July,9,2015: Understanding VYAPAM Scam
The Vyapam scam is an admission and recruitment scam involving politicians, senior officials and businessmen in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB), popularly known by its Hindi acronym "Vyapam" (Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal), is a Government body responsible for conducting several entrance tests in the state. These entrance exams are used for recruitment to government jobs and for admissions to educational institutes in the state. The scam involved a collusion of undeserving candidates, who bribed politicians and MPPEB officials through middlemen, to get high ranks in these entrance tests.
On a petition regarding the removal of the Governor, the Supreme Court said it shall take it up later and that there is no need to issue notice on it.
Noting that it will not allow even one more death, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered all criminal cases and cases of deaths of persons connected to the Vyapam scam to be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The CBI will be in charge of the investigation from Monday next. A bench led by Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu agreed with Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that the question whether the probe should be monitored by the apex court would be decided later in consultation with the premier investigative agency in the next hearing on July 24.
The Bench slammed the HC for deferring an application made by the Madhya Pradesh government for CBI probe to February 20, saying it merely "wanted to wash its hands off the responsibility by lobbing the ball into the Supreme Court".
Chief Justice Dattu said the High Court will not now "touch the Vyapam cases once we have ordered CBI investigation".
"We will not allow the number of deaths from 36 to 37 or 38. Not one more will die," Chief Justice Dattu told senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Indira Jaising appearing for a batch of petitions filed by Congress leader Digvijay Singh and three whistleblowers.
"The toll is 48… anyway this is not cricket where we can celebrate if the toll hits half century," Mr. Sibal responded.
During the hearing, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi for the Madhya Pradesh government said they are already in favour of CBI probe, and the apex court can decide whatever it wants on whether the investigation should be monitored by the supreme court or not.
"We appreciate the stand of the Attorney General," Chief Justice Dattu reacted to the MP government's stand.
In an earlier hearing, the bench directed the Centre, Madhya Pradesh government and State Governor Ram Naresh Yadav to respond within four weeks on why the Madhya Pradesh High Court order on May 5, 2015 quashing an FIR against the Governor should not be set aside.
On a separate petition regarding the removal of the Governor, the SC said it shall take it up later and that there is no need to issue notice on it.
Mr. Sibal argued that on May 5, the High Court illegally quashed an FIR registered against the Governor in connection with Vyapam scam.
Mr. Yadav was accused of offences under the IPC, Information Technology Act and the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988.
The FIR was quashed on the sole ground that the Governor is protected under Article 361 of the Constitution giving him constitutional immunity.
"So this is the new law of the land. Not even an FIR can be registered if it concerns a high dignitary according to the HC," Mr. Sibal contended.
He said ethics and transparency has taken a beating with the "tainted" Governor continuing in the high office.
However, the court refused plea by Mr. Sibal to order the State to propose for the Governor's immediate stepping down from office.
"No, we are not saying anything now," the CJI said.
Uncanny frequency in the deaths of persons related to the Vyapam scam saw the Supreme Court on Tuesday agree to an urgent hearing on the impartiality and fairness of the investigation into the multi-crore scandal and the requirement for transfer of the cases to the CBI or other central agency.
The Bench had scheduled the batch of four petitions, including one by Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, along with two petitions seeking the removal of the State's Governor Ram Naresh Yadav on July 9.
The whistleblowers are Ashish Chaturvedi, Dr Anand Rai and Prashant Pandey seeking an apex court-monitored CBI probe into the scam.
Further, the Bench would further have to consider the constitutional question raised by five Gwalior-based advocates whether a “tainted” Governor should continue or step down to face investigation like other accused.
Within hours of the Supreme Court stepping in, the Madhya Pradesh government had approached the CBI to take over the investigation of the case from the Special Task Force monitored by the Special Investigation Team (STF) set up by the State High Court.
On August 26, 2013, the STF, by notification, was entrusted with the investigation of all cases relating to Vyapam scam. A number of FIRs were lodged by STF in cases relating to illegal admissions/ recruitment totalling 55 cases, of which 45 related to admissions in professional courses and 10 to recruitment in government services on recommendation of high-profile persons.
