It was my first 'scoop' as a journalist. Sometime in the summer of 1988, an acquaintance who was then a student of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), desperately sought me out. What he told me was startling. Question papers of the Plus Two examination, he claimed, were being sold openly in Khurda town. I asked him if I could buy one for the next paper scheduled - political science, if I remember correctly. He said yes and connected me with his younger brother, a bright student of PN College, Khurda, who he said would help me procure the question paper.
As an excited young journalist, I could immediately sense that it had all the makings of a scoop. Without wasting any time, I rushed to my Editor who also happened to be the owner. After listening to me, he appeared to be equally excited about it and ordered the accounts department over phone to immediately release the amount needed to procure the question paper. Long used to keeping us waiting endlessly for our salary and other dues, this was something unusual for the accounts department. But there was little they could do about it since the order had come from no less than the Editor/Owner himself.
So, there I was, ready with two sparkling new currency notes of Rs 100 denomination, Rs 150 for the question paper and the rest for my trip to Khurda to procure it. I roped in my good friend Tapan and the two of us set out for Khurda on his Luna. Once in Khurda, we sought out the younger brother of my acquaintance who, in turn, took us to the dalaal who was selling the question paper. On our way back, we kept wondering if it was the real thing though something within told us it was genuine.
Later that evening, there was a prolonged debate at the Editor’s room on whether it would be prudent to publish the question paper in the newspaper. What if it turned out to be fake? Will the newspaper not end up with egg on its face if that indeed was the case? I kept insisting that it was genuine. In the end, the Editor decided that the risk was worth taking.
Readers of the newspapers, especially those set to appear in the Plus Two examination, rubbed their eyes in disbelief the next morning as they found the question paper splashed on the front page. This, after all, was something that had never taken place before. By noon, word came that the day’s examination had been cancelled and rescheduled for another day, proving that our hunch was right after all.
A day before the next paper, I got information that the question paper for this one too was up for grabs for whoever could afford to pay the money. This time though, I did not have to go to Khurda. I was directed to a person living in the Old Town area in Bhubaneswar and duly procured the question paper. With his confidence boosted by the first scoop, the Editor did not think twice before giving sanction for carrying it in the next day’s paper. Copies of the fledgling newspaper were understandably gobbled up by excited youngsters and their parents the next day. We hit Bull’s eye for the second time running and the newspaper’s stock soared to hitherto unseen heights. And sure enough, the second paper too was cancelled and rescheduled for another day.
With a bit of digging up, I found out that the son of the then Education minister was the man behind the leak. Since the minister himself shied away from giving an interview, I met the then Education secretary, the redoubtable Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, who expectedly dismissed the charge. The next day’s paper carried the ‘exclusive’ on how the Education minister’s son had managed to do the hatchet job in connivance with the Calcutta (it was called that in those days) based printer along with the Education secretary’s denial. Quick to seize the opportunity to raise the profile of the newspaper, the Editor wrote an editorial calling for the head of the Education minister. Things were getting too hot for the government of the day while the newspaper was having a dream run.
Also read: Random Thoughts on Mother Tongue Day
Soon, the date of the rescheduled Political Science paper arrived. Wonder of wonders! Even this new question paper was on sale. Sure enough, we published this one too and forced the authorities to reschedule the paper for a second time. Things were beginning to assume ridiculous proportions by now. No question papers were printed for the re-rescheduled Political Science paper and the invigilators had to write the questions on the black board minutes before the exam started!
By then, I had become a hero of sorts – and an object of envy, I dare say - for colleagues and friends, more so because I had been spared any other duty and was left free to work exclusively on the question leak story for a fortnight or so. Like all good things, however, this dream run too came to an end after the Editor felt that we had made the point forcefully enough and it was now time to move on.
Smart phones and WhatsApp were unheard of in those days of the teleprinter and hand written copies. But the crooks still had a field day, as they are having now. After copies of the MIL paper did the rounds of WhatsApp on the first day of the matriculation examination today, the School and Mass Education secretary emphatically denied that there was any leak. But it did not take long for the truth to emerge as the question paper doing the rounds matched with the actual question paper in every respect.
Every year, authorities of the Board of Secondary Education (BSE) and Council of Higher Secondary Education (CHSE) hold a series of meetings to plug any possible loopholes in the system to prevent leakage of question papers in the light of past experience. But the crooks continue to cock a snook at them and manage to stay one step ahead of them. Question papers, after all, have become a highly profitable seasonal business.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are 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.)