Noting that it will not allow even one more death, the Supreme Court on Thursday transferred all criminal and death cases linked to the Vyapam scam to the Central Bureau of Investigation for a “fair and impartial” probe.
The CBI will effectively be in charge of the investigations from Monday.
A Bench of Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu, Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy said the question whether the probe should be monitored by the apex court can be decided later in consultation with the premier investigation agency.
Slamming the Madhya Pradesh High Court for deferring an application made by the State government for a CBI probe, Chief Justice Dattu said it seemed the High Court merely “wanted to wash its hands of the responsibility and lobbed the ball into the Supreme Court.”
The apex court made it clear that with the CBI on the case now, the High Court will not “touch” the Vyapam cases.
The Special Task Force, supervised by the High Court-monitored Special Investigation Team, has lodged a number of FIRs 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 the recommendation of high-profile persons.
The court scheduled the next hearing for July 24 even as senior advocate Kapil Sibal sought an early date, saying every day, people related to the scam were being found dead.
“We will not allow the number of deaths to go up from 36 to 37 or 38. Not one more will die,” Chief Justice Dattu told senior advocates Mr. Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Indira Jaising appearing in the batch of petitions filed by Congress leader Digvijaya Singh and three whistle-blowers.
“The toll is 48 not 36... anyway this is not cricket that we celebrate if the toll hits half century,” Mr. Sibal responded.
During the hearing, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Madhya Pradesh government, said the State was already in favour of a CBI probe and the apex court could decide whatever it wanted.
The court agreed with Mr. Rohatgi’s submission that it was left entirely to the Bench to decide whether the CBI probe should be monitored by the Supreme Court.
“We appreciate the stand of the Attorney-General,” Chief Justice Dattu said in reaction to the M.P. government’s stand.
Notice against Governor
A Bench of Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu, Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy on Thursday directed the Centre, the M.P. government and State Governor Ram Naresh Yadav to respond within four weeks why a May 5, 2015, order by the High Court, quashing an FIR registered against the Governor linking him to the scam, should not be set aside.
Mr. Yadav was accused of offences under the Indian Penal Code, Information Technology Act, 2000, and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, but the FIR was quashed by the High Court on the sole ground of constitutional immunity.
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.
|1||The Supreme Court ordered the probe be transferred to the CBI. The SC also issued notices to the Madhya Pradhesh High Court, the Central government and M.P. Governor Ram Naresh Yadav on a plea seeking the Governor's removal from his post.|
|2||Police ordered a review of the suspicious death of MBBS student Namrata Damor. Her body was found near railway tracks in the Ujjain district in 2012 after her name figured in the scam. Earlier, police had registered a “murder” case in this regard and later termed the incident as an “accident” and closed the case. >Read more|
|3||Buckling under pressure, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan made a U-turn and decided to seek a CBI investigation into the case. >Read more|
|4||Supreme Court agreed to hear a petition seeking removal of Madhya Pradesh Governor Ram Naresh Yadav over his alleged involvement in the scam. >Read more|
|5||The Congress and Aam Aadmi Party demanded a SC-monitored probe in to the case following the spate of deaths. >Read more|
|6||Adding to the string of deaths, the body of trainee sub-inspector Anamika Sikarwar was found in a lake adjacent to the Police Training Academy at Sagar district headquarters in Madhya Pradesh. The Chief Minister quickly denied that the incident was linked to the Vyapam probe.|
|7||Whistleblower Ashish Chaturvedi, 26, claimed that there was a grave threat to his life and accused Mr.Chouhan of being “directly involved” in the scam, a charge rubbished by the CM.|
|8||It came after the unexplained death of journalist Akshay Singh who was covering the scam in Jhabua while Jabalpur Medical College Dean Arun Sharma, probing fake examinees, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in a hotel at Dwarka in south-west Delhi. Police on Monday said no foul play was suspected in the death of Sharma . >Read more|
|9||Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the government cannot direct a High Court or Supreme Court to order a CBI probe into the scam. >Read more|
|10||Two senior officers of the Special Task Force (STF) investigating the MPPEB scam claimed to have received threats allegedly from some influential people involved in the racket. >Read more|