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With his heart pounding, he dragged his feet towards the office. His eyes frantically searched the crowded list and then froze. He felt his stomach churn. Cold sweat broke down on his forehead as he looked again and again, hoping there was a mistake. His name was not in the final admission list. A deep sense of regret, despair and anger overtook him. His mind asking him a thousand questions, he looked down, wishing that the ground beneath his feet would give way.

Agent‚ :(Saunters up to the gullible student) Do you want admission in this college?
Student‚ : (Nodding frantically) Yes! But how?
Agent‚ :(Looks around surreptitiously) Leave that to me, but you have to pay a price.
Student‚ : What do you mean? How much ?
Agent‚ : I know the people inside and I can get your admission done but you have to pay me Rs.50,000/-
            Considering it is a do or die situation, the victim readily agrees.

The deal is fixed. This is where the nightmare begins.... waiting anxiously for his admission, the student goes through a harrowing time. Sleepless nights follow every disappointing day, which seem like a lifetime. After almost two months of mental anguish, the student is exposed to the harsh reality. The young man turned out to be a fraud and had run off with his father's hard earned money as well!

This is the story of one of the many students who are hopelessly trapped. Some come out unscathed while the others are left to pick up the stray shards of hope, regarding their future. Pune, better known as the Oxford of the East, is becoming more of a students' haven for more reasons than one. The last ten years have seen a radical change in the Mini Detroit which houses a plethora of educational institutes that guarantee you a seat, provided you are willing to grease palms and part with those green bucks. It all begins with thousands of students streaming in every year hoping to secure a seat in one of the prestigious institutions in the city.

Some are fortunate to get through while the others are left facing the grim realities of life. Hundreds of educational institutes that had mushroomed in Pune decided to utilise the gnawing gap between the supply and demand to their maximum advantage, which resulted in a deluge of money making schemes. They devised an alternative : It aimed at providing a seat for the deprived students but for a price. Regardless of the marks a student secures, there is always a place for them, even in the premier institutes. When asked why he preferred Pune over other cities, Anil, a Delhite who is a third year student answers, "This is the best place to do your graduation.

The study load is minimal, there is no attendance problem and getting admission in Pune colleges is
very easy, if you have hard cash. And when it comes to marks, that can also be modified, if you know the `right' people around." This sort of attitude rules rampant among the students who are studying in Pune. Afterall in this day and age of commercialisation, every thing is for sale. An entrance into different colleges offering a degree in medicine, engineering, business management, computer science, commerce carries a price tag each. The rates for these courses vary according to the reputation of the institutions. The leading institutions in the city head the list with rates which would make a layman's head spin! As per the feedback we got, the entrance into the threshold of a college that confers an MBBS degree comes at an astronomical sum of anywhere between fourteen to twenty-two lakhs, while an admission into a college offering the Dental degree, follows with seven to ten lakhs.

An M.B.A. oscillates from one to four lakhs. While engineering calls for one to six lakhs and a mere graduation costs ten to fourteen thousands. These variations depend basically on two factors : the  institution you want an admission into and the agent through whom you are negotiating. If your work is being done directly, there is no question of delay or you being duped of your money. A word of caution however: If your forms are being processed through an agent, there are chances of you becoming a nervous wreck as you may have betted on the wrong horse! When a handful of educationists found that it was no longer a discreet affair, they decided to coin a name for such seats aptly naming it Management Seats.

These are seats where the students have to pay double the amount of the normal fees. With this ingenious move, they managed to silence their critics who were coming down too heavily on them. For that matter, apart from the Management Seats, there are even student associations and parties with political inclinations to whom seats are allotted for a fee. When asked about this cover up, a professor of a reputed college stated, "We need to have some sort of shield, we just can't ask anyone for money directly. There has to be some system." A system which has really got the cash registers ringing for colleges who are always in need of funds for expansion. What then happens to students who don't have the financial strength to buy these seats? When a student who didn't get the required marks approached the director of a prestigious institute and requested him to consider his case, he was bluntly told off, "Do you have extraordinary money, extraordinary contacts or extraordinary performance? If you don't have these three things, you repent..." The student was at a total loss of words as the darker side of education punched him in the face.

There are others who are more discreet. They tactfully ask the candidates to contact someone in their faculty for further guidance.. And if the students are unable to get a direct access, there are always helpful middlemen who are more than willing to take up the job - for a fat commission. It is not very difficult to spot these middlemen as they hover around in colleges during the green season that is admission time, looking for potential clients. They market themselves very efficiently and even carry pagers and mobiles so that they are accessible all the time! However, the difficult task is to find the right agent. With the advent of such trends, there are a lot of rookies who, for the sake of making a quick buck, venture into this free-for-all enterprise and find themselves at the wrong end of the stick. They not only run into trouble with the already established agents who view their entry as a potential threat to their business, but also find that they are not able to procure admission for their clients. But this does not stop them from squandering the money that the helpless student has paid them.

Such was the case of Ashish Mehra, currently in the last year of his graduation. He was kept waiting endlessly for seven long months by an agent who later duped him off his money too. The extent to which the agent had gone to convince him about his admission in a college at Senapati Bapat Road, was amazing. He had even got a forged letter from the principal stating that he has got admission, which came with the college stamp and the principal's signature! This gruelling experience has left Ashish shaken. The story does not end here, if the student wishes to get out of the clutches of these agents, he again has to pay a price. Otherwise he is threatened and his original marksheets are not returned to him. It's almost a double edged knife. And there is nothing the police can do about it. There is no agreement signed between the agent and the candidate, so the police can't really prove anything. Moreover, the agents being locals, have the necessary "connections" with almost everyone and there is really nothing that an outstation student can do, but to give into his demands. The institute, of course maintains a clean slate by warning the students in its brochure, to be wary of such people.

Apart from the admissions, the ease with which the marks are altered is quite remarkable. And yes, there are few well out lined `Do's and Don'ts' involved in the procedure. According to reliable sources, the surest way to get your marks changed is before the results have been declared! This way, there is no danger of your marksheet being forged and the student getting into trouble. The system of tampering with the marks after the results have been declared, is truly not worth the trouble they say. The ones that have been altered were later found to be forged, which ultimately threw the student into a bottomless pit of problems. When questioned about it, the Vice-Chancellor of Pune University maintained, "There have been no cases where people from the department has been held responsible for changing the marks. The stray incidents which have occurred have been brought to the notice of the police and have been found out to be the work of outside elements." However, the students have a different story to tell. Deepak, who is presently in his third year of engineering, confesses that he had to pay around Rs.20,000/- to clear his second year, to a college official. It is a wee bit easier when you give your marks for revaluation.

There are other students like Deepak who spend every year trying to get their marks `adjusted'. Though the results have not always been in their favour. But then in some stray cases, money has played a vital role. Which does not come as much of a surprise, considering corruption has seeped into every fibre of our society. Most of us don't even bat an eyelid since we are aware of these activities happening around us. But the alarming part is the fact that all this is carried out quite openly because parents have accepted the bitter mantra, that money and not merit is an important ingredient in shaping the future of their children. And education, rather than being a medium for propagating social discipline, has turned into a money minting machine!

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