A job aspirant in Jammu holds a placard protesting the J&K's government's move to allow a blacklisted company to conduct the J&K Service Selection Board's selection process

A job aspirant in Jammu holds a placard protesting the J&K’s government’s move to allow a blacklisted company to conduct the J&K Service Selection Board’s selection process. Photo Credit: Twitter/ Jammu Kashmir Students

The Lieutenant-Governor’s (LG) administration in J&K faced severe criticism from job aspirants in the Union Territory on Monday for allowing a blacklisted company, Aptech Limited, to conduct the J&K Service Selection Board’s (J&KSSB) selection process for Junior Engineers (JE) and Sub-Inspectors (SI).

Hundreds of aspirants created a storm on social media platforms like Twitter to protest the government’s move. They posted videos donning masks in Jammu and silently holding placards that read “RIP SSB” and “Error 404 JKSSB, jobs not found”.

“Dear SSB, stop the exam calendar immediately otherwise students are ready to come on the roads. We don’t need a blacklisted company Aptech for exams in J&K. We want fair and transparent recruitment and there is no fun in taking exams from this blacklisted company,” the All J&K Youth Federation, a body of unemployed youth, posted on Twitter.

Aptech Limited has been hired by the J&KSSB for computer-based tests of aspirants appearing for JE posts in the Jal Shakti Department, and SI posts in the J&K Home Department. The J&K administration canceled the selection process for 65 JEs in the Jal Shakti Department in 2020 following allegations of discrepancies. The selection list of 1,200 successful candidates of SIs was also canceled in 2022 following allegations of irregularities.

With the examination processes coming under the judicial scanner, Justice Wasim Sadiq Nargal of the J&K High Court on December 8, 2022 directed the LG administration “to constitute a high level committee headed by a retired High Court Judge to inquire into the conduct of JKSSB for the their brazen irregularities and illegalities in changing the terms and conditions of the tender”. Justice Nargal noted that Aptech Limited “has already been involved in various malpractices and irregularities and was blacklisted by the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (UPPCL)”.

The company faces similar allegations of malpractices in the Rajasthan Police Constable recruitment process, recruitment to the Irrigation Department of Assam, to the Allahabad High Court National Testing Agency, to UPPCL, etc. The High Court of Delhi imposed a fine of ₹10,00,000 on Aptech Limited for “resorting to or permitting malpractices at institutional level”.

However, a two judge Bench of Justices Sindhu Sharma and Vinod Chatterji Koul stayed Justice Nargal’s ruling and directed the J&KSSB to proceed with the selection process. Since this ruling, the J&K administration has been facing criticism. Earlier, a plea was filed by several aspirants before the court “not to conduct the Computer Based Test Mode (CBTM) involving public employment through Aptech Limited for being blacklisted”.

As the exam dates near, large-scale protests have been reported from Jammu as well as Kashmir. J&K’s political parties have also criticized the LG administration for allowing Aptech Limited to conduct the selection process.

National Conference spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said his party was only echoing the public anger over the decision. “Why is such a company being selected, which has consistently failed to provide transparency and accountability in conducting such an exercise? This question begs to be answered. The Board, instead of addressing the genuine concerns and fear of the educated, skilled local youth seems hell bent on destroying their future,” he said.

The Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) also criticized the government. “It seems the J&K administration has flouted all the rules and regulations and selected blacklisted Aptech for the services. What more can be a moment of displeasure for the youth as their future is handed over to a company with a dubious and poor track record across the country,” party spokesperson Salman Nizami said.

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