Even Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t touch the VYAPAM Scam with a barge pole. Simply because it’s likely it would be the last thing he would ever touch! With 48 deaths of accused or witnesses (mostly unnatural and mysterious) in its wake it would be surprising if anyone would stick his neck out in the case knowing fully well that he could well be – #49 !!! Read on at your own peril , lest you know too much as well!
Third term as Madhya Pradesh (MP) CM & Shiv Raj Singh Chauhan was riding the crest of the largest and strongest wave of his political career, until it hit a breaker named – VYAPAM -acronym for MP Vyavasayik Pareeksha Mandal or MP Professional Examination Board (MPPEB).
The MPPEB, has been responsible for the conduct of entrance exam for professional courses since 1982.In 2011, its scope was widened to include all appointments except the gazetted ones. Overarching powers, rampant unemployment and the lure of the professional courses, made VYAPAM a lucrative proposition for anyone who was wily enough to exploit its potential for generating ill-gotten wealth. It was too good an opportunity to be missed.
And it wasn’t missed.
In 2009,Paras Saklecha, a one term independent MLA from Ratlam and an academic first raised the issue of alleged irregularities in the conduct of exams by VYAPAM in the State Assembly. Soon, Anand Rai, a government doctor, filed a PIL as well as a police complaint on the same issue. Undertones transformed into overtones and VYAPAM was now mired in a full-fledged controversy. An inquiry commission was then formed and submitted its report in 2011.Subsequently,certain admissions were cancelled and numerous cases were investigated.
Intriguingly, the Government’s actions did not act as a deterrent. VYAPAM’s own records suggest the number of irregularities in admissions kept increasing from 42 medical seats cancelled out of the allotted number in 2008 to 85 in 2009, 90 in 2010, 98 in 2011, 286 in 2012 and 439 in 2013.If observed, though the figures are for the medical seats only, the irregularities saw a significant jump in 2011 when a massive number of departmental recruitment too were brought under the banner of VYAPAM, ostensibly for streamlining the process and to introduce transparency in the system. But all it did was add more lusture to VYAPAM and made the professional and recruitment exams a ripe ground for the conspirators to exploit.Their impunity obviously resulted from the fact that they were comfortable in the knowledge that their “patrons” would cover for them.
This state persisted till 2013, when the edifice of VYAPAM took a body blow.Indore Police on a tip off arrested 20 impersonators on the eve of the PMT. The subsequent investigations blew the lid over what is today known as the VYAPAM Scam and the Indore Crime Branch discovered that VYAPAM had been completely compromised.
The façade of fairness had crumbled completely and Shivraj Chouhan found himself in the middle of a raging fire, for it was under his watch as the Minister overseeing VYAPAM that it had degenerated into a corruption mired sloth which was playing with the futures of young aspirants and hollowing out the credibility of the departments it was carrying out recruitments for.
This coupled with sensational allegations from Anand Rai impelled the CM to constitute a Special Task Force (STF) to investigate the VYAPAM Scam. The STF found that the rigged tests were the PMT 2008-13, Pre-PG medical test for 2012 and recruitment exams for contract teachers, food inspectors, police constables and Ayurvedic medical officers. A total of 167exams were now under the scanner.And a probable Rs 10000 crores exchanged hands !
The modus operandi in the VYAPAM Scam was based on impersonation, where a brilliant student sat on behalf of another candidate after having duly affixed his own photo on the admit card. This photo was later changed after the exam. Favoured candidates were also made to sit within an “engine and bogey system” where a proxy candidate or another impersonator sat between two others (bogeys) who would then copy from his (engine) answer sheets. Lastly, targeted candidates were advised to leave the answers blank on the OMR sheets and they would later fill the answers based on the high grades they were awarded in the test !It was obvious that none of this was possible without the active collusion of students, parents,examiners, VYAPAM officials and a well-oiled network of middlemen and VIPs who were recommending the candidates. For the record, success at the PMT was guaranteed at Rs 15 lacs and for the PG seats at Rs 50 lacs.
