This one move, which won Kumar plaudits then for boosting school enrolment and providing jobs to the educated unemployed, now appears to be blowing up in his face a verification exercise, ordered after a flood of complaints, suggests that forged degrees may have been submitted by over 20,000 who landed these jobs.
Stumped by the sheer numbers involved, the government has until now checked 7,000 of the 1.42 lakh degrees which were cleared for jobs. So far, 779 teachers have been sacked, a state official said.
Another 2,734 teachers have been removed after failing twice to clear a competency test. The government suspects that here again, the majority used forged degrees to get jobs.
The mass recruitment of contract teachers was done in two phases under Shikshak Niyojan 2006 and Shikshak Niyojan 2008. The only criteria were high percentage of marks in class XII, graduation, post-graduation, bachelor of education degrees or equivalent. This practice was stopped in 2012 with the state deciding to hold the TET or teacher eligibility test to draw up a shortlist for final selection.
But it is the appointments prior to 2012 that are under scrutiny.
R S Singh, joint director for primary education, told The Indian Express that over 12,000 complaints regarding appointments made under Shikshak Niyojan 2006 had been received. During this drive, 1.10 lakh teachers were recruited.
Under Shikshak Niyojan 2008, another 32,000 contract teachers were appointed.
Singh said appellate authorities of 38 Bihar districts received 40,000 complaints of appointment made on the basis of forged degrees, of candidates with lower marks being preferred over the complainants.
Tribunals disposed over 30,000 cases but never ordered any probe into complaints of appointments made on forged degrees.
Admitting to lapses in the past, HRD sources said it is standard procedure to verify the degree or education qualification papers of a new teacher before disbursal of his/her first salary.
Of the 779 sackings, the maximum took place in West Champaran (238). Other notables included Vaishali (128), Jamui (106), East Champaran (55), Bhojpur (44), Katihar (34) and Madhubani (27).
As the verification drive plods on, the picture that emerges is grim. Documents accessed by The Indian Express - these are 20 reports of universities and institutes outside Bihar - show that in Kaimur district alone, 354 of the 5,400 appointments made under Shikshak Niyojan 2008 were on the basis of forged degrees. In Bhojpur, 88 teachers have been found with forged degrees.
These numbers, one official said, are likely to rise since many of the applicants are suspected to have handed in forged degrees - not yet verified - from universities in Bihar.
But even the verification exercise is under a cloud. It is alleged that in many cases, the very men accused of making these appointments - block development officers, block education officers, district education officers, district programme officers - have been asked to verify the authenticity of these degrees.
Goh block in Aurangabad and Dhamdaha block in Purnea best illustrate how all rules were flouted to push dubious appointments.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express show that in Goh, where 38 teachers were appointed under Shikshak Niyojan 2008, the Aurangabad district appellate authority issued appointment orders on May 6, 2011. But the Goh block education officer had already appointed teachers on February 21 - three months before the order of the appellate authority.
Although appointments formally closed on July 22, 2011, some appointment letters were issued three days later.
The district education officer declared all 38 appointments null and void on November 18 that year but all teachers were allowed to continue in their schools. Degree verification reports from Varanasi and Jaunpur universities show that 12 candidates procured forged degrees to become teachers.
In Dhamdaha block of Purnea, 40 of 43 teachers, appointed under Shikshak Niyojan 2008, were found to have submitted forged degrees. After complaints reached the district education officer and the appellate authority, the district administration issued orders for the dismissal of 40 teachers.
When his comments were sought on the dubious appointments, Saran district education officer Madhusudan Paswan said: It is true that degrees were not verified as per norms. It would have been better to verify degrees of all teachers to ensure transparency. I recall dismissal of seven teachers in Saran for getting jobs on fake degrees.
PART II tomorrow: The men behind the appointments