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The good doctor don

The good doctor, Ranjit Don, recently wanted to buy a helicopter.

india Updated: Nov 30, 2003 01:30 IST

Ranjit Don recently wanted to buy a helicopter. He was already flying high: huge mansions in different locations, a fleet of expensive cars and a lavish lifestyle, he led the life of a king for nearly a decade. But he was grounded when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested him in New Delhi last Sunday in connection with the exam scam.

Ranjit Kumar Singh, or Doctor Don, as he was popularly known, at the centre of the leakage of question papers for the Common Admission Test (CAT) had a meteoric rise. Born in a peasant’s family in Khaddi Lodipur, in Nalanda, Bihar, Ranjit founded his own pharmaceutical company, Mumbai-based Radons, estimated to be worth Rs 60 crore. Along the way, his ‘awe-inspiring’ success story became part of his village’s folklore.

To Khaddi Lodipur, Ranjit was a successful doctor who did not forget his roots and did them proud. Many of them thought he had a roaring practice as a medical practitioner and a profitable drug company. Most endearing, however, was his helping scores of youth gain employment in various services over the years.

Little did they realise that Ranjit never had to use his stethoscope to make money, and the drug profits were just a pittance to him. His primary vocation was the art he learnt during college and honed to perfection in later years — the art of subverting the nation’s competitive exam system. The CAT exam papers leak showed his art was not an isolated incident of official lapse exploited by a gang of amateurs. It was the handiwork of professional racketeers with a countrywide network who went about their business without any fuss for over a decade.

Avoiding the midnight oil

The racket is estimated to be worth over Rs 100 crore. It leaked questions of medical, engineering, banking and other key exams, helping affluent clients to respectable jobs without having to burn the midnight oil. The fee charged ranged from Rs four lakh to Rs 15 lakh depending on the service.

Dr Don had a well-oiled machinery: nearly 100 agents formed a network in the metros and state capitals. Over the years he picked up on all the loopholes and secrets of the exam system till he mastered the art of doctoring them. He would even help clients obtain the degree after enrolment in the particular course; for instance, if someone wanted to get a medical degree, Ranjit showed the way. For a price.

Like any underworld don, Ranjit started small in the 1980s when he met some ‘exam setters’ in Bihar. After matriculating in 1979, he changed his name from Suman Kumar Singh to appear in the Bihar School Secondary Board exam again a few years later. He also sat twice for the intermediate degree exams, first as an arts student, then as a science student, so that he could become a doctor.

When he arrived in Patna, ‘setting’ was the buzzword in university circles. Students would collectively apply for different exams (like the civil service or bank probationary exams), sending them in a single envelope so that they would get consecutive roll numbers. Some of them would be experts in different subjects. In the exam hall they would consult one another through a code. Many made it through.

Meeting his guru

It wasn’t foolproof, and after the UPSC and the banks caught on, they stopped giving running roll numbers to candidates applying together. Undeterred, many students simply went to the UPSC headquarters in Delhi and deposited their forms en masse to ensure they were in the same exam room.

Ranjit hired a room in Kankarbagh where he came into contact with a ‘setting’ gang. It was led by Dr Irshad Khan, the man who became Ranjit’s guru in teaching the tricks of the cheating trade. In fact, the ‘engine and bogie’ method of cheating was Khan’s brainchild. A meritorious student was hired, for Rs 1.5 lakh, to sit for the exam with the clients. The ‘engine’ would solve all the questions, and pass the answers to the ‘bogies’.

Ranjit worked with Khan for three years before branching out on his own. Khan — who also owns a pharmaceutical company — denies any link with Ranjit or the racket: “I am ready to answer all questions of the CBI,” he says.

He’s had practice: the state vigilance department interrogated Khan in 1996, in connection with the leak of exam papers for Bihar’s Medical and Dental Test (MDT) at Darbhanga. An examinee, who was caught with the solved questions in the exam hall, had named Ranjit to the police. Khan says he was quizzed after someone named him in an anonymous letter. The CBI also grilled Khan about the recruitment of para-medical staff at AIIMS. Khan claims he got a clean chit, but again, the anonymous letter did him in. He was also suspected in the medical papers leak cases in Lucknow and Chandigarh.

Khan is said to have employed female agents to locate female clients. He was generous to fellow professionals: wards of doctors would get a 30 per cent discount on the usual Rs 10 lakh fee, and one out of three was free.

And why not? Ranjit saw how easy cracking the MBBS exam was, and thus decided to become a doctor. Darbhanga medical college admitted him in 1994, and six years later, he got his degree. He then set up his drug firm, and financing was no problem, because by now, he was the Don. His elder brother Subhash, who ran a PDS shop, was made Radon’s director.

The company’s purpose was said to be money-laundering. Still, he pushed his firm’s products, enticing many doctors to prescribe his drugs through gifts, commissions, and even women. His trump card, however, was the promise of securing the admission of doctors’ wards in the medical college of their choice.

Mugging on how to cheat

Ranjit went the whole hog in understanding the nitty-gritty of exams. He bribed the lower staff at printing presses and influenced members of question coordination panels. He kept tabs on the questions’ route to the banks. When he failed to get the papers in advance, he simply bribed exam centre superintendents to get his clients in a single room.

Searching for scholars for the ‘engine and bogie’ scam, he turned people who ran Patna’s coaching centres into allies; Dr Harishanker Chowdhary, arrested last week, was Ranjit’s favourite, as he mastered many tricky questions. Another accomplice now in custody, Sanjeev, worked in a Mumbai press which printed many exam papers.

Ranjit was extremely secretive about the operation. He would lock clients in a hotel room the night before the exam and ask them to mug the answers. His trusted associates would drop the clients at the exam centre the next morning. He would retain their admit cards to thwart any foul play later.

Often he would demand post-dated cheques before the exam, and return them on receipt of cash. He would operate from his car, equipped with state-of-the-art gadgets like a fax machine. He simultaneously used four or five cellphones. After receiving the papers, he would call up his agents in other cities, saying "mission accomplished".

In Pune last week however, Ranjit Inc. ran out of luck. The arrest of key members led to the bust of the nationwide racket. But whether it would affect the fate of his army of ‘qualified’ doctors and engineers, time alone will tell.

DHOOM-DHAAM SHAADI

Forty-two-year-old Ranjit Don married college student Deepika (Dolly) on March 5, in an ostentatious ceremony that was attended by leading doctors, bureaucrats and politicians. Hundred-rupee notes were tagged to rockets and other firecrackers. Deepika’s family claims it did not know Ranjit before the wedding; Deepika did not even know what CAT stood for before the scam broke.

ENGINE AND BOGIE SYSTEM

One of Ranjit Don’s favourite modus operandi. He learnt it from his guru, Dr Irshad Khan. Dr Harishanker Chowdhary, Don’s choice of ‘engine’, could solve any tricky question

1>THE ENROLMENT: Ranjit’s clients would apply for whichever exam they were taking en masse so that they would get consecutive roll numbers and sit in one examination hall

2>THE ENGINE: Depending on the speciality, Ranjit would find a scholar who would sit for the exam with the clients. He reportedly paid Rs 1.5 lakhs to the scholar for doing so

3>EXAM TIME: The scholar (Ranjit preferred the services of Dr Harishanker Chowdhary) would quickly solve all the problems on the exam paper

4>THE BOGIES: The ‘engine’ would then pass on the answers to Ranjit’s clients, sitting in the same exam hall, through a specially devised code. Sometimes chits were used