Arrests of middlemen led to the revelation that the principal system analyst Nitin Mahindra could get any candidate selected at will. He was found to be in cahoots with the chief controller of exams and Chairman at VYAPAM, Pankaj Trivedi. The arrests of these bigwigs clearly indicated that there was more to the scam as these individuals could not have run such an elaborate scheme without political patronage and blessings. VYAPAM had been stinking all along only that the stench was ignored by the CM, how can such an elaborately layered scam be perpetrated without anyone getting a whiff of it unless fate intervened?
The STF hired a free lance and ethical hacker and forensic expert , Prashant Pandey, to recover data from VYAPAM computers and call data records. An Excel sheet conforming to meticulous details of the transactions carried out by Mahindra was recovered ,giving out records of the candidates, the amount paid by them and the name of the middleman and the VIP/ individual recommending these candidates. In addition, Pandey retrieved another 40 GB of incriminating data as well as Call Data Records (CDRs) wherein he recovered SMS trails between various middlemen and the ones promoting the candidates.
This was the turning point in the investigation for more than one reason.
Not only did it lead to numerous skeletons jumping out of closets but also set in motion a sequence events that would eventually lead to the demolishing of the Shivraj legacy.
Based on these details and findings and the excel sheet records the STF went on to file 55 cases and 45 of them for professional courses and the other 10 for irregularities in the recruitments. The arrests made were spectacular as well and demonstrated how deep set the rot was. Dr Jagdish Sagar, known to be close to the BJP was arrested with a list of 317 PMT candidates he was going to target, barely days before the PMT counselling. State Minister for Technical Education, Laxmikant Sharma, was arrested for fraud in relation to a case in the recruitment of contract teachers. His OSD , OP Shukla was arrested for taking 85 lacs from Mahindra and Trivedi, and his PA Sudhir Sharma was arrested for his role as a middleman and a facilitator. Numerous bureaucrats and their relatives were also arrested for their role and participation in the scam. Quoting the Hindustan Times, Dhanraj Yadav, former OSD to governor, is accused of being involved in the recruitment of a large number of candidates. and the biggest catch of them all, Governor Ram Naresh Yadav was booked for allegedly accepting bribes from five people for recruiting them as forest guards.The CM’s then personal secretary Prem Chandra Prasad was also implicated in a case involving his daughter but was, allegedly, never pursued seriously.Names of RSS Chiefs and other Sangh Parivaar functionaries also figured as the sponsors of candidates.
During this time Prashant Pandey turned whistle blower when he despaired that the STF was not taking action against the CM, to whom it was reporting, and against his wife Sadhna Singh , who had both purportedly figured in the excel sheet retrieved by him.He alleged that the STF had replaced Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s name with the letters “CM” and with the name of the former MP CM ,Uma Bharti. He handed over the data to the Congress Party’s Digvijay Singh, who in turn used it to file a case in the MP High Court, making a case against Shivraj Chauhan as the kingpin and arguing that the STF was deliberately going slow in the case and instead of going after the real mastermind was simply filing cases against parents and children and also harassing them.
The MP CM’s and his wife ,Sadhna Singh’s name also cropped in cases pertaining to their relative’s being recruited as well as ineligible candidates being recruited from their native districts (these candidates were later disqualified)The CM was also accused of changing the rules of VYAPAM to suit his interests.
Following various writs against the STF and for handing over the investigations to the CBI the MP High Court constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to monitor the work of the STF.
All this while a spate of deaths and suicides started. Namrata Damor, a student of Indore Medical College was found dead in 2012.Her death was termed suicide in spite of the autopsy report suggesting violent homicide. Two years hence her name figured in the list of fraudulent candidates. She was allegedly close to Dr Jagdish Sagar and probably knew too much about the unfolding scam. Similarly almost 40 others also died, including the Governor’s son , Shailesh Yadav, who had been named as an alleged recipient of bribes. According to the STF’s own records 23 of the deaths were unnatural (suspicious or a result of accidents) and most were of people in the age group of 25 to 30, yet these deaths were not being independently probed. With each death the pressure on the Shivraj government increased to call for a CBI probe of the scam and the STF came under fire for failing to protect the witnesses and others involved. But the MP Government did not relent and continued to repose faith on the discredited STF.
