Several job aspirants, protesting against hiring of a previously black-listed company by the Jammu and Kashmir Services Selection Board for conducting written examinations, were detained by the police in Jammu on Wednesday, officials said.
The protesters assembled outside Dogra Chowk in the heart of the city and tried to take out a march in violation of prohibitory orders when the police swung into action and restored to mild lathicharge before detaining several of them, the officials said.
The protesters raised slogans against the JKSSB for hiring APTECH Limited, the company which had been blacklisted in 2019, for conduct of computer-based tests.
A senior official of the JKSSB said there was no justification for the protest as the matter with regard to the hiring of APTECH company is “sub-judice”.
However, he said, the company was hired as per the central and J-K government guidelines as it has already completed the blacklisting period of three years in May last year.
“When we are selecting a company for conducting a written examination, we also employ checks and balances to ensure transparency, accountability and fairness in the selection. We are following a procedure which is matching the standards of major national level recruitment agencies,” the official said.
Chanting slogans like “APTECH go back” and “we want justice”, the protesters said they are concerned about their future as they are crossing the age limit due to the alleged failure of the administration to complete the recruitment process on time.
“They are conducting an examination and then cancelling it…how many times we have to appear for the same exam time and again,” a protester said.
In July last year, the Jammu and Kashmir administration headed by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha cancelled the selected list of 1,200 police sub-inspectors, 1300 junior engineers and 1,000 finance account assistants following allegations of paper leak and malpractices.
The CBI, which is investigating the sub-inspector recruitment scam after registering a case on August 3 on a reference from the J-K administration, had already filed a chargesheet against 24 persons including the mastermind, Yatin Yadav of Rewari, and a BSF commandant, on November 12, 2022.
“APTECH was blacklisted in the past and there is no guarantee it will not do any wrongdoing in future. What forced the LG administration to engage such a black-listed company?” asked a woman protester.
A peaceful protest was also held at Press Enclave in Srinagar where many job aspirants raised slogans against APTECH and the JKSSB.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah along with leaders of other political parties condemned the use of force against the job aspirants.
“I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the use of force and lathicharge against students and JKSSB aspirants. These youngsters were exercising their democratic right to protest against the recent decision to engage a blacklisted firm,” Abdullah, the National Conference vice president, said.
Speaking to reporters in Shopian, People's Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti condemned the lathicharge against the job aspirants in Jammu.
"Many unemployment youths are on protest both in Srinagar and Jammu. They were lathicharged and I condemn that in strongest possible terms. Is this their fault that they wanted to ask the BJP government why is their future being played with," she said.
On what basis, and at whose behest, has the company, which is blacklisted by other states, been awarded contract to conduct the recruitment here, she asked.
"Laws were changed to make sure it gets the contract. So, the youth were asking this question only, but they were lathicharged, detained. I demand that the LG take action against those officials who are involved in this," Mehbooba said.
The youths work hard, prepare for the exams day-night, but then they are told that there was some irregularity in the recruitment -- conducted by APTECH -- and the exam was cancelled, the former J and K chief minister said.
"They have to start from zero again. They (the government) are pushing the future of the youth here to darkness," she added.
People's Conference chairman Sajad Lone also condemned the police action.
"Strongly condemn the use of force against students protesting APTECH. Using force against students shows how alienated the administration is. Who would order use of force against young students. Have some shame. U (you) would probably have children at home, of same age group," Lone wrote on Twitter.
Democratic Azad Party leader and former J and K chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad tweeted, “It is disheartening to hear about the use of violence against #JKSSB aspirants in J and K who were peacefully protesting for their future. I strongly condemn such actions and urge the government to intervene to protect the rights of students without fear of harm!”
Congress spokesperson Jahanzaib Sirwal, DAP chief spokesperson Salman Nizami and Apni Party Youth Wing state vice president Raqeeq Ahmed Khan also condemned the use of “brute force” against the peaceful protesters.
“The company is blacklisted in so many states and has also been fined by the Supreme Court. What more can be a moment of displeasure for the youth of J and K,” Nizami said.