Sunday Anchor

Autopsy of Vyapam scam

Examination fraud, a series of mysterious deaths, powerful figures in the dock... 

The details of the Vyapam scam remind one of the script of a cheap pot-boiler. Except, the macabre deaths that have occurred since investigations began have resulted in the Vyapam riddle being engulfed within more and more layers of puzzles.

The first layer of the mystery was brought to light when stray incidents of fraud in medical college examinations, particularly conducted through a system of impersonators posing as actual candidates, were reported from Madhya Pradesh starting 2007 and perhaps even earlier. With the arrest of one of the kingpins, Jagdish Sagar, in July 2013, the first breakthrough was made in the investigation.

A list with names of 317 candidates was confiscated from Dr. Sagar’s house and as investigations progressed, it was soon clear that the scam involved the role of professional racketeers and had ramifications beyond even the medical exams. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led State government quickly handed over the case to the police’s special task force, a unit that had been set up to deal with cases of organised crime.

There were apprehensions initially, raised especially by the opposition Congress, that the STF would not be effective and would be used to protect influential members of the State government allegedly involved in the scam, but the agency started moving fairly quickly. The first charge sheet was filed in an Indore court in October 2013 in what was then known only as the PMT, or Pre-medical Test, scam. The chargesheet said that 438 candidates had tried to gain admission illegally to medical colleges.

In September, the task force arrested Pankaj Trivedi, the then Controller of Examinations on the Vyapam Board. Following his arrest, Mr. Trivedi began to confess to a whole range of misdemeanours. He revealed that the scam was not just confined to the Pre-medical Test but also involved at least five recruitment tests conducted by the Professional Examination Board. These included food inspector, milk federation, contract teachers, Subedar-sub inspector and police recruitment tests.

More crucially, he divulged the names of some powerful people who had been connected with the scam, including Laxmikant Sharma, the Minister for Technical Education, and Sudhir Sharma, a mining baron who had allegedly taken control of the entire racket that Vyapam was running. With the revelation of these two names, and their subsequent arrests, several other aspects of the scam began to unravel at speed.

In December 2013, the STF booked Laxmikant Sharma and 129 others to probe their role in manipulating the selection process of contract teachers. Others booked included O.P. Shukla, the officer on special duty (OSD) of the former Minister, and four officials of the Board that conducted the recruitment test.



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deaths

Noting that it will not allow even one more death, the Supreme Court transferred all criminal and death cases linked to the Vyapam scam to the Central Bureau of Investigation for a “fair and impartial” probe.

The Supreme Court has ordered a CBI probe into the multi-crore cash-for-jobs scam in the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board that has resulted in unexplained deaths of key accused and witnesses.

A Trail of graft and gore

  • 1982: Vyaysayik Pareeksha Mandel (Vyapam) set up to conduct entrance examinations for pro-fessional courses
  • 2008: Recruitment tests for government Jobs also included
  • July 5, 2009: Widespread irregularities in recruitments come to light
  • 2009: Medical exam paper leaked; first complaint filed
  • December, 2009: Chief Minister forms panel to probe scam
  • Jul 7, 2013: Police register FIR, arrest 20 impersonators
  • Jul 16, 2013: Jag-dish Sagar, kingpin of scam, arrested
  • Aug 26, 2013: STF takes over probe, 55 FIRs registered
  • Oct 9, 2013: Admissions of 345 examinees cancelled
  • Dec 18,2013: Ex-Higher Education Minister Laxmikant Sharma booked
  • Jun 29, 2015: SIT says 23 people related to scam died due to 'Unnatural causes"; unofficial count puts figure at 46
  • July 7: Chouhan agrees to CBI probe


The names in the case were obtained from the hard-disk of the Board’s chief system analyst, Nitin Mahindra, who allegedly maintained a comprehensive list of those who used to recommend candidates to him, besides details of monetary transactions. Several whistle-blowers and activists tracking the scam say that this hard disk is clinching evidence in the scam and that the STF has actually slowed down proceedings by choosing to focus on other angles after its recovery.

In February 2009, the Congress presented an excel sheet recovered from this hard drive that allegedly had the name “CM” as one recommending the names of several candidates. The authenticity of this excel sheet, however, is still disputed.

The STF, headed by Additional Director-General of Police Sudhir Sahi, carried out the probe until November 2014, making several high-profile arrests, including that of Laxmikant Sharma in May 2014. Hundreds of students were also arrested, though the task force was pulled up on more than one occasion by the High Court for going slow with the arrests and the investigation.

In all, according to a senior official of the task force, the STF had about 500 members working on the Vyapam scam with special offices set up in Bhopal, Indore, Sagar and Jabalpur. The STF was working on 55 different FIRs of which charge-sheets had been presented in 27 cases. About 2,000 people were arrested in the case with another 700 still on the run.

