Aptech, JKSSB, JKSSB protest
Photograph by Umer Asif for The Kashmir Walla.

“When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty #scams,” was written on a piece of cloth worn by a youth to cover his face during a protest march at Srinagar’s press enclave last week.

Scores of youth had assembled in the summer capital city to demand better job opportunities and put an end to the unemployment crisis in the region. To circle back on promises made to them in August 2019, of better jobs and a peaceful, prospering future. 

The protest was organized against the Jammu and Kashmir Service Selection Board (JKSSB) for hiring Aptech, a company that is blacklisted in several states, to conduct the computer-based exams in J-K.

The youth urged the J-K administration to scrap the contract with the firm to save their future. “We are all literate youth with degrees. Why is the government adamant in hiring a company that is already blacklisted in other states,” one of the protesters told The Kashmir Walla.  

Aptech Limited is blacklisted by the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Assam. The Delhi High Court has even imposed a penalty of Rs 10 lakh on the firm for alleged malpractices in recruitment in February 2021.

Amid the agitation by the aspirants, the JKSSB deferred the examinations. Its chairman, Rajesh Sharma, told the media that the decision was taken considering technical barriers. The aspirants have paused the agitation too since then.

This is not the first time that the JKSSB has found itself in the line of fire. The JKSSB is already under the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) scanner and facing multiple investigations following allegations of malpractices in recruitment exams.

But as the investigation agencies tighten their grip over the JKSSB’s alleged malpractices, thousands of youth in J-K look helplessly towards an uncertain future.

According to the latest figures of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the current unemployment percentage in Jammu and Kashmir stands at 17.1 percent. The union territory has ended up featuring on the fourth spot of the unemployment graph among twenty-seven states and union territories for the month of February 2023.

The dent in the JKSSB’s image can be gauged from the fact that in the past few months, at least four job scams have surfaced under its watch, in which major frauds were found resulting in the cancellation of the recruitment process.

The first major scam was reported in August last year when a major malpractice was found in the Jammu and Kashmir Police sub-inspector recruitment examination. 

According to the CBI, the investigation candidates had allegedly paid Rs 20 to 30 lakh for accessing the question paper before the examination. So far, at least 22 people, including Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and J-K police officers, have been arrested in the case.

Another JKSSB scam that surfaced was alleged irregularity in Fire and Emergency Services Department recruitment, for which the examinations were held in 2020.

In the examination, 14,000 candidates appeared for 800 posts of drivers and firemen advertised by the government. A panel headed by Raj Kumar Goyal, J-K’s Additional Chief Secretary Home, has been formed to probe the alleged scam.

Similar irregularities also emerged in the Finance Department and Junior Engineers recruitment. In both recruitments, selection lists have been canceled.

Following back-to-back scams, 1,200 sub-inspector posts, 1,300 junior engineer posts, and 1,000 financial account assistant posts were canceled by the J-K government.

Jammu and Kashmir High Court had strongly indicted the administration for allotting a contract to a tainted agency. The court had said, “the decision to award the contract to M/s Aptech Limited is malafide and the change of condition in the tender was intended to favour the private agency.”

“What is the point of giving exams when we all know that the agency hiring will not be fair to us,” said Omar, a job aspirant, who requested to be identified by his first name. “Already Aptech’s employees were caught cheating in Haryana and other states.”

In February 2023, the J-K government had withdrawn all the posts referred to Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission (JKPSC) and Jammu and Kashmir Services Selection Board (JKSSB) prior to 31 October 2019. The government had said that the posts would be advertised again for “transparent recruitment”.

Taking note of the situation, the unionists also took a dig at the current dispensation calling the center’s rule over Jammu and Kashmir a “total failure”.

Former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti joined a candlelight vigil in Jammu with the protesting youth. “Jammu and Kashmir are faced with the highest unemployment rate. First, there are no jobs for the youth and when recruitment takes place, it is canceled due to unearthing of scams,” Mufti said.

“The government is claiming that youth in Kashmir have shunned stones and taken laptops in their hands. What will we do with those laptops when we don’t have a job,” Omar, the aspirant, lamented.

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