July 26, 2015

Vyapam: A Massive Scam and Suspicious Deaths

Navendu Chakraborty

THE Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh is a massive admission and recruitment scam involving key politicians, senior officials and businessmen. The Madhya Pradesh Professional Board (MPPEB), popularly known by its Hindi acronym “Vyapam”, is a government body responsible for conducting several entrance tests in the state. These entrance tests are for recruitment to government jobs and for admission to educational institutes. The scam involved a collusion of undeserving candidates, who bribed politicians and MPPEB officials through middlemen, to secure high ranks in these entrance tests. MPPEB was established for the purpose of conducting entrance tests for admissions to engineering and medical colleges. Earlier, these admissions were made on the basis of marks obtained in HSSC but this system proved to be faulty because several candidates got selected on the basis of marks secured through unlawful means.

Following intense struggle by the Students’ Federation of India, the then political dispensation was forced to start the Pre-engineering Test (PET) and Pre-medical Test (PMT). The irony is that a reliable system of selections has been converted into the most unreliable and corrupt system in the BJP era. A Public Interest Litigation in the Madhya Pradesh High Court exposed this scam. A whopping 1,087 fraudulent selections have been unearthed, resulting in charge-sheets to more than 2,500 persons. After major irregularities surfaced in PMT in 2009, the state government had to establish a committee to investigate the matter. The committee submitted its report in 2011, and over a hundred people were arrested by police. A Special Task Force (STF) was established in 2012. The sheer scale of the scam came to light in 2013 when it was revealed that several officials and politicians were involved in it. By June 2015, more than 2,000 persons were arrested in connection with the scam. These included the state’s former education minister Laxmikant Sharma, over a hundred politicians, several MPPEB officials, bureaucrats, middlemen, students and their parents, and businessmen. Now, the question is how can it be possible that Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was not aware of this large-scale scam and the involvement of a member of his cabinet?

In 2007, the BJP government extended to MPPEB the responsibility of selection of food inspectors, forest guards, forest inspectors, subedars, sub-inspectors, platoon commanders, police constable, and to Milk Federation posts among others. According to the whistleblower, different tricks -- from impersonation to paper leak and copying – were used to benefit undeserving candidates.

RSS-BJP Involvement

Compelling circumstances forced the investigators to bring minister, many officials and BJP leaders to book. An FIR was also lodged against Governor Ram Naresh Yadav, but it was later withdrawn following court order. The high court constituted a three-member SIT to monitor the STF probe. STF has filed charge-sheets involving 3292 crimes with 92,176 documents. But SIT or STF does not seem to be interested in catching the big fish, rather may be having intention of protecting them. SIT itself admitted that hard discs of computers have been tampered with. Computer expert of MPPEB Prashant Dube has deposited the original excel sheet and documents in high court in March 2013. Months before this, he had given details to Narendra Modi and Madhya Pradesh minister Kailash Vijayvargiya. As no action was taken, he approached court. This whistleblower has complained about risk to his life.

The original excel sheet presented in Delhi court shows that name of Shivraj Singh Chouhan appeared 48 times. The scam of about Rs 1,000 crore has been attempted to be hushed up in a manner that even the hard disc had been tampered with. Later the hard disc was sent to a laboratory in Gujarat, which has prepared a ‘favoured’ report in the Ishrat Jahan case. The real objective of the state administration is to destroy any evidence which may tend to incriminate the chief minister, his wife, former RSS chief, and several other RSS men. It has been found during the probe that 350 telephone calls were made from the Chief Minister’s residence. In 200 cases, recommendations came from ministers. The PA to a minister was reported to have admitted to receiving Rs 85 lakh as bribe. It has also been found that former RSS chief Sudarshan had recommended the name of his personal assistant to the post of food inspector.

Threats to Whistleblowers, Activists

Anand Rai, who filed an FIR leading to the investigation in the scam, received threat calls. He also claimed that ‘contract killers’ were hired to murder him. Ashish Chaturvedi, a Gwalior-based social activist, lodged complaint against eight persons including Gulab Singh Kirar’s son Shakti Singh. Kirar is a relative of the chief minister. Chaturvedi has also petitioned before CBI seeking a probe into admissions of 5,000 students in MBBS and PG courses in 2003-13 in the state. He suffered three attacks on his life, including an abduction bid. Prashant Pandey, a former IT consultant hired by the Special Task Force (STF), was arrested on the charges of blackmailing. He claimed to be a whistleblower in the case. He has charged the investigators with shielding the chief minister.

