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The VIP Accused: why we may never know the truth about the Vyapam scam

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:16 IST

The deaths

  • The probe into the Vyapam scam has reached nowhere. The body count is now at 45.
  • The Opposition is demanding that the probe be taken out of Madhya Pradesh.
  • A fair probe is difficult given the number of high-profile people allegedly involved in the scam.

Zone of discomfort: Shivraj Chouhan

  • Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Chouhan handled the medical education department from 2008 to 2012, when fake admissions took place.
  • The scam was brought to Chouhan\'s notice in 2009. The first report of a government inquiry into the scam only came in 2013.
  • The scam unfolded under his watch. He has been unable to prevent the mysterious deaths of people linked to the scam.
  • Congress has demanded Chouhan\'s resignation, calling him the \'kingpin\' of the scam.
  • Chouhan\'s name allegedly figures in an excel-sheet with names of all those involved in the fake admissions. This was maintained by former Vyapam techie Nitin Mohindra.
  • Congress leader Digvijaya Singh released this list at a press conference. He claimed the STF - a special task force of the police which is answerable to Chouhan - had examined a tampered version of the sheet containing Chouhan\'s name.
  • In a puzzling decision, the High Court asked the STF itself to examine this original sheet. The STF promptly concluded the list to be fake. Surprisingly, the High Court accepted the STF\'s conclusions.

The second rung

  • Former education minister Laxmikant Sharma was implicated in the scam. He is in jail since June 2014.
  • Gulab Singh Kirar, chairman of State Backward Classes Commission, and his son are accused. But both are said to be absconding. However, Kirar has been spotted at several functions.
  • Hari Singh Yadav, former Deputy Inspector General of Madhya Pradesh police, has not been questioned by the police. His son-in-law Deepak Yadav is a major accused in the scam.
  • Governor Ram Naresh Yadav is also accused of involvement. He requested immunity and continues in office.
  • Prem Chand Prasad, former Private Secretary to CM Chouhan. Never arrested. Was granted anticipatory bail.
  • Dr. Ajay Mehta, Vice-President, Jan Abhiyan Parishad - a body headed by CM Chouhan - was allegedly involved. No action taken.
  • Sudhir Sharma, mining baron; also former treasurer and head of the BJP\'s state education cell, is another suspect.
  • Sudhir Singh Bhadoria, relative of Union Minister Narendra Tomar, is also an accused. Bhadoria was Controller of Examinations in Vyapam between 2008 to 2011.

What next?

  • Supreme Court will hear pleas related to the scam on 9 July.
  • Many witnesses and whistleblowers have complained that their lives are in danger.

Nobody who is anybody at the Centre or in Madhya Pradesh seems to want a fair inquiry into the Vyapam scam deaths. That is because a number of high-profile names are linked to the scam.

At least 10 Special Investigation Teams across Madhya Pradesh and the Special Task Force (STF) of the state police are probing the scam. The STF probe is being monitored by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, through another SIT. They don't seem to have reached anywhere even as people related to the scam continue to die under mysterious circumstances.

Read more: Why the BJP will stand behind Shivraj Chouhan

No wonder then that the Opposition parties are demanding that the probe be taken out of the state.

CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan's role

There are a host of allegations against the Chief Minister himself. The first is that he was unable to stop the scam from unfolding on his watch.

Although Babulal Gaur was the chief minister when one of the first complaints related to the scam surfaced in 2000, Chouhan had taken over from him by the time the scam was revealed to be the handiwork of a full-fledged organised syndicate in 2007.

The department of medical education, at the centre of the Vyapam scam, was directly under Chouhan from December 2008 to July 2012. This was when fake admissions were held in Pre-Medical Tests, a direct concern of this department.

Even more damaging is the fact that while the scam was brought to Chouhan's notice by activists, whistle-blowers and Opposition leaders in 2009, the first report of a government inquiry into the same did not come until 2013.

It was later discovered that the scam continued throughout this period.

Chouhan's name figures in an excel-sheet released by an IT expert Prashant Pandey who later turned into a whistle-blower in the case. The sheet is said to contain names of all those involved in fake admissions done through Vyapam. It was maintained by former Vyapam techie Nitin Mohindra.

Releasing the list at a press conference, Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh had said that the list that the STF had examined was a tampered version of the original one which contained Chouhan's name.

In a puzzling decision, the High Court asked the STF itself to examine this sheet. The STF promptly concluded the list as fake and surprisingly, the High Court accepted the STF's conclusions.

Other ministers involved

After Chouhan, former education minister Laxmikant Sharma, the most senior minister in the state government, was implicated in the scam. Sharma was arrested by the STF in June 2014 and since then has been behind bars. It is not known so far whether he has disclosed any crucial information that might help investigators in nabbing others still at large.

Sharma's is probably the only example of the STF questioning and arresting a minister.

The STF has not been able to make any headway in apprehending another former minister named in the scam, Gulab Singh Kirar. Kirar was chairman of the State Backward Classes Commission and enjoyed the rank of a Minister of State. He was accused of helping his son secure fake admission in Bhopal's Gandhi Medical College in 2011.

An FIR is registered in the case at Gwalior's Jhansi Road police station. The police has also declared a reward for any information about the whereabouts of his son. Kirar himself is said to be absconding in police records. The Congress has alleged that Kirar has routinely been spotted at public functions even as the STF's records show him to be absconding.

