Techi Puru’s 10-year-old dream shattered on 29 August 2022 when he first watched news of a paper leak in a recruitment test conducted by the Arunachal Pradesh Public Service Commission (APPSC) on 26 and 27 August 2022.
“I was a junior engineer with the Arunachal Pradesh government. The only way for me to get a decent promotion was to appear in this exam for recruitment to the post of assistant (civil) engineer… When I watched the news about the leak, my dream was shattered within seconds,” Puru told The Quint.
A father of five, Puru had been preparing for the Arunachal Pradesh Assistant (Civil) Engineer exam since 2014.
What followed after this were state-wide protests, a police investigation, arrests of government officials and employees of coaching centres, and the death of a key suspect under 'mysterious' circumstances.
So, how did it all begin? Who was the whistleblower? What does the police investigation say? Who was killed? And what impact do leaks such as this have on the youth? The Quint spoke to aspirants and went through police and court documents to find all the answers.
Let's Start at The Very Beginning
Two days after the exam for the post of Assistant (Civil) Engineer in the Arunachal Pradesh government was conducted by the APPSC, on 29 August 2022, Gyamar Padung — a resident of Itanagar and an aspirant himself — filed a complaint at the Itanagar police station alleging irregularities in the exam.
Padung, in his complaint against the APPSC, alleged that several questions from the exam were distributed to students at a coaching centre by a teacher named Akhilesh Yadav.
"There are serious possibilities and hints of a big network of coordinated scam and rampant corrupt practices in exams conducted by the APPSC over the years. These must be properly unearthed and the people behind them appropriately punished," Padung said in his complaint to the Itanagar Police.
Subsequently, an FIR was registered by the Special Investigation Cell (SIC) of the Itanagar police. The SIC then arrested10 people, including the APPSC’s deputy secretary cum exam controller Taket Jerang, under multiple sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) amounting to fraud, cheating, and breach of trust.
In October 2022, the probe was taken over by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on request of the Arunachal Pradesh government led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Minister Pema Khandu.
"The complainant (a candidate) had alleged that the accused (the teacher) was in possession of questions for the said examination disclosing leakage of paper by him in connivance with unknown officials of APPSC," the CBI said in a press release.
In a surprising development, Padung on 15 February while addressing the media in Itanagar claimed that he is in possession of an audio clip where Akhilesh Yadav, one of the accused, has named Chief Minister Khandu in connection with the paper leak.
"Police has seized my cellphone and I'm not sure about other audio clips but the one audio where one of the accused has taken the name of Chief Minister Pema Khandu is with me and I will release it in public domain very soon," he said.
More than 400 candidates appeared in the Assistant (Civil) Engineer exam conducted for recruitment to 40 positions in the department.Expand
And Then There Was A 'Murder'
Despite investigation by multiple agencies, widespread protests by aspirants and their families fronted by student organisations such as the Pan Arunachal Joint Steering Committee (PAJSC) and All Nyishi Students' Union gripped the state.
The case, however, took a strange turn on 24 February 2023 when Tumi Gangkak, a suspended under-secretary at the APPSC and one of the key accused in the case, was found dead near the Itanagar Zoological Park.
As per a complaint by his wife, 45-year-old Gangkak had told the family that he was summoned by the CBI for investigation in connection with the paper leak scam and accordingly left for the CBI office at 4 pm on 23 February. He, however, did not return home after that. On 24 February, Gangkak's family learnt that he was not summoned by the CBI the previous day. They found his body hanging by a tree near the Ganga Park.
An FIR under section 302 of the IPC, amounting to murder, was then registered at the Chimpu Police Station in Itanagar.
The August 2022 exam paper leak, or the 'cash-for -jobs' scam as it later came to be known, is just one of the numerous job scams to have hit Arunachal Pradesh over the last decade.Expand
“You have to understand that when an aspirant sits for an exam, their entire family’s hard work and struggle is behind that effort," said Tadak Nalo, 29, another aspirant of the 2022 Assistant (Civil) Engineer exam.
Nalo, currently unemployed, is dependent on his 70-year-old father for his financial needs.
