HSSC under fire for repeated lapses, govt forced to suspend chairman

The Khattar government has been forced to suspend the HSSC chairman after a string of wrongdoings emerge under his tenure. The government succumbs to public pressure after a fresh bloomer by the commission in a question paper surfaces, writes RAJENDRA KHATRY

The Haryana Staff Selection Commission (HSSC) scam, better known as ‘Cash for jobs’ scandal has rocked Haryana for the last two months. As soon as the scam broke out in April, the opposition cried foul and sought immediate suspension of the HSSC Chairman, Bharat Bhushan Bharti. Surprisingly, at that time the state government gave him a clean chit, notwithstanding the fact that the scam was a blot on the otherwise unblemished governance record of the Manohar Lal government.

The HSSC Chairman would have probably survived the wrangle. But in a new twist recently HSSC got embroiled in another controversy over a crude and derogatory question asked about the Brahmin community in a written test conducted by the commission. As the BJP government came under fire from the opposition, Haryana Chief Minister was forced to suspend the Chairman, using powers under the more than a century old Punjab General Clause Act, 1898 as the state government does not have the powers to suspend the HSSC Chairman under the HSSC Act.

Now, the HSSC Chairman Bharat Bhushan Bharti will remain suspended till the enquiry in the matter is complete. Meanwhile, the Haryana government has appointed the 1993 batch IAS officer Deepti Umashankar as the chairperson of the Commission.

Incidentally, the suspension order came in the aftermath of the great hue and cry by the Brahmin community in the state, over a derogatory question about Brahmins in the written exam conducted by HSSC to recruit junior engineers. One of the multiple choice objective questions in the paper asked the students, ‘Which among the following is not a bad sign of omen in Haryana? — Empty pitcher, meeting with a black Brahmin and sight of a Brahmin girl’.

The choices for selection to the question were objectionable as well as offending and the Brahmin community considered it a grave insult. Up in arms, the upset Brahmin community in Haryana demanded immediate action against HSSC officials responsible for the bloomer. Quick to fuel the fire, all the opposition parties in Haryana including the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) voiced protests and started demanding probe in to the matter and action against the culprits.

According to R S Chaudhary, a former bureaucrat, and national secretary of INLD, the decision to suspend the HSSC chairman was an eyewash because his appointment is anyway contractual in nature. “HSSC is already under fire for cash for jobs scam. I feel that instead of suspension, the controversial chairman should have been straightway fired by the Chief Minister Manohar Lal. This was necessary to uphold the dignity of the institution,” said R S Chaudhary.

Upset over the controversy, AAP’s Panchkula district president Yogesh Sharma said it was most unfortunate that the HSSC had besmirched the image of a community like this. He demanded strict action against the culprits.

Former Chief Minister of Haryana and senior leader of the Congress, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and AICC Spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala also condemned the incident, saying it was in a very bad taste and should not have happened if responsible people were handling the issue.

The government did decide to conduct an inquiry, preferably by a retired high court judge, to find out how the question sneaked into the test paper and also register an FIR against the Delhi-based company that got the contract to set the question paper, the paper-setter, and the publisher. But all these were damage control measures to assuage the feelings and sentiments of the Brahmin community in the state which has been up in arms ever since.

Incidentally, it was Haryana’s Education Minister Ram Bilas Sharma who on behalf of the Brahmin community raised the issue before Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Sharma told the media in Chandigarh that the faux pas by the HSSC was serious and in very bad taste. He said a retired high court judge was likely to investigate the issue as HSSC is an autonomous body. The advice of the Haryana advocate general is also being sought, said Ram Bilas Sharma. He said that HSSC issues directions to a company to set the paper and instructs it to abstain from using objectionable language for any community, caste, organi sation​ ​or group. He said that the concerned company has tendered an apology, but the government has blacklisted it along with the publisher from all future assignments.

A spokesperson of Rashtriya Brahmin Sangh said, “The state government by asking questions like this seems hell-bent to divide the society. This is highly condemnable. The question asked in the exam is an insult to the community,’’ he said.’’

Just a month ago a shameless deed of the HSSC had come to light when its employees were caught selling jobs in the infamous ‘cash for jobs’ scam.  It was the Flying Squad of the Haryana Chief Minister on April 5 which raided and unearthed the job racket, being run by a group of employees of the Haryana Staff Selection Commission (HSSC) and other departments.

Their brokers were also held. The scam was linked to the appointments to the posts of drivers, clerks and nurses, advertised by the commission over a period of one-and-a-half years. The flying squad arrested eight employees at the HSSC office, Sector 4, Panchkula. The accused used to take money from aspirants for getting them selected for government jobs. The SIT later recovered `2 lakh from the residence of one of the accused-a HSSC assistant. AICC. At that time too the opposition parties had demanded a thorough probe into the matter. In fact, the INLD had demanded a CBI probe in the ‘cash for jobs’ scam. “HSSC should be dissolved immediately and investigation into the scam must be handed over to the CBI,’’ Leader of Opposition Abhay Singh Chautala demanded.

AICC Media-in-Charge and senior Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala had accused Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal of protecting the accused in the ‘cash for jobs’ scam. “If the CM does not sack the HSSC immediately and order an enquiry by two sitting judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court then it will be understood that the kingpins of the scam have flourished under the protection of Haryana CM,’’ Surjewala had said. HPCC spokesman Rann Singh Mann too had demanded an enquiry by a sitting High Court judge.

Led by AAP Haryana president Naveen Jaihind and Panchkula district president Yogesh Sharma, AAP had held a protest against the HSSC job scam in front of the HSSC Board office in Panchkula carrying posters and banners and forming a human chain to demonstrate a sale of jobs.

The rot in the system is deep rooted. The probe in the ‘Cash for job’ scam as well as the controversial question issue may indict some officials of the HSSC. But the question is whether the system will be cleansed or not. The complete system from top to bottom needs to be overhauled. Mere action against a few lower category officials will not be sufficient. Only if the suspension of the HSSC Chairman and the probe into the scam leads to the cleansing of the system will the entire exercise be fruitful. Otherwise, things will remain the same.