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Karnataka PSI recruitment: The 4-step scam, and how it was detected

From police insiders to middlemen to Bluetooth to strongroom keys, the extent of the scam, and the investigation into it, would put crime fiction to shame

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“The process of selection of Police Sub Inspector (PSI) is nothing but an act of terror to the society.” This observation was made by Justice HP Sandesh recently in the Karnataka High Court while hearing the bail plea of an accused in the multi-crore PSI scam.

The court also observed that the manipulation of the exam process as seen in the PSI recruitment is a crime that can lead to anarchy in society.

The investigating agency CID has arrested 90 people accused in this scam in Karnataka. Of them, around 30 are police officials, including an IPS officer of the rank of Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Amrit Paul.

The scam, which hit the headlines recently, is an example of the fence eating the crop. The involvement of politicians, bureaucrats and middlemen is suspected in the scam, where more than 54,000 aspirants for PSI posts in Karnataka were cheated.

The modus operandi

The modus operandi worked in four major steps. First, a system was put together to commit the crime — middlemen ‘booked’ invigilators, candidates and officials from the police recruitment wing. 

Second, scamsters wrote correct answers in the Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) sheets of those candidates who were ‘booked’ by the agents. For example, if a ‘booked’ candidate filled only 5 of 100 questions in the OMR sheets and left the examination hall, the remaining questions would be answered by the agents later. As the policemen on security and invigilators were also involved, there was little chance of doubts being raised on the answers given by those candidates.

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Third, use of technology. Booked candidates entered the exam hall with a tiny bluetooth instrument with a SIM card, through which an outsider dictated the answers to the candidate who filled out the OMR sheet. In a few cases, some persons at the exam centres took a photo of the OMR sheet and, once it was circulated to the candidates, sent it to the scamsters outside. They prepared the answers and sent them back to the involved persons for filling the OMR sheets left by the candidates who had paid the cash for getting selected.

The fourth step was the most dangerous, where allegedly the ADGP of the Police Recruitment Cell was involved. He gave the key of the strongroom and shared the password of the boxes where OMR sheets of around 54,000 candidates are stored with his subordinate of DySP rank (the person guarding the strongroom). The DySP and his team entered the strongroom in the wee hours and “filled the OMR sheets of the selected candidates”. They even took the help of a few staffers at the CID office, where the recruitment cell is located, to switch off the CCTVs.

Now it has been found that almost 150 OMR sheets were manipulated by the above methods, mainly in the Bengaluru CID office and Kalburgi examination centres. Whether such incidents happened in other exam centres in the state is yet to be ascertained. 

Investigating officials said the crime falls under A and B categories. Correcting the OMR sheets comes under the ‘A’ category, whereas using Bluetooth devices comes under the ‘B’ category. It is suspected that around 75 per cent of the OMR sheets were forged.

The investigators say the aspirants involved in the scam paid around Rs 40 lakh to Rs 1 crore and got selected. A few candidates made payment in instalments. They paid the first instalment of around Rs 10 lakh for getting the confirmation from the scamsters, and parked the remaining amount with the middlemen, an official said.

Masterminds of the scam

An aAssistant engineer in the irrigation department of the Kalaburagi division, Manjunath Melkundi, Rudhragowda Patil and ADGP Amrit Paul are allegedly the main three persons who ran this scam. The three have been arrested.

Melkundi allegedly managed to get the candidates willing to become PSI by bribing and Patil reportedly helped them to get Bluetooth devices and make them write exams by providing the right answers. Paul allegedly made his DySP and others forge ‘selected’ OMR sheets in the highly-secured strongroom.

Many cyber forensic officials of the CID are now trying to get information on where the bribe money has gone. The officials have allegedly invested it in real estate in Bengaluru and also parked some amount in the names of unknown persons.

Investigators point out that Melkundi and Patil were allegedly also involved in a scam in 2021 attached to the PWD department. They tried to use the Bluetooth device in Bengaluru during an examination being held for assistant engineers. However, a strict invigilator informed the local Annapoorneshwari Nagar police station and Melkundi and Patil were arrested. However, reportedly by using political influence, they got bail and their name was deleted from the case.

What raised suspicion

The PSI exam was conducted in October 2021 to fill 545 vacancies where around 54,000 aspirants appeared. The result was announced three months after the exam, in January 2022. Later, some of the aspirants got to know about the scam where the accused managed to forge the OMR sheets.

