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Key Accused in PSI Scam BJP Leader Divya Hagargi Receives Bail

BJP leader Divya Hagargi was arrested from Maharashtra on April 29 last year and is the alleged mastermind behind the Karnataka PSI scam.

Image credit: Law Insider India

On January 5, 2023, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Divya Hagargi, 41, walked out on bail after spending eight months in jail for her alleged involvement in the Police Sub-inspector (PSI) exam scam in Karnataka. The chargesheet alleges that she was the mastermind of the scam and that candidates paid up to Rs 50 lakh to have Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) sheets tampered with in their favour. She was arrested on April 29, 2022, in Pune.

On October 3, 2021, the PSI recruitment exams had been conducted across 92 centres in Karnataka. The state government ordered a CID probe after irregularities came to light in the Kalaburagi exam centre, the Jnanajyothi English Medium School. Divya Hagargi was the principal and owner of the school.

Around 54,000 job aspirants appeared for the exam. Out of which, 545 candidates were then selected for recruitment. 

Bar & Bench reported that the scam came to light when a candidate, Veeresh Nidagunda, who attempted 21 out of 100 questions was awarded 121 marks. He secured the seventh rank in the provisional list. It is alleged that the Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) of the Department of Police Recruitment, Amrit Paul, facilitated the scam by handing over the keys to the strong room to persons that were not authorised to enter the room. The CCTV cameras were then switched off and widespread tampering took place in the strong room. 

On April 29, 2022, DySP Narasimha Murthy lodged a complaint at the High Grounds Police Station in Bengaluru against 22 persons. FIRs have also been lodged at various police stations in Kalaburgi. On July 4, 2022, ADGP Amrit Paul was arrested.

High Court stays re-examination

The state government subsequently ordered a re-examination. This was contested by 28 selected candidates who approached the Karnataka State Administrative Tribunal (KSAT). After KSAT dismissed their application, they appealed to the High Court. Some candidates argued that they would no longer be eligible to appear for the re-examination because of the age limit. They have said that it is possible to separate the tainted and the untainted candidates. The High Court stayed the announcement of re-examination by the government. 

The police have made several arrests across the state, but most of the accused were based in Kalaburgi (also known as Gulbarga) and Bengaluru. Divya Hagargi’s husband, Rajesh Hagargi, was also arrested for ‘harbouring and concealing an offender’. He was released on bail in September. Between the couple, Rajesh was arrested first in early April. Divya had evaded police and was subsequently arrested on April 29, 2022, from a hideout in Pune. A person called Suresh Katgaon was arrested for harbouring Divya Hagargi. He was later released on bail. 

Several candidates have also been arrested, including Rachana Hanamanth from Bengaluru and Jagruth. Rachana had placed first in the women’s category while Jagruth placed fourth in the men’s category. Jagruth was arrested on July 2, and Rachana on August 28. They were subsequently released on bail. 

High Court questions transparency of probe

During the bail pleas of the accused in the Karnataka High Court, Justice HP Sandesh observed that all the investigating officers in the case were below the rank of ADGP. He expressed concerns about the transparency of the probe in such a situation.

Paul is the 35th accused in the case. He allegedly handed over the keys to the strong room in exchange for Rs 5 crore. Candidates paid Rs 40-50 lakh each to middlemen who then facilitated their selection by conspiring with officials from the Department of Police Recruitment. ADGP Amrit Paul’s bail plea was rejected by the Metropolitan Magistrate court and the sessions court. He was suspended by the state government following his arrest. The CID filed a chargesheet against him in September. 

The case is now being heard by a special court set up under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Indian National Congress (INC) leader Mahantesh and his brother, RD Patil were also arrested in the PSI scam. It is alleged that they helped candidates by providing answers through Bluetooth technology. Both received bail in December.

ED involvement

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has also registered cases under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Bar & Bench reports that eight FIRs have been lodged against candidates and officials at the Department of Police Recruitment. Some of the accused received money from candidates and invested it in chit funds.

ADGP Amrit Paul is the only key accused who remains in jail.

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