Two-day scanning window helped Mumbai University scamsters switch answer papers

Bhandup police probe pieces together exact details of how lowly peons managed to exploit a loophole in the engineering evaluation system

Two days after a huge exam racket was busted at Mumbai University, the investigators revealed that the accused were exploiting a simple flaw in the online evaluation system – the students’ roll numbers had not been removed from the answer sheets. This allowed the corrupt officials to identify the right papers, pull them out and give them back to the students to fill out the answers overnight.

The Bhandup police busted the racket on Saturday and arrested the custodian of answer sheets, Prabhakar Vaze (52), along with three junior clerks and four peons. Sources said the middlemen are likely to be arrested on Tuesday. The cops also seized 92 answer sheets for the investigation.

The accused were remanded in police custody till May 25
The accused were remanded in police custody till May 25

Earlier, the university employed a simple safeguard against such cheating practices – they would rip off the student’s roll number from the answer sheets. This meant corrupt officials would have no way of telling one student’s paper from another’s. After the papers were evaluated, the university would use a bar code to match each paper to the right student.

Obvious flaws
In 2010, MU introduced the online system, wherein the papers are scanned and then checked online. There are several issues with this new system. For one, ripped answer sheets are not accepted by the scanning system, so the roll numbers are no longer removed. Secondly, the actual answer sheets are sent in bulk to the Exam Bhavan at the Kalina campus. There, crooked officials have two days to access the papers before they are scanned and uploaded to the system.

“Answer sheets belonging to the student customers are kept last for scanning; this is how the racket members would get enough time,” said a cop.

Perfect plan
Cheating students would give their roll numbers to the agent, who would pass them on to MU exam custodian, Vaze. The other accused clerks and peons would pull out the matching answer sheets and Vaze would take the papers out of the campus in his bag. Thanks to his position at the university, the security officials never checked his bag.

Vaze would hand over the papers to the agents at Kalina and Geeta Vihar bus stops near the university campus. The students would get an entire night to fill out answers before returning the sheets.

Vaze would then collect revised answer sheets from the agents the next day and would take them back to the Exam Bhavan. The peons and clerks would put the papers back in the bunch to be scanned, and no one would be the wiser.

Negligence
Perfect as the plan is, it would not have worked if the exam supervisors had done their job. The students had been asked to leave enough empty space to write down the answers later, but supervisors are supposed to keep an eye out for such empty spaces and cross them out.

Growing racket
Ironically, the accused learnt about the loopholes in the system when another racket was busted in 2011. They began the scam last year, but could inform only 18-20 students. This year, they managed to lure hundreds of students willing cough up as much as R15,000-20,000 to get answer sheets changed.

Smart students
The probe revealed that most of the accused students were those who had been granted ATKTs (allowed to keep term). All they wanted was to ensure that they passed the exam, so they would fill the answer sheets smartly, taking care to write just enough for passing grades. This way, they never raised the suspicion of the evaluators.

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