When exam toppers become prime accused in paper leak

When the Punjab and Haryana High Court criticised Chandigarh Police’s Special Investigation Team (SIT) by calling its enquiry into the paper leak of the Haryana Civil Service (Judicial) recruitment exam “putting chilies in the eyes of Bench”, it reflected that the court was unhappy with the SIT’s lackadaisical effort in the case. It appears that had the full bench of the Court not pulled up the team, the case would have been treated as closed, thus making a mockery of the investigations.

The police was expected to take special care and the SIT constituted by it should have worked diligently as the main accused was none other than the Registrar (Recruitment), an officer of the rank of Additional District Judge. Using his legal expertise, he deftly managed to secure an order that helped him access statements of witnesses recorded before a magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC. The High Court has not only censured the police but also questioned the public prosecutor’s “intentions”. The public prosecutor neither appealed against the order allowing sharing of vital evidence, nor informed the court. Significantly, the Punjab and Haryana High Court is itself monitoring the case. The High Court is the recruitment authority for judicial services and as such its own prestige and image is at a stake. The Full Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court has questioned the failure of the Chandigarh Police to file an appeal as the trial court order can jeopardise the outcome of the case. The manner in which the SIT has allowed the case to proceed, raised the needle of suspicion on the investigators rather than the accused.

When the Court summoned Chandigarh DGP, it was not surprising in the given circumstance. The court has not minced any words in observing that the SIT appears to have “connived” with the accused.

The SIT formed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court and headed by Ravi Kumar Singh, IPS, Superintendent of Police (Crime and Investigation) has arrested its former Registrar (Recruitment) Balwinder Sharma after evidence showed he was in constant touch with the prime accused in the paper leak. Sharma, who had been transferred from the high court after his suspension and pending action, was arrested for custodial interrogation at Ropar. The probe revealed that hundreds of calls were exchanged between Sharma and the two candidates- Sunita and Sushila, who later turned out to be toppers in the judicial exam in general and reserved category, respectively.

The high court had on September 15 entrusted the probe into the case with the Chandigarh police since the examination was held there. The SIT was constituted on September 18 and an FIR was registered. Sharma’s arrest is in line with the recommendations of the Recruitment/ promotion/Court Creation Committee, which had said in September that, “Keeping in view the finding that Dr. Balwinder Sharma, Registrar (Recruitment) unequivocally stated that he had no prior acquaintance with Ms Sunita (the topper in general category), while the call details given by the service provider reveal that there were a total of 760 calls and SMSs exchanged between Dr. Balwinder Sharma and Ms. Sunita during the last one year, indicate that the matter requires a deeper probe.

It has been established that Sharma, the main accused and a former registrar of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, allegedly gave the paper to Sunita, who shared it with her friend Sushila. Both Sharma and Sunita duped several people. According to the 2,400-page charge-sheet filed in the trial court, Sunita, through her roommate Ayushi, a student, procured a SIM in the name of a former employee with a telecom company. She gave the SIM to Sharma, who then used it to register with cab aggregators Uber and Ola with fake names. Between January and April 2017, he booked the cab twelve times to go from the high court to a temple in Sector 18 temple, near which Sunita stayed.

Sunita reportedly told the SIT that she procured her secret number in the name of Naresh Sharma, who sells flowers outside the temple and also runs a canteen. Naresh told the police that Sunita continuously pestered him for SIM claiming she didn’t have a Chandigarh address. Sunita also got a SIM from autorickshaw driver Varinder Kumar registered on Jugnoo auto hiring app by luring him with the promise of getting a peon’s job in the high court. She often used his service for commuting and also got him to deliver tiffin and fruits to Sharma.

The High Court constituted Committee recommended that regular enquiry be initiated against Dr. Balwinder Sharma, Registrar (Recruitment) on the basis of preliminary enquiry”.

Genesis of the controversy

On March 20, the Haryana Public Service Commission advertised 109 posts of HCS (judicial branch) for recruitment to subordinate judicial services. Suman, an advocate, applied for the same and started attending Jurist Academy in Chandigarh for preliminary examination.

The petitioner and her husband, in order to elicit truth, started conversing with Sushila regarding availability of question paper. Somewhere around July 16, Sushila told Suman that she had struck a deal with Sunita and disclosed 5-6 questions which she said would come in the preliminary examination. Suman was shocked to realise that all those questions did come in the preliminary examination. Sushila had also told Suman that no amount of preparation would help as all the post for the general category have already been booked or sold.

Taking serious view of the matter

A single judge took note of the matter and on August 8, summoned the Registrar-General who informed that an enquiry is being conducted.

On August 16, the single judge had ordered “Since it is claimed in the petition that not only the paper of HCS preliminary examination was leaked but it was a whole package involving the main examination which is yet to be conducted and for which paper was yet to be set and also the process of interview, therefore, tentatively I am of the view that the inquiry should have been conducted at much higher level which is now to be considered and decided by this court….”

The result of the exam was placed before the court in a sealed cover and it was found that Sushila and Sunita had topped the exam. The single judge ordered, “in the meantime, the declaration of the preliminary examination result is hereby stayed”. “The registrar recruitment of this court is directed to a file affidavit stating as to who had handled the examination papers right from the time it was set till it was distributed in the examination hall and also disclose the name of the officials who have been deputed in handling and printing of the papers officially and whether anybody else entered the room where the papers are printed without being deputed for the same..”

After the single judge passed the order indicating involvement of high and mighty, the members of the recruitment committee approached the acting Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court on August 28 itself seeking transfer of the case from the single judge.

Suman then moved the Supreme Court seeking transfer of her petition. The Supreme Court, however, refused to entertain the transfer petition and suggested that it can be approached after the high court decides the matter after which Suman withdrew her transfer petition. On September 15, a three-judge bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed Chandigarh police to register an FIR in the matter. On September 18, it constituted a three-member SIT and in November, Sunita was arrested from Delhi. The Chandigarh police will have to pull up its socks and do investigations property as it won’t be able to put chilies in the eyes of the Court, as observed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.