In a dramatic turn of events, the case filed by Digvijay Singh based on the details provided by Prashant Pandey was thrown out by the MP High Court on the grounds that the SIT had found the data on Pandey’s pen drive to be forged ! The SIT never commented on the fact that it was the same Excel sheet which was relied upon for arresting so many others then how is turning out to be forged now??? The SIT also claimed that the SMS details provide by Pandey were inadmissible as they were obtained illegally hence their worth as evidence was void! But it could atleast have clarified whether the SMS sequences were authentic or not irrespective of the source.Why discount his fact after all???Pandey was also arrested for the forged data and certain STF staff were booked for hiring private investigators in an ongoing government inquiry. This totally turned the tables on the opposition and the MP CM found some breathing space. The MP Governor too won a reprieve as he had in a separate case suggested that the data could be forged and hence the FIR against him should be quashed. The opposition though maintained the pressure but the fizz was out from its drive against the CM.
The situation changed dramatically between 28 June and 06 Jul 15, when four deaths of people related to the VYAPAM Scam, occurred in quick succession. Two amongst them were police constables who were allegedly accused of being the beneficiaries of the scam (though this was denied by the MP CM) and one was the dean of the Jabalpur Medical College ,Arun Kumar, who was assisting the CBI in the investigations.The most shocking was the death of TV Today Group journo, Akshay Sigh , who collapsed and died of a heart attack moments after interviewing the family of Namrata Damor as part of his investigations into her alleged murder and its connect with the VYAPAM Scam.
The almost daily sequence of deaths shook the entire nation and VYAPAM was finally and firmly on the national mind scape. The details started tumbling out and it became increasingly embarrassing for the MP CM, whose position was fast becoming untenable. VYAPAM had become synonymous with death. And Shivraj Chauhan was losing the perception battle at an alarming rate. The general impression now was that there was a systematic cover up and the manner of elimination suggested shielding of influential individuals.The taint on the CM and his wife now returned to haunt them.With the death toll at 48 (the government though claims lesser) the sensationalism around the scam was at its peak. And with each new dawn it seemed one more VYAPAM Scam accused or witness or anyone possessing information on it would bite the dust till there were none left to depose or provide information!!
In the aftermath of the turn of events, the Supreme Court of India (SC) took cognizance of the matter in response to appeals filed by Digvijay Singh, Kapil Sibal and three other VYAPAM whistle blowers including Prashant Pandey, Anand Rai and Ashish Chaturvedi,to hand over the case to the CBI.Faced with imminent handing over of the case, Shivraj Chuhan then proceeded to , belatedly, approach the MP HC for the same. The MP HC however deferred the hearing and the SC eventually made the CBI responsible for the case.
This Amul Advertisment on the VYAPAM Scam featured in the midst of the raging controversy and after the spate of deaths of individuals related to the scam.It depicts the Amul Girl as a student sitting in a class room and scratching her head in a bid to figure out what exactly was going on that led to so many suspicious deaths.The sequence of question marks is as much a take on the VYAPAM Emblem – ? – as it is on the big question mark the scam had itself turned out into.
The Tag Line ….Dial M for Madhya?… is a spin on the name of the famous Alfred Hitchcock thriller “Dial M for Murder” , which is about a perfect murder plot. And in this case is a not so subtle and scathing commentary over the spate of alleged murders that took place in Madhya Pradesh in relation to the VYAPAM Scam and ostensibly left no evidennce to prove them.
The Punch Line …Play Safe…. Endorses Amul Butter as a safe product but also echoes the dominant sentiment of the time that it is better the people who knew about the VYAPAM Scam played it safe than being sorry later. If they were around at all !
In this entire sordid saga, the MP CM emerges as the man who would rue his missed opportunities to unravel the scam when he could have. His slow start to the investigations in the initial years, ignoring the scam as something that would blow away while winning a third term, not going for the removal of the Governor when he was named in an FIR, not going in for independent investigations in the numerous suspicious deaths, not handing over the case to the CBI in the face of the STF’s incompetence and helplessness are some of the slip ups that he is directly responsible for. Naturally many would argue that perhaps he is himself involved which explains his actions or inaction.This has demolished his “Mama ji” image – a well-wisher for the youngsters – as also his claims for a clean and corruption free administration.
