or less the same.

Aspirants had reportedly raised this issue with the Central Administrative Tribunal last year, but to no avail.

Regarding this particular issue, an aspirant Sanjay Azad was quoted by The Wire as saying:

We don’t understand the government’s resistance to normalisation of SSC exams. Is this government’s way of saying that only if we are lucky and we get an easier question that we will be selected, that merit is secondary to luck?

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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