As many as 25 witnesses and accused persons have died since the multi-crore scam Vyapam scam involving the alleged rigging of thousands of seats for admission and hundreds of government jobs came to light in 2013. Unofficial reports in fact, put the number at over 40.
These shocking numbers have raised serious questions about the increasingly murky nature of the scam and the levels of government it could potentially involve. Going back to 2008, the scam involves politicians, bureaucrats and even the Governor’s family in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state. In a nutshell, it was all about the manipulation in the selection process for government colleges and jobs conducted by the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) or Madhya Pradesh Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal (Vyapam). According to the police, it involved the impersonation of candidates, manipulation of seating arrangements, fake marks and the supply of forged answer sheets.HC monitoring probe
The investigation in the case was handed over to the Special Task Force (STF) of the State police and is being monitored by the High Court through a Special Investigation Team (SIT). In March, the SIT told the Supreme Court that 1,800 people had been arrested while the STF was on the lookout for another 700 people.
Last week, the STF told the High Court that 23 people named in various cases in the scam had died unnatural deaths. The most recent deaths took place on Sunday. Narendra Singh Tomar, a veterinary officer, reportedly suffered a heart attack in jail, and Rajendra Arya, another accused who was out on bail, fell to ‘some disease’ at a Gwalior hospital.
The Madhya Pradesh government on Monday continued to be on the defensive, with Home Minister Babulal Gaur on rejecting the Opposition’s demand for handing over the investigation in the scam to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
“All deaths are natural deaths…. There is no need for a CBI probe,” Mr. Gaur said, adding that the “accused fell ill and died.” Yet the deaths of so many who were either in police custody or out on bail raise serious political implications with the Congress accusing Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan of a cover-up.
“Poor innocent Shivraj Chauhan CM blissfully unaware of this huge scam going on under his nose for 7 years in Bhopal! Unbelievable!”, senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh tweeted on Monday.Whistle-blowerfears for life
There has been a spate of deaths in the case. The most high-profile person to die was Governor Ram Naresh Yadav’s son Shailesh Yadav. He was found dead at his home in Lucknow in March. He was accused of taking money to help 10 candidates from Bhind clear the examination for contractual teachers. Another accused, pharmacist Vijay Singh, was found dead under mysterious circumstances at a lodge in Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district in April. In July last year, Jabalpur Medical College dean D.K. Sakalley, who was also allegedly linked to the scam, died of burns under suspicious circumstances.
Meanwhile, Prashant Pandey, a forensic expert and one of the whistle-blowers who exposed the scam, told PTI that the CBI must probe the deaths of accused and witnesses. “There must be a CBI probe. It is not a coincidence that all the accused are dying of one ailment or another. There is something more to it,” he said. Mr. Pandey said he also fears for his life.