By 2009, it was clear that the pre-medial test (PMT) conducted by Vyapam was being rigged in a big way.
Whistleblowers like Paras Saklecha, who first raised the issue on the floor of the Madhya Pradesh assembly, often questioned why chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan didn’t initiate the purging process back then and allowed the rot to set in deeper until the Vyapam scam burst into the limelight in 2013.
The matter back then wasn’t very subtle either, with rigging rampant not just in entrance tests for medical colleges and medical pre-PG tests, but also in other recruitment exams.
A ‘concerned’ Vyapam board at the time had announced some ‘concrete’ measures to strengthen the system and ensure sanctity of exam papers. But, as future developments showed, it was all sham and the situation turned from bad to worse in subsequent years.
The minutes of a Vyapam executive board meeting held on January 5, 2010 reveal the preventative measures adopted by the board after paper leaks were discovered in the recruitment of junior data entry operator for the office of commissioner, land records, held on August 23, 2009, and in the patwari recruitment test of 2008.
“In the wake of this, it has been decided that papers of ‘very sensitive’ entrance tests like PMT, Pre-PG test and various recruitment tests will have three different sets (of question papers) and the chairperson will personally pick one set of exam papers from among three just before the packets are prepared for different exam centres in the presence of central observer. This will ensure uncertainty till the last minute as to which of the three sets would be used in the exam,” the minutes read.
Despite the apparent increase in expenditure likely with the introduction of the new procedure, the move was considered a necessary step towards maintaining the sanctity of the exams. The additional expenditure, it was decided, would be met by increasing the fee for candidates appearing in the various tests and examinations.
The minutes also revealed that the board decided to introduce the system of ‘central observers’ along the lines of “election observers” appointed by the Election Commission.
According to the decision, the observers would be responsible for setting exam papers from material received in three or more sealed envelopes, selecting one set from the three for the exam, receiving and securing secret documents, distributing them, receiving answer sheets and also supervising the scanning of question papers. Retired IAS officers would be appointed as supervisors.
However, though the board’s initiative appeared airtight on paper, its efforts to save Vyapam from further deterioration completely unravelled when it came to implementation.
“The appointment of central observers was a sham as they brought in big names as observers but they never cared to ensure sanctity of Vyapam exams, and under their garb, people like Pankaj Trivedi and Nitin Mahindra continued to rig exams with impunity,” whistleblower Ajay Dubey said. “Former bureaucrats who were appointed as central observers for different exams should also be questioned and punished for their complicity.”