When every action of the ones responsible for the probe was evoking suspicion then why did the MP CM not hand over the case to the CBI? Chauhan’s claims at being the original whistle blower fall flat as the pace of the investigations and the many omissions and commissions of the investigators puncture his attempts at attaining the moral high ground. He is today a lame duck CM, a far cry from the wave rider days, and is badly mauled in the aftermath of the VYAPAM Scam.He proved ineffective in preventing it, prosecuting the accused and also in protecting the witnesses and the key accused. Most damningly, VYAPAM the institution transformed into a monster which epitomizes everything which is wrong with today’s India – rampant corruption, poverty, exploitation, greed, unemployment, political patronage, nepotism, poor governance, lack of moral authority and accountability. The MP CM was all the while content with holding on to power and was least concerned with the fate of the 77 million affected due to the VYAPAM irregularities since 2008. VYAPAM became a synonym for corruption and death under his watch. His legacy is destroyed and his days in the appointment are numbered as well. His fate now hangs in the balance till the time the CBI reports on the veracity of the data presented by Prashant Pandey.
Some may argue that the deaths are being made out to be what they are not as part of an inner party tussle within the BJP and that once adequate collateral damages has been inflicted on Shivraj Singh Chauhan, making his exit imminent, the news reports would die down After all, the media is but a tool in India.Even if this is true, this is also true that the scam happened, 48 people have died and not all of them were meant to die just because they were born (as MP Home Minister and foremer CM Babu Lal Gauur would have us believe), that the STF was impeded in its progress and probably was inhibited too and lastly that VYAPAM has been an unmitigated disaster for the people of MP. For all this alone the truth needs to be found out and accountability fixed.Its a sad commentary when , if it is true, political vendetta leads to scams such as VYAPAM being taken to their logical conclusion !
For having forsaken the well being of the people of MP the CM needs to resign. And now.
However, the rot in MP runs deep and the fact that the Governor Ram Naresh Yadav is an accused is symptomatic of the same. His continuance in the post is baffling when the very same BJP Government in the Centre went hammer and tongs against untainted UPA appointed state governors and eventually replaced them. Obviously, I would ask that is Yadav being handled with kid’s gloves since he knows a little too much about the ones involved???Shamefully, an appeal demanding that the MP Government be asked to seek the Governor’s removal is pending in the SC.Will someone move even now???
Alarmingly, the sequence of actions in VYAPAM have a common chord with some other scams involving the high and mighty. The fodder scam in Bihar saw more than a dozen people connected with it die unnaturally. .Accidents were the major cause then too. Subsequently in the National rural Health Mission scam in UP, two CMOs were shot, a Dy CMO was killed in jail, another was killed in an accident while on his way to meet CBI officials, and a clerk was found dead in a field.
Isn’t it all too convenient in India?
A swift closure to the investigations, independent inquiries into the unnatural deaths, setting up of a new institution with adequate safeguards and speedy justice in the cases seems to be the only recourse towards setting the house in order in MP. Though this seems to be a tall order as with 2000 arrests, 500 absconders and many more to be accused in the future the CBI has its task cut out. Whatever be the measures taken, the long term damage has been done.VYAPAM has single handedly destroyed the credibility of the professional courses and those graduating in them in India.
This is one scam which has come to light and there may be many more VYAPAM’s already underway or waiting to happen. And its likely we may not come to know of most especially since with the way the whistle blowers are “protected” in India, who would put his hand up for the greater cause when his/ her life would be almost certainly endangered.
Play safe has to be the mantra after all.
But the underlying feeling is of despair and dismay that almost anything can be tampered with in our country and if you are connected enough you can get away with it and the money as well. Life is cheap and never more so than in the VYAPAM conundrum.
I would like to personally compliment the kingpins and the masterminds on their modus operandi that it is so perfect that the VYAPAM scam successfully impersonated death and did a good job about it too.
Have I learnt too much?
If my cell phone doesn’t respond hereafter, please dial M for Madhya !