Two days after arrest by the State Vigilance organisation in a case of having assets disproportionate to his known sources of income, the state government compulsorily retired Biranchi Narayan Sahoo, private secretary to a Member of the Odisha Staff Selection Commission (OSSC), on the 2nd of August, 2021. He was due to retire within six months. Vigilance organisation reportedly detected assets worth over Rs 3.79 crores with Sahoo. The Chairman of the Commission, immediately after Sahoo’s arrest, clarified that Biranchi’s arrest had no connection with the recruitment process of the Commission and it was not right to blame the Commission for any lapse as it had a transparent recruitment arrangement in place.
Government seems to hold the view that everything was in order in the Commission and the guilty had been swiftly dealt with. Students’ wing of Congress party, however, held demonstration before the Office of the Commission demanding investigation into allegations of bribe for recruitment.
The incident assumed a new dimension after an important member of the ruling party who is a legislator and runs an important media house, wrote as editor of a prominent Daily a lengthy column on the incident and narrated about someone from his constituency approaching him for help to get his child a government job and also about his willingness to spend good amount of money to ensure this. Though he didn’t oblige and even risked loss of votes, he expressed in his column his grave concern that the request of the man from his constituency was symptomatic of the prevalent situation where government job could be bought.
Even though Government won’t admit it, the ugly incident has dented the image of the recruiting agency and public needs to be assured that the process being adopted by the Commission for recruitment is indeed without blemish. Many find it hard to believe that Biranchi operated on his own and his wealth had nothing to do with his activities in the Commission. Government and the Commission may take a stand that Biranchi being a Private Secretary to a Member had no access to the process of selection and matters ancillary to it and therefore could not have influenced or hijacked the process of recruitment for a consideration. Many would not buy this story either.
An important and relevant issue needs a brief mention. This is about public perception about calibre of people who man the Commission. A Commission in the hands of persons of impeccable integrity who had had functioned with distinction in important positions in the domain of public affairs, evokes public confidence. It is not the case if there is widespread feeling that it is manned by people who are favourites of the government of the day. In such a situation there is objectivity-deficit in matters of selection of candidates. The Commission, in such a situation, is perceived to be an organisation amenable to pulls and pressure; words spread fast and job aspirants seek political support and recommendations to get jobs. Government should therefore choose the Chairman and Members with due care to ensure that the Commission is perceived as an independent, impartial and apolitical Institution.
Matters relating to preparation of question papers; selection of evaluators; printing of question papers, selection of experts, engagement of outside professional agencies for recruitment process are important issues which need to be handled only by the Chairman and Members with the assistance of the Secretary to ensure utmost confidentiality. Where such functions are delegated to subordinates either due to professional inadequacy or for extraneous consideration, the wily subordinates bring the entire recruitment process under their control with disastrous consequences.
The Biranchi episode has raised a lot of dust. There is a swell of distrust in the recruitment process. In such a situation, Government needs to act fast and ensure/ restore public confidence in the Commission as an impartial independent recruiting body. For this to happen, true picture must emerge on the actual working style of the Commission. This administrative audit must be done for the period the present Chairman is functioning as it may be time-taking to enquire into past cases. Following areas need to be looked into.
Names of person/ persons who recommended names for Question setters must come to light. This being a very sensitive matter, this job should be done most confidentially by the Chairman or Member or the Secretary himself without associating subordinate officials. Names of persons who had a role in recommending names for evaluators must also come out. Person who was kept in charge of keeping the answer papers and whether answer papers packets were opened before evaluation needs to be ascertained. Who were the manual tabulators and who selected them needs to be found out; so also the names of persons who selected the agency to declare results.
Person who recommended the printing press for printing question papers ought to be found out. Selection of experts for Interview Board is an important and sensitive task. It should be done with great care. Persons of eminence should be selected. The person who played a role in this task needs to be found out. Secretary should be personally checking the merit list and marks secured by the candidates. It should be found out if this important job was left to be done by subordinates and if so, the names of persons who were doing the job should come out. An official should have been authorised to certify the correctness of the results declared. If this was done needs to be found out. In respect of last five examinations conducted by the Commission, random forensic examination needs to be held of the answer sheets of candidates to examine if the ink used to write name and roll number of the candidate and the ink used for recording the answers were the same.
For a true picture of the Commission’s functioning to come out, the administrative audit should be conducted immediately and by a person known for his integrity and having vast administrative experience. The outcome would indicate whether Biranchi Narayan Sahoo was the kingpin that had hijacked the recruitment process with connivance of others or his activities had had no bearing on the normal functioning of the Commission and everything was hunky-dory in the Commission as claimed by the Chairman of the Commission.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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