If found guilty by the CBI, the agency would be banned for another year
The Jammu and Kashmir Services Selection Board (JKSSB) announced on September 1 that the M/s Merittrac Services Private Limited firm has been banned from administering any exams in the Union Territory for the next two years.
According to an order from the JKSSB’s Controller of Examinations, the blacklisting term would be “extendable by a period of one year in case the Agency is convicted in the ongoing investigation by the CBI.”
This Bangalore-based firm, Merittrac, was contracted by the Board to administer Optical Mark Recognition (OMR)-based written examinations on the specified dates (March 6, 2022 for the position of Accounts Assistant (Finance), March 20, 2022 for that of Junior Engineer (Civil), and March 27, 2022 for that of Sub Inspector (Police).
On the appointed dates, OMR-based tests were conducted to select candidates for these positions. After receiving reports of anomalies in the examinations for the positions of Sub Inspector (Home Department), Accounts Assistant (Finance Department), and Junior Engineer (Civil), the government of Jammu and Kashmir decided to call off the exams.
The General Administration Department (GAD) informed the Board of this by Letters No. GAD-MTGORBIV/135/2022-09-GAD, dated July 21, 2022, and No. GAD-MTGORBIV/135/2022-09-GAD-(Part-l), dated August 31, 2022. Sub Inspector Exam Cancellation Notification No. SSB/Sel/Secy/2022/5387-95 dated July 22, 2022; Junior Engineer, Civil Examination Cancellation Notification No. SSB/CoE/2022/5847-61 dated August 31, 2022; and Accounts Assistant, Finance Examination Cancellation Notification No. SSB/CoE/2022/5832-46 dated August 31, 2022. According to the decision, the government has also sent the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for further investigation.
The CBI opened two separate investigations into the case; on January 9, 2023, the agency M/s Merittrac was named as a suspect in FIR No. RC0042023A0001, and on August 3, 2022, Merittrac employees were named as suspects in FIR No. RC0042022A0008.
“The Agency was tasked with conducting examinations for various posts in accordance with the terms and conditions of the work order dated February 17, 2022, guaranteeing the safe and secure conduct of the examinations, and was required, per the conditions outlined in the work order, to keep the entire examination process completely confidential and secure at all times. Controller said in the order that the topic was discussed at length at the 226th Board meeting held on May 16, 2023, and a decision was made at that time.
“The Board observed that the Examination Conducting Agency viz; M/s Merittrac Private Limited has failed in maintaining 100 percent secrecy and security of the question papers or examinations for the post of Account Assistant (Finance Department), Junior Engineer, Civil (Jal Shakti Department), and Sub Inspector (Home Department) conducted in the month of March, 2022 using Optical Mark Recognition (OMR). As a result, these assessments were scrapped. Therefore, the Board decided to take disciplinary action against the Agency for failing to comply with the terms of the Work Order after providing the Agency with a chance to be heard. The Controller said that the Board’s decision would depend on the ECA’s reaction to the Notice. The Board would then take “appropriate action” based on the Board’s findings.
He explained that the Board’s decision to take punitive action against the Agency for failing to conduct those examinations smoothly to the satisfaction of all stakeholders, including the JKSSB, warranted the Agency being given an opportunity to be heard by means of a notice issued under endorsement No. JKSSB-ADM/15/2023-06 (E-7129476) dated May 17, 2023.
On May 22, 2023, the agency submitted its response to the show cause notice. At its 228th meeting on May 26, 2023, the Board heard the Agency’s response. After considering M/s Merittrac Services Pvt. Ltd.’s response, the Board concluded that the Agency had not taken sufficient measures to guarantee the complete integrity and safety of the examination.
After considering the Agency’s unethical behaviour and its failure to comply with the terms and conditions outlined in the Work Order, the Board has decided to “blacklist” the organisation “in terms of the conditions of the Work Order No SSB/COE/W.O/2022/01-05 dated February 17, 2022 by way of a speaking Order.”
It is without reasonable doubt that the Agency has breached the terms and conditions of the work order placed with it by the Board by subcontracting out work of a severe, sensitive, and confidential nature to a different agency, which has resulted in unacceptable information leakage. The Agency’s conduct, in enabling compromise of the examination process’ purity and integrity, has far-reaching ramifications for the Board and other parties involved. Therefore, the Agency’s response of May 22, 2023, cannot be accepted. The JKSSB concluded that because of this, the Agency should be punished.
At its 230th meeting on August 3, 2023, the Board once again discussed the Agency’s blacklisting and whether or not to remove it.
“The Board deliberated upon the matter and took note of the instructions of the General Administration Department and the opinion of the Department of Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs, noting that M/s MeritTrac Pvt. Ltd. had failed to hold the examinations for the posts of Accounts Assistant (Finance), Junior Engineer, Civil (JSD), and Sub Inspector (Home) held in March, 2022 in a fair and transparent manner and its response to the Show Cause Notice dated May 17, 2023.”
According to him, as a result, the GFR-2017 regulations governing the Agency’s ability to administer tests in the Union Territory of J&K have been suspended for two years.
The Board has ordered the Examination Section to proceed with the matter so that a speaking order may be issued.