In November 2014, the Madhya Pradesh High Court constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to monitor the investigation even as it rejected a slew of petitions seeking a CBI probe into the case. Petitions filed by the Congress had alleged that the STF could not conduct an impartial investigation and a multi-State agency would do a better job. In June 2015, the SIT reported to the High Court that 23 persons related to the Vyapam scam had died “unnatural deaths”. The spiralling number of “unnatural deaths” and the callousness in some remarks made by ruling party officials brought the scam into the national limelight. This led to repeated calls for the transfer of the case to the CBI which the Supreme Court recently ordered.

With the CBI’s involvement, the State government has somewhat managed to parry criticisms that it had to face. Yet, the arduous road ahead for India’s premier investigative agency cannot be elaborated enough. It is entrusted now, to not only disentangle the cases of fraud, but also to find the link between the macabre “unnatural deaths” and the scam itself.



Modus operandi

by Vidya Venkat
The transgressions began in a relatively small way. It included students impersonating others during entrance examinations. Later, these illegal acts burgeoned into coaching institutions that arranged for student proxies to take these exams. This was then taken up in an even more bigger way by gangs, consisting mostly of doctors.

Soon, before the pre-medical examinations took place every year, prospective students were bribed by gangs to buy question papers for a hefty price and were promised easy admission into medical school. The gangs mixed up the photographs of the students and printed them on the entrance exam tickets so that impersonations became easier.


Unscrupulous practices also took place during the counselling sessions in private medical colleges. Students who were already studying in medical colleges were falsely enrolled into the vacant seats available at the time of admission. These seats, which were shown to applicants in the formal records, were made available to any candidate through a back-door entry system in return for bribes.


The most coveted seats, whistleblower Ashish Chaturvedi says, were for M.D. Radiology and M.D. Paediatrician degrees, considering they led to lucrative earnings and allowed students to set up private practice.Investigations by the SIT revealed that a similar modus operandi was made available to other entrance and recruitment examinations and also used to expand the Vyapam scam.


Vyapam deaths

November 21, 2009: Vikas Singh, middleman, dies after consuming liquor

June 12, 2010: Shyamvir Yadav, middleman, dies in a road accident

June 14, 2010: Anshul Sachan, MBBS student, and Anuj Uikey, a middleman, die in a car accident.

October 26, 2010: Gyan Singh, middleman, dies after consuming liquor

November 20, 2010: Deepak Verma, middleman, dies in a road accident

January 7, 2012: Namrata Damor, MBBS student, body found near railway tracks

October 25, 2012: Aditya Chaudhary, middleman, commits suicide

November 7, 2012: Anantram Tagore, allegedly paid bribes for a seat, dies of cancer

November 28, 2012: Arvind Shakya, middleman, allegedly pushed off a bus

April 21, 2013: Pramod Sharma, accused in police constable recruitment scam, commits suicide

May 12, 2013: Kuldeep Marawi, middleman, dies in a road accident

May 17, 2013: Premlata Pandey, accused in teachers’ recruitment scam, dies of liver cancer

August 10, 2013: Ashutosh Tiwari, middleman, dies after drinking liquor

September 15, 2013: Tarun Macchar, accused of impersonation, dies in road accident

October 9, 2013: Anand Singh Yadav, middleman, dies in a road accident

December 26, 2013: Devendra Nagar, middleman, dies in a road accident

January 21, 2014: Bunty Sikarwar, middleman, commits suicide

February 1, 2014: Deepak Jain, middleman, dies in a road accident

February 14, 2014: Dinesh Jatav, middleman, dies in a road accident

April 20, 2014: Vikas Pandey, middleman, dies of brain haemorrhage

June 15, 2014: Ravindra Pratap Singh, middleman, commits suicide

July 4, 2014: D. K. Sakalley, Dean of medical college, charred body found

July 13, 2014: Narendra Rajput, middleman, dies of illness

January 16, 2015: Lalit Golaria, MBBS student, body found under a bridge

January 15, 2015: Ramendra Singh, accused, commits suicide

February 18, 2015: Amit Sagar, veterinary student, body found dead in pond

March 25, 2015: Shailesh Yadav, son of M.P. Governor and accused, found dead

April 28, 2015: Vijay Singh Patel, pharmacist and middleman, body found in a lodge

June 28, 2015: Narendra Singh Tomar, assistant veterinary officer, dies of heart attack

June 28, 2015: Rajendra Arya, medical college professor, dies in government hospital

July 4, 2015: Akshay Singh, TV journalist, dies mysteriously

July 5, 2015: Arun Sharma: medical college dean, found dead in Delhi hotel

July 6, 2015: Anamika Sikarwar, sub-inspector trainee, body found in a lake

July 7, 2015: Ramakant Pandey, police constable, found hanging from ceiling fan

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Printable version | Mar 23, 2020 1:33:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sunday-anchor/autopsy-of-a-scam/article7411616.ece

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