Untangling the Vyapam Scam Web
Note: This was contributed by the blogger Frustrated Indian. Follow the writer on Twitter @unsubtledesi.
The Vyapam Scam is one of the biggest scams plaguing Madhya Pradesh for decades. It involved a major racket whereby seats in colleges were sold for cash and several exams were rigged by means of payment, impersonation, the bogie system and tampering with OMR sheets of examinations.
Although it has a long and sordid history, the Vyapam Scam has been given extensive coverage in the media recently owing to two deaths in the past few days. Sub Inspector Anamika Kushwaha who was recruited through Vyapam (it was later found that her suicide was related to dowry harassment) and journalist Akshay Singh who was in MP to cover the Vyapam Scam (the post mortem report prima facie says he died due to an enlarged heart. No foul play. No external or internal injuries) were the ones found dead.
The Vyapam Scam isn’t really a scam that has only recently come to light. Related cases were reported in the 1990s (recent RTI queries reveal that Vyapam Scam-related cases have been reported since 1970) and the first FIR was lodged in the year 2000 (Chhatarpur District), and then several cases in the year 2004 (Khandwa District).
Till 2009, it was believed that they’re all unrelated cases and not a part of a larger racket. However, in 2009, an STF was formed by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to investigate the matter.
In 2009, when the severity of the entire Vyapam Scam was unearthed, a committee was formed by Shivraj Singh Chouhan that investigated the matter and submitted its report in 2011. In that year itself, over hundred people were arrested and several students’ admissions stood cancelled.
By 2013, the investigation was being headed by a court-appointed STF. The Madhya Pradesh Government had no role to play in the investigation thereafter.
In July 2013, 20 people were arrested and it was found that the racket was run by Jagdish Sagar since the 1990s. He was arrested in the same month and a list of 317 students was confiscated from him. After intensive interrogation, it was found that Pankaj Trivedi was also involved and was trying to protect the students by appealing that their admissions not be cancelled. In September 2013, Mr. Trivedi was also arrested by the police.
In November 2013, the committee found that 5 other recruitment exams had also been rigged and it filed a 23,000-page supplementary charge sheet to include 34 accused and filed FIRs against 153 people which also led to the arrest of about 127 people in March.
In April 2014, there was a PIL filed in the Madhya Pradesh High Court demanding a CBI enquiry into the Vyapam Scam. The HC struck down that request calling it “devoid of merit”.
On June 2014, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh enquired why several accused were not arrested. This is when former technical education minister Mr. Laxmikant Sharma was arrested.
While the investigation was ongoing, and the noose was certainly tightening around the culprits of this massive Vyapam Scam, one Mr. Prashant Pandey (called Mr. X), an IT consultant hired by the STF was arrested for trying to blackmail the Vyapam Scam accused. He promptly approached Mr. Digvijay Singh of the Congress Party and said he had evidence against Shivraj Singh Chouhan and alleged that the STF had tampered with the contents of the Excel Sheet that could implicate him.
Digvijay Singh then proceeded to submit a 15-page affidavit before the courts accusing the investigators of shielding Chouhan. Both the Excel sheets (one produced by Mr. Digvijay and the other by the investigators) were sent for forensic analysis. It emerged that the one produced by Digvijay Singh was forged.
Digvijay Singh had also petitioned the court to transfer the MPPEB investigation from STF to CBI. Instead, the High Court set up an SIT on 7 November to monitor the investigations held by the STF.
The court gave ample power to the SIT. It included informing the HC of wrongdoings, if any, of the STF. The SIT was to protect the STF of any undue political influence and no official could be transferred by the MP Government. In totality, the STF monitored by SIT was answerable only the HC and no other body.
They were also required to include all details in their charge sheet whether relevant to the prosecution or no. This judgement of the High Court denying the investigation be transferred to CBI was challenged by Mr. Digvijay Singh in the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately for Mr. Singh, the SC shot down his plea as well. While doing so, the SC lauded the investigation process of the STF and the Madhya Pradesh Government for cooperating completely with the investigation. The Supreme Court observed that the STF was functioning professionally and the MP Government was taking steps to strengthen the investigation. The SC commended the STF for registering cases against politicians and high ranking officials and appreciated its work in unravelling more cases related to the Vyapam Scam.