String of Mysterious Deaths

A number of people connected to the scam and its probe died during the course of investigation. A 25-year-old medical student, Namrata Damor’s disfigured body was found near railway tracks in Ujjain. The government claimed her death to be a suicide, but her family has alleged that one of the Vyapam accused is behind her murder. Narendra Singh, a 29-year-old veterinary doctor, died in Indore jail. The authorities claimed his died of heart attack whereas according to the records available in jail hospital, he has been admitted for stomach pain. In the whole Vyapam episode, 44 deaths have occurred, although the government’s reports subscribe to only 25 deaths. These deaths include the Governor’s son Shailesh Yadav (reported to have died of heart attack), Vijay Singh (died in a hotel of one BJP leader in Kanker), and Dean of Jabalpur Medical College D K Sakalle (died of burn injury). The insensitivity and brazenness of the BJP government was clear in the remarks of Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Babu Lal Gaur: “One who has come to this earth has to go one day, be it king or a poor man… One day every man has to die -- be it on rail or in jail.”

Despite mounting public pressure, the opposition’s demand has not been met completely yet. The opposition’s demand is not only for a CBI probe. It is in everybody’s knowledge that CBI is a police agency under the control of the central government. When the Union Home Minister and Finance Minister have given a clean chit to the state government, then just a CBI probe may distort facts. When the ruling party can politically misuse CBI against opposition leaders, then they can do the same thing to save their own men.  Therefore, the demand is for a CBI probe under the supervision of the Supreme Court. However, after taking charge of the investigation, CBI has raised doubt over the role of STF in the investigation. Widening its probe, CBI on Friday registered five more cases in the Vyapam scam including one of murder in the mysterious death of Namrata Damor whose case had been called a suicide by police and also filed a preliminary enquiry in the sudden demise of Aaj Tak journalist Akshay Singh, who was covering the scam. A definite time-frame must be fixed for CBI to conclude the enquiry.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi kept his silence on this vital issue and went on a foreign tour without saying anything on this or accepting the popular demand for a CBI enquiry. CPI(M) has taken a serious exception to his silence on every corruption case of his government and BJP-led sate governments. “There is not a single word on this entire sordid affair. So, nobody knows what the Prime Minister is thinking,” CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury wondered.

Now that CBI enquiry has started, one can hope that every one responsible for this scam will be brought to book and all the deaths will be put under CBI scan and those who have caused these deaths will face the consequences. Certainly, people’s wrath, indignance and discontent against the state and centrals governments will bring about a situation in people’s favour. (END)


MP Observes Bandh

Demanding Resignation of CM

A statewide strike was observed in Madhya Pradesh on July 16 to protest against the Vyapam scam and subsequent deaths of people associated with it and to demand the resignation of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The strike was complete. The bandh call was given by four Left parties, in coordination with SP, Janata Dal (S), Janata Dal (U), Rashtriya Samanta Dal and three other democratic and secular parties. The Congress too gave a separate strike call on the same day.

The Left parties -- CPI(M), CPI, SUCI(C) and CPI(ML) Liberation – also observed a statewide Protest Day on July 8 on the same issue. The Left parties have been demanding that the CBI probe ordered into the scam and subsequent deaths be monitored by the Supreme Court. Our other demands include the resignation of Chouhan and removal of Governor Ram Naresh Yadav.

On July 16, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Subhashini Ali led a demonstration of the Left Parties in Bhopal. Addressing the gathering at Itwara Chowk of Old Bhopal, Ali said an impartial probe will not be possible unless the nucleus of this scam, Chief Minister Chouhan, tenders his resignation. She demanded the resignation of the Governor also. The previous Congress governments had indulged in various scams putting heavy losses on the state exchequer, but the BJP dispensation has sold the future of crores of children, she said, reiterating the demanded for a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe.

Referring to Narendra Modi’s pre-election slogan of ‘na khayenge, na khane denge’ against bribery and corruption, Ali said the real slogan was ‘hum khayenge, janta ko khana bhi nahi khane denge’. That is why, during the past one year, we have witnessed various scams involving Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje, Raman Singh and Sushma Swaraj. As BJP leaders indulged in corrupt practices, the poor of the country suffered due to rising prices and attack on their livelihood.

Several intellectuals including Sahitya Akademy awardee Hindi poet Rajesh Joshi, renowned Urdu litterateur Afaque Ahmed, Urdu poet Anware Islaam, writer Ram prakash Tripathi, and story writer and painter Manoj Kulkarni participated in the meeting and procession, expressing solidarity with the Left. Afaque Ahmed, speaking on behalf of the intellectuals, said that as a teacher he is pained to see that while conspirators and manipulators of the Vyapam scam are free and ruling the state, more than 1,500 students have been put behind the bar. He termed the whole episode a slanderous one.

The meeting was also addressed by CPI(M) state secretary Badal Saroj, SUCI(C) state secretary Pratap Samal, CPI state secretariat member Roop Singh Chouhan. Similar demonstrations were held in all the big towns of the state including Gwalior, Morena, Bhind, Guna, Jabalpur, Indore and Rewa. (END)