By LIKHAVEER | INNLIVE
`Dear, you have been shrtlstd for MBBS counselling in govt/Private medical colleges of Europe/Ukraine, No donation. For appointment call: 80107xxxxx'.
This was an innocuous SMS that landed in the inbox of several students appearing for the medical exam entrance test (EAMCET) in Telangana. This was followed by a phone call from a woman who claimed to represent a consultancy firm.
This year, the EAMCET exam was held twice, after the confusion over the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). Over one lakh students appeared for the first exam on 15 May that included medical, dental, agriculture and veterinary sciences courses in both government and private colleges. About 50,000 students sat in the second exam on 9 July to compete for 2,650 medical and dental seats in government colleges only.
When the conversation took place, the representative instead offered to secure admission in a private medical college near home. The going rate : Rs 50 lakh to one crore in donation, depending on the college of choice. Fee per year : Rs 15 lakh per annum.
If the student expressed inability to cough up such a huge amount, the next offer came, "We can get you admission into a government college also." What was said subsequently shocked the students,"Pay up Rs 25 lakh and we will prepare you with the real test paper in the exam."
Akhileswar Reddy was among the many students who received such a phone call on 5 May. The list of students, he gathered later, was procured for consideration from Akash Coaching centre, where he went for classes in Himayatnagar area of Hyderabad. When he asked how test papers would be made available, the modus operandi was laid bare before him.
"Five days before the exam, you would be taken to an unknown destination, which would be outside Telangana. You cannot carry your mobile phone nor can be in touch with anyone, including family. You would be provided with the exam paper, you would be coached with the right answers that you can learn. On the morning of the exam, you would be dropped off at your exam hall," was the detailed instruction.
G Ravi, the parent of a student in Warangal, turned out to be the whistleblower in the case. His daughter had appeared for the exam and he noticed that some of her classmates had secured marks better than what their academic track record would suggest. He probed further and the 47-year-old parent found out the common link between all the 'academically weak' students who had done well.
"All those students had gone missing in the week before the exam," said Ravi.
The Telangana CID that claims to have cracked the case, arrested four persons. It said 74 students were reportedly taken to five different locations in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh.
"We interrogated many of the suspected students and could establish that the exam paper was indeed leaked before the date and time of exam. The students were given practise with both sets of question papers with 320 questions and their correct answers were provided to them. This happened for 2-3 days before the exam," said Satyanarain, Telangana's CID chief.
CID sources said that investigation reveals that in many cases an advance of Rs 10 lakh was paid before the students were taken to their destination. In some cases, their certificates were kept as surety and in some others, a contract was drawn up between the students and the racketeers.
Akhileswar suspects one of his friends was among the 74 students who `bought' the question paper. "In the first entrance test in May, he got only 70/160 marks. But in the July exam, he got 125/160 and secured 1900th rank, which means he will easily get a seat," he says.
The EAMCET scam runs into crores of rupees and seems to be a well-oiled racket. Among those arrested is Bengaluru-based Rajagopal Reddy who allegedly leaked the question paper sets for the entrance exam held on 15 May as well.
Students allege this is not the first year the entrance exam papers have been leaked and say the brazenness suggests that the racket has been operating for many years. "Imagine, some of the students who will pass out as doctors, would have got admission after answering a test paper whose questions they knew days in advance," said a student who did not want to be identified.
The opposition in Telangana wants the exam to be conducted all over again and is demanding a CBI probe to get to the bottom of the racket and arrest the real kingpins.
"We are not happy with the CID probe as we suspect a scam of this magnitude cannot happen without the connivance of top people in the establishment. We demand a CBI enquiry," said K Mahesh, Telangana Congress leader.
The possibility of a third entrance exam has left students very confused and angry.
"Is it a joke, suggesting that another entrance exam will be held," says an agitated Mallika, who has secured a rank. Pointing out that all students studied 15 hours everyday to prepare for this exam, Mallika says, "Why can't they even conduct a fair exam? Let them find out who paid money and weed them out."
Some of these students along with their parents protested outside the Telangana Secretariat in Hyderabad on Thursday, demanding an audience with Health minister Laxma Reddy.
Poornima, another one of those students who has qualified, does not want another exam. "I have secured a rank. Give me my seat. What is the guarantee that those who have got in this time, will get a rank in the next exam as well," she said.
However, politicians believe a tainted exam cannot be allowed to decide the fresh batch of medical students as it will dent the credibility of the medical education system. Even as the ball has been tossed into the chief minister's court, there is a demand for the arrest of the suspects. Clearly no one is buying the theory that the racket flourished without the blessings of someone really powerful.