By February 2015, the STF found evidence against Governor Ram Naresh Yadav (in the 2004 general elections, he contested from the Azamgarh constituency on a Congress ticket and lost. His appointment as the Governor was made by the Congress Party). He was charged with criminal conspiracy and rigging the MPPEB Forest Gaurd Recruitment Exams. He had then petitioned a stay on his arrest citing constitutional immunity as he was the governor. The Court had to stay his arrest. It was his son who was found dead in March 2015 under mysterious circumstances.
By June 2015, more than 2000 people have been arrested in connection with the Vyapam Scam. This includes bigwigs from the BJP like the former Technical Education Minister apart from the aforementioned Governor.
Not only does the Vyapam Scam cross party lines, but what makes it murkier is the fact that many people related to the case have been found dead under mysterious circumstances. Though the media is hell bent on relating any and every death to the Vyapam Scam (since fear mongering is always makes for good TRPs), whistleblower Anand Rai himself says that only about 10 deaths were under mysterious circumstances and may be related to the Vyapam Scam itself, though he also stated that all deaths need to be investigated The court has itself asked for a list of people related to the Vyapam Scam who died so that the link, if any, can be established.
After an extremely long chronology of events in this complex Vyapam Scam, certain questions arise:
- The first case related to the Vyapam Scam surfaced in 1995. The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh from 7 December 1993 to 8 December 2003 was Mr. Digvijay Singh from the Indian National Congress. How then, can the onus of the Scam be shifted to the Bhartiya Janta Party and how then, can the Congress Party shrug off the responsibility of the scam?
- Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan was lauded by the Supreme Court of India for his cooperation with entire STF led investigation. What is the basis of alleging foul play except mere lip service?
- The entire investigation was initiated by Mr. Chouhan in 2009. Why didn’t Mr. Digvijay Singh take action given that the scam surfaced during his tenure?
- If the Congress is convinced of Mr. Chouhan’s role, why did Mr. Singh feel the need to submit forged documents as evidence without verification?
- The STF monitored by the SIT under the supervision of the HC is set to submit its final report on the Vyapam Scam on 15 July 2015. After the entire investigation, deemed fair by the SC and HC, why is the Congress insisting on a CBI enquiry which was shot down thrice? If, as the Congress alleges, Mr. Chouhan is guilty, the final report will reflect that. Is the demand for a CBI enquiry a diversionary tactic? Does the Congress suspect that the results in the report can make them very uncomfortable?
- In the entire investigation, several people belonging to both parties, Congress and BJP, have been arrested. That in itself shows the fairness of the investigation.
- Since the culprits belong to both parties in a scam spreading over more than two decades, isn’t the demand for Mr. Chouhan’s resignation unfair?
- The repeated allegation that Mr. Chouhan has refused a CBI enquiry has also been proved baseless, since the Court itself shot down the petition three times. Was all of that mere propaganda by the media? Or was it selective reportage?
- In a scam that encompasses both major political parties of the country, neither party has the moral authority to shrug off responsibility. Why then does the media hurriedly exonerate one and implicate the other especially when the final report is only a few days away?
- Now that Mr. Chouhan has agreed for a CBI enquiry, the focus has shifted from “Why no CBI enquiry” to “He must resign, CBI enquiry not sufficient”. People are dying because of a scam that cuts across party lines and spans over two decades. Playing petty politics while the final report is due, and the Court has agreed to hear plea of shifting investigation to CBI, works well for whom? Certainly not the ones waiting for justice.
- Shivraj Singh Chouhan certainly can’t entirely be unquestionable since there are mysterious deaths relating to the Vyapam Scam that has happened on his watch. Whether he is directly involved in the scam itself is a matter for the courts to decide.
The point of this article is certainly not to implicate the Congress or exonerate the BJP. There are people involved from both parties. The point is to untangle the web of misinformation that has now become synonymous with the Vyapam Scam.
All the evidence available online, the statements of the HC and the SC point towards an investigation that has led to the arrest of thousands including big politicians. A demand for a CBI enquiry can perhaps be aimed towards derailing an investigation that is set to come to a gruelling end this month with the final report submitted by STF. With fresh petitions for CBI enquiry, we can only hope that the truth is not delayed and justice is not denied.
(This was first published in The Frustrated Indian)