OPINION

The Vyapam scam trail

The Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh dates back to 2007, with investigations in the case starting after some details came to light in 2013. Officers of the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (Vyavsayik Pareeksha Mandal, or Vyapam) were found to have been rigging a variety of eligibility tests for courses and recruitments for close to six years, perhaps for an even longer period. These included tests for medical entrance, and for those aspiring for government employment as police constables, teachers, banking officials and so on. Over Rs.2,000 crore is believed to have been exchanged as bribes. The State police have arrested some 2,000 people, and are looking for about 700 more. Those allegedly involved include politicians and bureaucrats across the board, as well as the office of Governor Ram Naresh Yadav. The scale of the scandal was shocking enough but it largely escaped national attention until recent reports brought to light a particularly disturbing set of developments — more than 40 of the accused persons or witnesses in the case have died, according to media reports. The State government’s Special Investigation Team recently admitted before the Madhya Pradesh High Court that 23 of these were ‘unnatural’ deaths. Many of the dead were between the age of 25 and 30, and ‘road accidents’ were cited as the leading cause of death. It all points to serious and persisting foul play.

The facts indicate significant lapses on the part of the State government. To begin with, the case is being investigated by a special task force that answers directly to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan — and it seems to have no answers for the spate of suspicious deaths. Worse still, State government officials have appeared callous in their responses and have attempted to just shrug off the matter. State Home Minister Babulal Gaur attributed the deaths to natural causes, adding that “whoever is born has to die one day”. Earlier this year, Chief Minister Chouhan claimed in a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi that the developments regarding the Vyapam scam provided proof of his honesty as he was the one who ordered a probe into it. That claim no longer holds water. Mr. Chouhan, whose reputation for good and clean governance has been damaged by the scam, should now act proactively to recommend an independent probe. Alternatively, the Central government should step in and hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation, before someone ensures that is done by approaching the Supreme Court. That would be hugely embarrassing for the BJP government, which has already lost a lot of its moral sheen.

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