Corruption, Leaks And Wastage Of Precious Years: Why India Urgently Needs A Competent Government Recruitment System
The latest paper leak of Uttar Pradesh Teacher Eligibility Test, a mandatory qualifying exam for recruitment to teacher posts in government schools, is the latest edition in the never ending saga.
Whenever there is a discussion on state capacity or lack thereof, police and judicial reforms are always the top talking points for public policy wonks and commentators. However, there is another, less glamorous, but equally if not more important aspect that is in grave crisis today at both the centre and states, but more so in the latter. That is, recruitment for government posts.
Mired by corruption, incompetency and paper leaks, the current system ends up wasting precious years of India’s youth, a significant proportion of which is attracted to government jobs.
The latest paper leak of Uttar Pradesh Teacher Eligibility Test, a mandatory qualifying exam for recruitment to teacher posts in government schools, is the latest edition in the never ending saga. The exam was scheduled for Sunday. More than 20 lakh students had travelled from their homes to test centres, some from far away places, and had already appeared for the first paper in the morning when they were informed of the leak and the government’s decision to cancel the exam.
Imagine the distress to not just these 20 lakh students but to their families as well who are fellow travellers in this years of journey, full of lows, self-doubt, worries and failures. In the end, only a few succeed. For the rest, it must be nothing short of a psychological damage that lasts for a long time.
The UP TET paper leak was not the exception. In August, students appearing for TGT exam in Ambedkar Nagar complained of getting the papers late with seal broken. Six solvers were arrested from various centres in one district. Similarly, accusations of leak of UP DELED BTC exam 2018 (conducted in 2020) were made last year when before the exam, some students outside of the centre were caught with questions on their phones which were exactly the same as in the original paper. In 2018, UP Combined Premedical Test was cancelled after the question paper leaked.
Uttar Pradesh itself is not an exception. Haryana is notorious too for paper leaks. Earlier this year, Haryana Staff Selection Commission (HSSC) nullified the Gram Sachiv (panchayat secretary) examination because it busted a racket which had leaked the answer keys of paper even when the exam was going on. Around eight lakh candidates were reported to have taken the exam for 697 posts.
Last year, the HSSC was to conduct recruitment exam for 6,000 posts of Police Constables but it had to cancel the exam even when thousands of candidates who had come from far off places to test centres had yet to reach their homes. Reason was the same - answer keys of paper had already circulated widely. Recently, it came to light that the exam conducted last year for posts of Lower Divisional Clerk in electricity department of Haryana was also leaked. Even Hindi paper of Class XII Haryana board had leaked last year.
In 2019, HSSC had to cancel the ITI Instructor exam when Chandigarh police conducted a raid just before the exam and nabbed individuals who were in process of selling the paper and answer keys for Rs 10-15 lakh to each candidate. In the same year, paper conducted for 70 posts of Naib Tehsildar also got leaked online from a school in Karnal.
In 2017, one of the most prestigious papers of the state - Haryana Civil Services (for Judicial posts which recruits judges) - got leaked. No less than second topper in general category and first topper in reserved category were nabbed for cheating and paying tens of lakhs to get the paper. Before that, Police had nabbed people for attempts to leak the paper of Excise and Taxation Inspector and even Bus Conductor.
When it comes to disappointing the sheer number of candidates in a single instance, Rajasthan’s REET fiasco of September has to be close second to UP’s TET one. REET is a mandatory exam for those aspiring to get teacher posts in government schools and more than 16.5 lakh candidates had applied for 31,000 posts. Ashok Gehlot government even shut down internet to prevent cheating but couldn’t prevent the paper from getting leaked. The exam had to be cancelled.
In recent past, exams conducted for the posts of junior engineer, jail warder (six lakh applicants!) and librarian have also been cancelled. On top of this, accusations of favouritism against Rajasthan education minister have also surfaced with some stunning revelations where his relatives in one of Rajasthan’s most prestigious exams have got average marks in written paper but somehow managed to ace the interview stage with flying colours.
In August this year, Madhya Pradesh home minister declared that the government’s investigation found that out of 10 exams conducted since 2020, question papers of three were leaked and hence stood cancelled.
While one can find instances of paper leaks in Gujarat, Maharashtra and other states in south and east as well, these are usually the exception. The problem is acute north of the Vindhyas. Also, the craze for government jobs in northern India provides enough financial incentive for creation of cheating gangs who can hope to earn in crores by selling papers to a handful of people.
But constant failures of the governments to conduct an exam without leaks put a premium on cheating rather than investing in working hard to get the job.
The Central government recruitment is not affected that much by paper leaks, though they do happen occasionally, but by incompetence of the recruitment agencies.
Take the Railway Recruitment Board for instance. On 31 January 2018, weeks before the 2019 general election, Union Minister for Railways Piyush Goyal had announced that his department will be providing 2.5 lakh fresh jobs. Later, only 1.4 lakh vacancies were notified. Over 2.4 crore people applied for these jobs for which the process started on 12 March. First phase of the exam for Level D posts (1.25 crore applicants) which covered only 23 lakh candidates happened between 28 December 2020 to 7 January 2021. Rest of the students are still waiting for their exam dates almost three years after the first announcement of posts by the government.
Staff Selection Commission is even worse as it’s a repeat offender. Entrusted with selecting the second rung of bureaucracy, just below the ranks of IAS, IPS, IFS and IRS officers, the exam is most important after UPSC both in terms of prestige as well as in terms of number of candidates that sit for it.
But see the inefficiency of this commission.
For the SSC CGL 2017 exam, applications were invited in June of 2017. Tier 1 exam was conducted in August. Tier 2 exam concluded in February 2018. But the paper was leaked and it was again conducted in March. Tier 3 exam happened in July. Due to many irregularities, the Supreme Court put a stay on the results in August but the same was vacated in May 2019. Tier 4 exam concluded in July. Final result was announced in November. Joining of all selected candidates finally got concluded in early 2021 - almost four years after the first notification.
Similarly, notification for SSC CGL 2018 exam was out in May 2018 but Tier 1 was conducted more than a year later, in June 2019! Tier 3 exam was concluded in December 2019. Joining of successful candidates has started but hasn’t concluded yet.
This was the situation before Covid-19.
Moreover, the number of advertised vacancies have also come down over the past few years as the government is relying more and more on contract employees. This is adding more to already intense competition and increasing average years of preparation for candidates.
A small survey conducted by IndiaSpend in coaching centres in Delhi, Jaipur and Allahabad revealed that students spent in government job preparation an average of two years and 10 months (as reported by those under 20) to three years and seven months (as reported by those above 28 years of age). The most productive years of the youth are being wasted in chasing a sarkari job.
The governments, both at the Centre and the states, need to confront this crisis head on. This is also a good opportunity to fix the state capacity as well as bring long pending reforms in the government bureaucracy.
From increasing overall number of government posts to fixing salaries of government employees to market rates for future candidates to unlocking higher levels of bureaucracy to competition with qualified candidates from outside also allowed to enter thereby removing age bar (and thus keeping the door open and incentivising people to not waste their youth in preparation and rather get work experience if they are really passionate about serving) and simultaneously fixing number of attempts for any government job to only two attempts are some must-dos. Making them applicable only to future employees, much of the resistance of the current employees can be avoided. By bringing transparency, accountability, competition and salaries at market rates, the appeal of these posts can also be weakened where PhDs stop applying for posts of peons.
Of course, the lowest hanging fruit is making institutions competent, free of leaks, so that these exams enjoy legitimacy and credibility. It’s astounding that when we have such successful models like that of the UPSC and IIT JEE, other government arms are stumbling on this front.
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