On April 16, 2014, a set of 14 writ petitions were filed before the High Court of MP at Jabalpur seeking transfer of the investigation STF to CBI. The High Court instead suo motu undertook monitoring of all Vyapam cases.
In July 2014 again, another writ petition filed by Mr. Digvijay Singh sought the transfer of the probe to CBI. The petition alleged that the STF investigation appeared to be “prima facie flawed and meant to shield the principal perpetrators and prosecute the students and their parents”.
On November 5, 2014, the High Court set up a Special Investigation Team of a retired HC judge, a former IPS officer and a technical expert to monitor the STF's work.
On November 28, 2014, the Supreme Court dismissed a batch of petitions challenging the SIT's jurisdiction and powers in the Vyapam scam investigations.
This time, the apex court has looked into specific allegations as to whether the STF and the SIT misled the High Court into dismissing “sensitive” information brought in by an external whistleblower about the alleged involvement of Chief Minister Shiv Raj Chouhan and his family in Vyapam scam. Mr. Singh contends that STF is “ill-equipped and ill-trained to handle the nuances of digital forensics” – a skill crucial for the probe.
The Bench said it will look into death threats faced by whistleblowers on July 24.
20 Years of apathy and corruption
Cases of malpractices in Vyapam scam had been reported since 1995, and the first FIR was found in 2000 in Chhatarpur district. In 2004, seven cases were registered in Khandwa district. However, such reports of malpractice were seen as isolated cases. However, until 2009, such cases were not thought to be part of an organized ring. When major complaints surfaced in the pre-medical test (PMT) in 2009, the state government established a committee to investigate the matter. The commitee released its report in 2011, and over a hundred people were arrested by the police.
Unearthing of VYAPAM Scam
The sheer scale of the scam came to light in 2013, when the Indore police arrested 20 people who had come to impersonate candidates for PMT 2009. The interrogation of these people led to the arrest of Jagdish Sagar, the leader of an organized racket involved in the scam. The state government established a Special Task Force (STF) on 26 August 2013. Subsequent interrogations and arrests uncovered the involvement of several politicians, bureaucrats, MPPEB officials, racket leaders, middlemen, candidates and their parents in the scam. By June 2015, more than 2000 people had been arrested in connection with the scam. These included the state's ex-education minister Laxmikant Sharma and over a hundred other politicians.
By June 2015, more than 2000 people had been arrested in connection with the scam.
Impersonation: In this, all the detail is in the admit card, including name, date of birth, and roll numbers, of the candidate who is applying for the seat. However, the photograph is of the impersonator. An impersonator is one who writes an exam on behalf of someone else. In such cases, they are brilliant students who can score very high marks. The concerned officers on the examination board change the photograph back to that of the original candidate after the exam.
Engine and bogie system: A person is fixed by people on the board whose work is like that of an engine. He/She is seated strategically between two other candidates who want a seat. The engine helps them copy from his/her own paper. The examiners are usually bribed to fix the seating arrangements.
OMR sheets: The select candidates are advised to leave their answer sheets blank. They are randomly given high percentages after the exam. They then fill in the answers in the OMR booklet according to the marks they have already been given.
Vyapam admitted in the High Court that 1020 forms were missing and 346 imposters had appeared in the exam. Vyapam officials admitted in the court that 1120 candidates appeared in the exam but their forms were missing because Vyapam official and accused Nitin Mahendra had tampered with the Computers in which the records were stored. The STF has presented charge-sheet against 28 accused, including Jagdish Sagar, in Indore Court. The fact that the charge-sheet includes details of 3292 different offences and more than 92,176 documents is indicative of the enormity of the scam.
Saga of Deaths
A number of people connected to the scam and its investigation, died during the course of investigation. The opposition parties and activists alleged that several of these deaths happened under suspicious circumstances. In 2015, the Special Task Force (STF) submitted a list to High Court, naming 23 people who are believed to have died "unnatural death". According to the STF, most of these deaths took place before it took over the investigation in July 2013.
Some media reports claimed that 40+ people associated with the scam had died under mysterious circumstances.