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 another Central agency.
A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu, did not take much time to agree with lawyer Vivek Tankha and former Additional Solicitor-General Indira Jaising’s requests to take up a batch of petitions raising questions about the probe and the alleged involvement of “high dignitaries” in the scam.
The Bench scheduled for July 9 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 Governor Ram Naresh Yadav.
“We will hear it all together. Please come the day after tomorrow ... we will hear you,” Chief Justice Dattu said.
Within hours of the Supreme Court stepping in, the Madhya Pradesh government 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.
If the Supreme Court agrees to take the investigation off its hands, it will be a smear on the STF, which has been probing the case since 2013.
On August 26, 2013, the STF, by notification, was entrusted with the investigation of all cases relating to the Vyapam scam. A number of FIRs were lodged by the 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.
The STF is, however, no stranger to litigation questioning its intentions. On April 16, 2014, a set of 14 writ petitions were filed before the High Court of M.P. at Jabalpur seeking transfer of the investigation from the STF to the CBI. The High Court instead suo motu undertook monitoring of all Vyapam cases.
Seeks transfer of probe In July 2014 again, another writ petition filed by Mr. Singh sought the transfer of the probe to the 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.
‘Sensitive information’ On July 9, the Supreme Court would re-visit Vyapam. This time, the apex court would have to look 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 Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his family in Vyapam scam. Mr. Singh contends that the STF is “ill-equipped and ill-trained to handle the nuances of digital forensics” — a skill crucial for the probe.
The court would also have to address the issue of whistleblowers who have approached it claiming threats to their lives.
Further, the Bench would 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.