"My brother is a doctor. Parents have a small business in Itanagar. I have been preparing for these exams for years. Imagine being a 29-year-old and still depending on your parents to support you," he said.
Along with Puru, Nalo toiled hard to mobilise mass support for their movement. They are both members of the PAJSC — one of the many organisations leading the protests in connection with this case.
These demonstrations held across the state in cities such as Itanagar, Ziro, Pasighat for over six months – occasionally turned violent with clashes breaking out between protesters and security officials. More recently, in a clash in Itanagar on 18 February, 10 people were injured including four security personnel.
After months of protests, however, the government of Arunachal Pradesh on 19 February agreed to the 13-point demands of the demonstrators.
These 13 demands are part of a charter drafted by the PAJSC.
Some of these demands are:
The government should declare all recruitment examinations conducted by the APPSC 'null and void' wherever question papers were allegedly leaked.
The arrest of former APPSC chairman Nipo Nabam.
An Enforcement Directorate and court-monitored probe into the APPSC fiasco.
All recruitment exams in the state to be conducted by the Union Public Service Commission.
The report of the three-member committee on the paper leak be made public.
The development came after an eight-hour meeting between the PAJSC, and the state government.
Chief Minister Khandu, Home Minister Bamang Felix, and Water Resource Development Minister Mama Natung were present at the meeting.
"I have been in the preparation zone since 2016. Employment opportunities in a state like Arunachal Pradesh are very limited. We do not have a plethora of MNCs hiring the youth here. Most people, including me, turn to these government jobs due to a lack of choice," added Nalo.Expand
Roadblocks and Hurdles
Puru’s participation in the demonstrations poses a threat to his current job as a junior engineer with the state government.
"On 19 October, they (government) sent a notice signed by the Chief Secretary of the Arunachal Pradesh government saying that disciplinary action will be taken against government employees voicing opinions critical of the government in print or on social media. This was their way of threatening us," alleged Puru.
A copy of the notice, accessed by The Quint, states that “government employees indiscriminately voicing opinions against the government are subject to punishment under rule 9 of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules.”
But Puru isn’t easily scared.
“I’m not doing this just for myself. I am doing this for several candidates like me who want to make it big through merit. This nexus between APPSC officials and coaching centres has destroyed our dreams," said Puru.
The promotion means a lot for Puru and his family's financial stability and standing.
"As a junior engineer I earn a gross salary of around Rs 55,000. Clearing this exam will take me to Rs 75,000+ and benefit such as transportation and health security. Covering this gap on regular promotion is impossible. I will be in my retirement age by the time I reach that salary," he said.Expand
Year After Year, Same Story
The August exam paper leak reminded Nalo of a similar case from 2017 when irregularities were found in the Arunachal Pradesh Public Service Combined Competitive Examination (APPSCCE) conducted by the APPSC.
APPSC is a state-level civil service exam conducted by the commission on behalf of the Arunachal Pradesh government to fill multiple vacancies in the state government.
As per a writ petition filed in the Gauhati High Court, the allegations against APPSC in this case include leakage of question papers of both preliminary and mains, and selection of undeserving candidates, among other offences.
The APPSCCE 2017 exam was conducted on 29 July 2018 and 10 November 2018.
Even then, more than 900 qualified candidates took to the streets in Itanagar to register their protest against APPSC. The Congress party headed by Nabam Tuki was at power in the state at that time.
Besides paper leak, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students' Union (AAPSU) — a student body fronting the 2017 protests — had alleged back then that the questions in the exam were “out of syllabus” and most of the questions were a “copy-paste of Pakistan Service Commission exam questions.”
"The AAPSU has received complaints regarding anomaly in official answer keys of APPSCCE prelims. Moreover, the aspirants have also informed the union about errors in questions. We request revaluation of the same after proper correction," the student body's letter to the Arunachal Pradesh Public Service Commission read.
The Special Investigation Cell (SIC) of Arunachal Pradesh police has arrested 39 people so far in connection with this case. The most recent arrests happened on 3 January 2023.