The OMR sheets were forged mainly in Paper-2 of 150 marks of objective-type questions. Interestingly, it happened mainly in the case of candidates who had scored less in Paper-1, which was of 50 marks and was descriptive. This raised suspicions.

Two police constables who wrote the PSI exam and could not clear it, wrote a letter to the Director-General and Inspector-General of Police, Praveen Sood, in February, alleging forgery and irregularities in the exam. Later, more PSI aspirants started making allegations of a scam and demanded the government conduct an inquiry. However, the home department denied any malpractice. Home minister Araga Jnanendra denied any irregularity on the floor of the Assembly when the Opposition demanded an inquiry.

The scam was revealed when the case of candidate Veeresh N, who obtained 7th rank among the 67 selected candidates of the Kalyana Karnataka region (former Hyderabad Karnataka includes Bidar, Kalaburagi, Yadgir, Raichur, Koppal and Bellary districts), was revealed. The carbon copy of his OMR sheet of Paper-2 showed he attempted 21 questions out of 100, with 1.5 marks for each answer. However, he got 121 out of 150 marks.

Following this, Jnanendra asked the CID to form a special team and investigate the case. One of Veeresh’s friends got the carbon copy of his OMR sheet and it went viral on social media. He was arrested by the CID team on April 7 and it led the investigation in the right direction.

The investigation then zeroed in on one of the 92 examination centres in the state, Jnana Jyothi English Medium School in Kalaburgi, where names of political workers surfaced. These included, Divya Hagaragi, former president of the BJP’s Kalaburagi district women’s unit and owner of the Jnana Jyothi English School in Kalaburgi, and Mahanthesh Patil, former Afzalpur Congress block president, who had alleged links with the accused.

The strong room, where the question papers and answer sheets were kept, was compromised and OMR sheets were forged. The investigators say the exam halls were prepared in such a way that irregularities could easily be done.

The investigation led to the arrest of first-rank holder of the exam from Bengaluru, Kushal Kumar J, in June, who through the middlemen had got the OMR sheets filled up after submission.

Later, the investigation team detained the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Shantha Kumar, who had served in the recruitment division for 12 years. He was in charge of the strong room where the answer sheets were kept. About 20 exam centres were under his supervision. After questioning him, the CID team got substantial evidence of how police officials were involved in the scam. Harish K, one of the serving SI, was also arrested based on the leads by Shantha Kumar for allegedly linking candidates and scamsters.

The investigating team was under much pressure when it tried to arrest Amrit Paul, the ADGP of the recruitment wing. Paul was transferred to the Internal Security Department (ISD) a few days ago after the scam broke out. It was then revealed that ADGP Paul was the kingpin of the scam and after several rounds of questioning he was arrested.

ADGP Paul, now behind bars, was reportedly eying the Bangalore Police Commissioner’s post. He wanted to replace former commissioner Kamal Pant but could not succeed as his alleged involvement in the scam was revealed.

Forensic help

Paul was arrested for tampering with OMR sheets on the basis of forensic evidence. The candidates who bribed to get selected were in touch with DySP Shantha Kumar through the scamsters. Shantha kumar, along with first division assistant Harsha, and RSI Sridhar and Srinivas, played different roles in filling the blank OMR sheets before switching off the CCTV cameras.

Cyber forensic evidence proved the involvement of officials in the scam. It was proved the alleged connivance of ADGP with the DySP Shantha Kumar through their phone calls. It was also proved that the key to the strong room, where OMR sheets were kept, was supposed to be with the ADGP Paul but was given to Shantha Kumar. OMR sheets were kept inside a kit box and the password of the box, supposed to be known only to the ADGP, was leaked to the DySP. Money transactions from him to various other accounts are also found during the investigation.

Also read: ED conducts raids in Tamil Nadu in Chinese visa scam case

The cyber forensic experts helped the investigators in getting information on the usage of Bluetooth devices in the examination halls. Phone conversations outside the exam centres are traced and hundreds of such calls were made to candidates, who through the Bluetooth device, connected with them for the answers.

Political links

BJP leader Divya Hagaragi, who runs Jnana Jyothi school; block Congress president Mahanthesh D Patil and his brother Rudragouda Patil; Hayyali Desai, the gunman of the Congress MLA of Afzalpur — these are the names that came up during preliminary investigations. All of them are now behind bars. Sources say that there are more bigwigs involved in the scam. If the investigation is done properly, there may be bigger catches than the ADGP, sources said.

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