The fake admissions took place during Chouhan's stewardship of the medical education department from 2008-12

Gwalior-based whistle-blower in the scam Ashish Chaturvedi has alleged that former BJP MLA Rakesh Shukla is also involved in the scam but the police is not taking any action against him.

According to Chaturvedi, Shukla's daughter Neha Shukla was reported to have secured admission through fraudulent means in Gwalior Medical College in 2010, but the former MLA managed to pressure the police into hushing up on this case. Not even an FIR has been registered against him.

Other powerful figures

Chaturvedi also names a former senior police officer in the state who has so far evaded the STF's radar. Hari Singh Yadav is a former Deputy Inspector General of Madhya Pradesh police whose son-in-law Deepak Yadav is a major accused in the scam.

Not only is Deepak accused of securing his own fake selection in a medical college in 2006, according to Ashish, he has been instrumental in arranging for over 300 fake admissions in various colleges across the state from 2004 to 2013.

Apart from these, the Congress today named four more powerful people in the state who are accused in the scam. They are either still evading arrest or were arrested long after their names came up in connection with the scam.

These include:

1. Prem Chand Prasad, former Private Secretary to CM Chouhan. He was never arrested by the STF as he was granted anticipatory bail.

2. Dr Ajay Mehta, Vice-President, Jan Abhiyan Parishad - a body that is said to a bridge between NGOs and the state administration. It is headed by CM Chouhan.

3. Sudhir Sharma, mining baron and former treasurer and state president of BJP's education cell.

4. Sudhir Singh Bhadoria, a relative of Union Minister Narendra Tomar. Bhadoria was Controller of Examinations in Vyapam between 2008 to 2011.

The Congress has also named senior leaders of the BJP and RSS whose names it said have appeared in statements of accused. These include heavyweights like Union Minister Uma Bharti, deceased former RSS Sarsanghchalak KS Sudarshan and senior RSS leader Suresh Soni.

Governor's role

In February 2015, the STF registered an FIR against Madhya Pradesh Governor Ram Naresh Yadav in connection with alleged irregularities in recruitment of forest guards through Vyapam. Yadav was also booked under Prevention of Corruption Act.

His son Shailesh Yadav's name too came up during the investigation. However, he later died under circumstances which remain unexplained so far.

Fearing arrest, Governor Yadav moved the High Court pleading special immunity granted by the Constitution to the President and Governors while in office. The High Court stayed Yadav's arrest. He continues to be in office.

The Supreme Court has recently agreed to hear a petition seeking his removal as Madhya Pradesh governor. A Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice HL Dattu, Justices Arun Kumar Mishra and Amitava Roy said that it will hear the petition along with other pleas related to the scam on July 9. The petition was filed by a group of lawyers who have asked for Yadav's removal and recording of his statement in the case.

A whistle-blower's appeal to the PMO

Chaturvedi told Catch that ever since he filed several complaints related to the scam, he started getting threats. He makes a startling claim saying that he suspects the CM himself to be behind these threats as well as a few attempts made on his life. He, however, does not produce any concrete evidence to support his allegation.

He only justifies his suspicion by saying he has documents that prove the CM's direct involvement in the scam and incriminate many others.

Not satisfied with the security provided to him by state police, Chaturvedi wrote to the Prime Minister's Office in September 2014 claiming that he was facing a threat to his life from CM Chouhan. He requested that he be provided adequate security.

The continuance in office of several high-profile figures connected to the scam is a deterrent to a fair probe

He claims that the PMO took action on his letter by writing to the Union home secretary, who in turn wrote to Madhya Pradesh home secretary. Highlighting the absurdity of this entire exercise, he asks how will the state home secretary take cognisance of a complaint against the CM?

Indore-based whistle-blower Dr Anand Rai is in a similar situation. Among the earliest complainants in the scam, Dr Rai says he also keeps getting threats regularly but state administration has made a mockery of his security.

Disappointed with all state agencies handling the scam, Dr Rai has called for a CBI probe into the scam and a special SIT to look into all the deaths.

SC intervention sought

The Union government seems to be warming up to the idea of a CBI probe. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said that he would "immediately accept the demand for a CBI inquiry into the Vyapam scam". However, he added, that neither the Central government nor the state government can ask the courts to order the CBI probe. He claimed that the government will order a CBI inquiry if the High Court or the SC ask it to do so.

However, demands for a probe by a central agency have become louder. Calling Chouhan the 'kingpin' of the scam, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala has said that for a thorough investigation of his role, he must step down as chief minister and submit to an independent inquiry.

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury has also demanded an independent CBI probe in the scam under the supervision of the SC.

Saying that the scam is turning out to be 'an unending chain of state sponsored murders', the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) has demanded that the probe be handed over to a SC-monitored SIT. AAP leader Kumar Vishwas has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the SC, requesting the apex court to probe the scam immediately.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) has also urged the SC to take suo moto action and order an appropriate probe monitored by it into the deaths related to the scam.

It is clear that the continuance in office of several high-profile figures in the state connected to the scam is a major deterrent to a fair probe. Even officers of the STF are reported to have told the SIT that they fear for their lives.

The scale of the scam also appears to be too large for the state police to handle. The jurisdiction is also large since many impostors and touts came from at least three other states. A probe by a central agency under the watch of the Supreme Court might be the only option left now. All eyes will now be on what the apex court does on June 9.

First published: 6 July 2015, 11:48 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.