Nalo was one the many aspirants who prepared for that exam as well.
"You see, it's not a one-off incident. I was one of those aspirants who qualified for the 2017 APPSCCE mains exam after clearing the prelims. Yet, I boycotted the exam because of the various anomalies which surfaced. As an aspirant who has been preparing with sincerity, this journey is very painful," Nalo said.Expand
Coaching Centres, Hefty Bribes, and Cash-For-Jobs
Nalo also pointed out at the mushrooming coaching industry in the state. "Exam after exam, the number of candidates keeps increasing. Each year a fresh batch is added… And so, the coaching industry has become a lucrative business,” he said.
Nalo and Puru told The Quint that for exams which require year-long preparation, the coaching institutes charges somewhere between Rs 1-2 lakh.
"The coaching centre teacher named by Gyamar Padung in his complaint distributed certain question to select students in his class. How do we know that this is not happening in other coaching institutes? Also, why only select few students were given the questions? How is this possible without the help of people in the Commission who are taking bribes from these coaching centres? It is a symbiotic relationship, where all players are benefitting from each other," Puru said.
Akhilesh Yadav, one of the accused named by the whistleblower, was a faculty member at the Jeju Institute. After the paper leak scam came to fore, the institute distanced itself from Padung — the whistleblower — saying he was never enrolled with the institute and was personally working with Yadav.
In a press conference addressed on 17 January 2023, the management of the coaching institute at the heart of the controversy informed the media that their institute has been given a clean chit by the SIC.
"Gyamar Padung is not enrolled as a student of the institute. Padung and Gaduk were students of Yadav's private tuition and everything related to the APPSC fiasco occurred between the trio. The institute has nothing to do with the APPSC paper leak case, even the SIC has given clean chit to it over the fiasco," Management Coordinator of the Jeju Institute, Marpok Taji, had said.Expand
The Legal Recourse
Abhisht Hela, one of the lawyers who represented the aspirants in a writ petition filed in the Gauhati High Court in connection with the 2017 case, told The Quint, “These cases hardly come to a conclusion. The APPSC is being accused of exam malpractices since 2014. Many meritorious students get left behind because of this corruption."
The Quint accessed court orders and judgements related to the case.
In the single-bench judgment in September, the Gauhati High Court had ordered the APPSC to re-conduct the 2017 APPSCCE exam from preliminary phase.
This verdict was challenged in double-bench as a writ petition by the candidates who had appeared for the mains too had rightfully desired to secure their candidature.
In the APPSC Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Examination Guidelines, 2012’ — produced in the Gauhati High Court — it was stated that the APPSC shall not entertain any representation by the candidates after declaration of results.
Even as the usage of the term ‘result’ remained ambiguous and did not clarify if the rules refer to prelims, mains, or the interview, the double-bench ruled that, since the complaints had been done after declaration of the prelims results, the merit of candidates doesn’t hold any ground.
This matter was finally taken to the Supreme Court. The top court, however, dismissed the petition and the results announced by the APPSC were considered as the final results.Expand
While agreeing to meet most demands of the protesters stated in the 13-point charter drafted by the PAJSC, the state government said that the APPSC will be the final authority to decide on the demand of protestors that any exam during which question papers are found to be leaked should be cancelled.
Advocate Hela, however, argued that this particular demand is polarising in nature. “It won't go well with all student organisations fronting the protests and will eventually become a hurdle in the case reaching to a conclusion,” he said.
He further added, “While on the face of it, the demand — to declare null and void, all exams where anomalies have been reported — sounds valid, we must look at the practicality of it. Over the years several people have been recruited through these exams. What happens to them? The state machinery will collapse if all of these people are withdrawn from the system.”
Meanwhile, as protests continue on the streets of Arunachal Pradesh’s Itanagar, and the death of a key suspect looms over the CBI investigation of the case, aspirants such as Puru and Nalo have not lost all hope.
"We will keep fighting till we reach a solution and weed out this problem from the system. I am doing this not just for myself but also for my children. I don't want them to rot in a corrupt system," Puru said.
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