In August, Subhashith Pati, 31, and Samarjeet Panda, 41, were vacationing at a beach in Goa. They then headed towards the shop from where they had rented bikes to return them, but were confronted by the Cubbon Park police.
Pati and Panda were part of a seven-member gang led by Soumyajeeth Mohanty, who took advantage of the demand for medical and engineering courses in colleges in Karnataka to dupe people from outside the State after promising to get them a seat.
Based on information provided by the duo, Inspector Ayyanna Reddy flashed a message to another team, which rushed to a resort in Chennai in Tamil Nadu, and arrested Aashish, the third accused in the case.
So far, as many as 10 cases have been registered against the accused — six in Cubbon Park, two in High Grounds and one each in Indiranagar and Ashok Nagar, said Inspector Ayyanna Reddy.
Mohanty escaped by a whisker after being tipped off by one of the accused. He has made ₹5 crore this year alone by cheating several people, he added.
Pati and Panda told the police that Mohanty is a BE graduate from Bhubaneshwar in Odisha. After being unsuccessful in securing a job, three years ago, he launched ‘Sunrise Coaching Centre’ offering tuitions to engineering students. Later, Mohanty hit upon the idea of setting up ‘Edu solutions’, a consultancy firm. He hired a few unemployed youth as tele callers.
According to the police, using his sources in counselling agencies, Mohanty would secure a list of students who appeared for the entrance exams and target repeaters, who were desperate to get into professional courses. The tele callers would approach repeaters with an offer to get them seats in medical and engineering colleges in metro cities across India. The students were asked to contact Mohanty.
Mohanty would meet the students and their parents in reputed hotels and learn about their financial status. He would take his victims to reputed colleges on the pretext of talking to the management. He would walk into the chamber of an officer on the pretext of enquiring about something while making the victimes wait outside. On coming out, he would assure the victims that the deal was settled and demand cash ranging from ₹30 lakh to ₹50 lakh.
If the victim said they would give a demand draft or transfer the money online, Mohanty would give the account numbers of his call centre employees, which he had opened after hiring them, Reddy added.
After receiving the money, Mohanty would hand over an admission letter with a fake seal and signature of the college. He would then ask his associates to switch off their phones and buy a new SIM.
Mohanty and his associates — Pati, Panda, Aashish, Ilyas, Anil Mukharjee and Manoj Das — have allegedly duped hundreds of people in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal, police said.
After duping a victim, the gang members would go on a holiday. They would return once their informers conveyed to them that the decks were clear, police added.
As the cases began to pile up, the Cubbon Park police formed a special team. They went to Sunrise Coaching Centre, but it was locked. One of the victims had called up Mohanty and warned that he had filed a police complaint.
The team groped in the dark for some time, as the accused had switched off their mobile phones, before zeroing in on one of the call centre employees who was close to Mohanty. The police seized his mobile phone and found that the accused were sharing photos of them holidaying.
The police figured out that Pati and Panda were riding a rented motorcycle with Goa registration. Upon checking other photos, they recognised the place and rushed to Goa. They nabbed Pati and Panda.
The police have frozen the bank accounts of the accused and efforts are on to track down Mohanty, Ilyas, Anil Mukharjee and Manoj Das who are on the run.
Senior police officers said there were many complaints against Mohanty in Bhubaneshwar too.
“It is unfortunate that the victims are students and the educated class, including doctors, army officers and businessmen, who in sheer desperation to get a professional seat for their children fell prey to this gang. They did not even bother to check his background,” a senior police officer said.
State to seek centralised database
The Medical Education Department of Karnataka has decided to write to the Medical Council of India (MCI), urging the council to ask counselling agencies of different States to upload data of students who have chosen a medical or dental seat in their respective States.
“This move aims to prevent seat blocking for students and other malpractices,” V. Manjula, Additional Chief Secretary, Medical Education Department, said. “The data, along with the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) roll number, will help us identify if the same set of students register for counselling in our State.”
Currently, details of the medical seat allotment done by counselling agencies of other States is not centralised. A KEA official pointed out that the lack of a centralised database makes it difficult for them to cross-check if students have taken medical seats in other States as well. They, however, had data pertaining to the all-India quota counselling.
The department also pointed out that they were planning to set up a more robust IT system to make the process more student-friendly and also to prevent malpractices.
Officials said despite several announcements made on the Karnataka Examinations Authority (KEA) website and in a brochure not to fall prey to touts or agents, many students had attempted to strike deals with colleges with the help of agents.
M.R. Jayaram, chairman, Karnataka Professional Colleges Foundation, said top colleges in the State do not employ agents, and students are misguided. “It is only colleges that do not have demand that employ agents,” he said.