Thrissur: A clandestine attempt by a mafia at work at the State School Arts Festival to bribe judges to secure favorable results has been spoiled by State Education Department officials and Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) sleuths.
Following the interference of the VACB, four judges were forced to withdraw themselves from the festival, citing personal reasons.
Earlier, the authorities had received vital information that an amount of Rs 2.5 lakh was transferred from the bank account of a participant’s parent to the account of an agent deployed by the racket.
It is learnt that the VACB officials were tipped-off about the financial transaction taken place during the Thiruvananthapuram District Arts Festival. A parent of a student, who took part in dance competitions at the fest, allegedly handed over the amount to the agent to influence judges.
Based on the information, the officials checked the phone records of the agent and found out that he had contacted as many as twenty-one judges appointed to evaluate various events at the district-level fest a day before the festival commenced.
Subsequently, the Vigilance team identified those judges and stopped them from attending the event. The festival was conducted smoothly after the organizers managed to find replacements for them at a short notice.
It was an unexpected move from the education department and VACB against the mighty festival mafia who took money from the parent by assuring him that they would influence judges to help his ward win prizes in district and state-level competitions. The amount of Rs 2.5 lakh was changed hands as the first installment of the covert deal.
After keeping a tab on the same agent, the education department cancelled the appointment of 30 judges who figured in the shortlisted judging panel for the state-level fest. The authorities had received concrete evidence of two agents contacting them ahead of the festival.
Though further investigations revealed that many of them had no links with the festival mafia, the education department felt that the presence of those who are under clouds of suspicion would result in the loss of credibility of the festival.
Out of the thirty judges who have been kept out of the mega event, three were suspected to have had connections with the festival mafia.
Though the list containing the judging panel has been kept confidential by the education department, the VACB has information that the members of the racket had been in touch with the three Chennai-based judges during the past two days.
According to the report handed over to the education department by the agency, the racket was trying to contact probable judges.