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I need a project on market research done by an insurance company,” I say in a shop in Ber Sarai. The owner asks about the project and which college I attend. When I fumble, he hands over a business card, saying, “Email me the guidelines from your professor and we will deliver a project in two-three days.” The charge? Just Rs 2,500.
This is Ber Sarai, a market near IIT-Delhi. It resembles other “community centres” in the city, home to shops that serve local residents — but Ber Sarai is crowded with boards and hoardings that proclaim, “Projects and assignments available”.
The market is close to three education hubs: IIT, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Qutb Institutional Area. So its main patrons are students saddled with assignments and project reports. There are about a dozen shops here, including bookshops (Jawahar Book Depot is a favourite of students preparing for the civil services examinations), cybercafes, a gift shop and a couple of eateries. But the market is best known for getting one’s college or university work done with least effort.
“I don’t go there always, but at times you’re just saddled with too much work and the shops are resourceful,” says Ankit Kapoor, a student of one of the many
B-schools in Qutb Institutional Area. “They make decent project reports, not great ones.” They are rehashed old works, he says, but they get him through.
Pawar Prints is a “reputed” name in this market. The shop, which has been here for over 20 years, even “helps”, as it says on its website, with doctoral theses.
The man at the counter does not take to questions like “Don’t you think this is wrong?” or “Do the professors ever find out?” He says he is doing a service. When it comes to a thesis, he explains, Pawar Prints’s staff spend time with the student and give only “final touches”, helping to present the project in a better way.
What works in Ber Sarai’s favour is tight deadlines. Stu-dents are often working on multiple projects in different subjects at the same time. The lion’s share of projects is done for students pursuing a BBA or MBA. Subjects like marketing, advertising, sales and distribution, branding and market research are the shop owners’ favourites.
Projects cost Rs 500-3,000 depending on “quality”. Quality means number of pages, references, and presentation. Binding and printing are included.
Each shop has a couple of employees to prepare assignments. They may lack formal qualifications but have a decent grasp of English and, with experience, says one shop owner, they get better.
Professors, it turns out, usually can tell when they have landed a “Ber Sarai”. “You can see the quality of work is below par and the report is full of clichéd answers,” says one professor from a college in Delhi University’s South Campus. He adds, however, that there is no way to be sure that a submitted project is from Ber Sarai. Sometimes the data in the report is dated. At other times, the work is evidently not original.
In the days before Google, Ber Sarai thrived on experience. “A lot of students use to sell their old books and notes to us, and we got project reports from there,” says another shop owner. The current sources are old project reports, the Internet, and ex-students and past customers who help out of “goodwill” and keep shop owners up-to-date on curricula.
In recent years, Ber Sarai’s business appears to have been on a downward spiral. Students as well as their professors have become more tech-savvy. “Anything plagiarised isn’t accepted in our college,” says one professor of marketing. But he knows that some students still take “shortcuts”. If they are caught, he says, their projects are rejected and they get no marks.
Students, for their part, treat Ber Sarai as a last and desperate resort. “It’s not a good practice,” says Gauri Prakash, a student of JNU, “and why would I ever want my name attached to something mediocre?”
Names changed for privacy