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This article is written by Lavish Sharma pursuing B.A LLB. (HONS.) from the Institute of Law Nirma University. This article discusses the Vyapam Scam. 

Introduction

Vyapam, the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board, was provided with the task of carrying out large-scale comparative exams for entry to various technical courses and recruitment to government employment. The Vyapam scam included bribery between exam applicants, government officials and middlemen: high-rankings were given in the exams in return for kickbacks. Brillant graduates (including senior applicants in previous years) or practising doctors were charged to impersonate applicants for the test. The photographs on the candidates’ entry cards were substituted by the picture of the impersonators. It was modified back to the original after the test. This was achieved in collaboration with the crooked members of the board. Cases of malpractice in the Vyapam scam have been registered since 1995 and the first FIR was detected in the Chhatarpur district in 2000. Seven cases were reported in the Khandwa district in 2004. However, these malpractice allegations have been used as single events.

Vyapam Scam

The Vyapam fraud was an entrance test, admission and promotion racket that was exposed in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in 2013. This included scamsters, including legislators, senior and junior officials and entrepreneurs, routinely hiring imposters to write documents, exploiting the seating of the exam hall and supplying fake answer sheets to bribed officials. The fraud included 13 separate exams administered by Vyapam for the appointment of medical students and state government employees (including food inspectors, transport constables, police officials, school teachers, dairy supplies officers and forest guards) where the final results were rigged.

The Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB), popularly known as the Hindi acronym “Vyapam” (Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal), is a self-funded and self-governing body incorporated by the State Government responsible for conducting several state entrance tests. These entrance exams are held for recruitment in government jobs and admission to State educational institutions. The scheme contained a conspiracy of underserved applicants who bribed lawmakers and officials of the MPPEB by middlemen to receive high ranks in such entrance exams.

Cases of anomalies in these entrance exams have been registered since the mid-1990s and the first FIR was filed in 2000. Nonetheless, before 2009, these instances were not known to be part of the coordinated system. When major concerns emerged in the Pre-Medical Test (PMT) in 2009, the State Government formed a committee to examine the issue. The commission released the findings in 2011 and more than a hundred individuals were detained by the authorities. However, none of the defendants was charged, because most of them either died in prison suspiciously or were released on parole. 

The overwhelming magnitude of the racket came to light in 2013, when the Indore police detained 20 people who had come to impersonate candidates for the 2009 PMT. The investigation of these individuals contributed to the arrest of Jagdish Sagar, the chief of the orchestrated fraud racket. The State Government set up a Special Task Force (STF) on 26 August 2013. Subsequent interrogations and arrests exposed the presence of a variety of lawmakers, officers, MPPEB employees, cartel operators, middlemen, candidates and their parents in the scheme. Till June 2015, more than 2,000 suspects were detained in conjunction with the fraud. This included former Minister of Education, Laxmikant Sharma, and more than a hundred other lawmakers. 

In July 2015, the Supreme Court of India released an order to assign the matter to the country’s top investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). In the same year, the Wikipedia entry of the Vyapam racket was the 19th most frequently visited Wikipedia article in the world.

Many senior officials, including Justice Bhushan, who heads the Special Investigation Team and Indian doctors, including Anand Rai (the whistleblower in this case), are of the opinion that the Vyapam racket has been operating since the 1990s when they themselves took their medical exams. They also assume that Vyapam is only the tip of the iceberg, and related “technology” of medical test proxies are already working in other states of India.

Investigations

Specific inquiries into wrongdoing have been carried out by the different city departments of the state police.

Date 

Event

2009-11

A committee set up by the state government, chaired by the State Joint Director of Medical Education, examined anomalies in the PMT test.

26 August 2013

As the involvement of organized crime rackets and politicians in the scam came to light, the State Government created the Police Special Task Force (STF) to probe the scam. Many leaders and legislators, including representatives of the main opposition party, Indian National Congress Party, called for a CBI check in the case under the oversight of the Supreme Court of India. The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, did not originally accept the recommendation of a CBI inquiry into the case.

5 November 2014

Madhya Pradesh High Court also dismissed the petition of Congress leader Digvijay Singh for the CBI case and then directed the formation of a special investigation team (SIT) to serve as a monitor for the court. The SIT is a three-member committee panel.

2014-2015

The fraud was prosecuted by the STF under the oversight of the SIT.

 

On 7 July 2015, the opposition National Congress Party demanded Chouhan’s resignation in order to facilitate a fair trial of the fraud. The request was filed before the High Court for the transfer of the inquiry to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which, however, was directed to postpone the verdict of the Supreme Court on separate applications.

9 July 2015

The Attorney General for India told the Supreme Court that the State of Madhya Pradesh had no opposition whatsoever to the transfer of the inquiry to the CBI, following which the Supreme Court directed the transfer of the criminal cases pertaining to the scam and also the causes leading to the deaths allegedly connected to the scam to the CBI, the country’s chief prosecutor.

Modus Operandi

Many groups worked with the connivance of MPPEB officials to exploit seating arrangements in the review halls and to fill in the answer-sheets of the optical label identification. Although the premium began from Rs 15 lakh for PMT, it was more than Rs 50 lakh for admission to PG (Medical).

Exposing the Scam

2009-2011

A study by the Madhya Pradesh Local Fund Audit Office for 2007-08 reported a host of financial and administrative anomalies in the MPPEB, including the illegal disposal of application forms. This was believed that the application documents had been lost in such a manner that they could not be linked to the admission card test and other information. Fresh allegations of anomalies in the Pre-Medical Examination (PMT) emerged in 2009. Anand Rai, an indoor activist, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) application seeking an inquiry into the fraud. In 2009, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan set up a committee headed by the State Joint Director of Medical Education to examine the claims.

In July 2011, 145 defendants were tracked by MPPEB during the Pre-Medical Examination (PMT). Many of the offenders did not surface, but 8 were arrested for impersonating others. This included Kanpur-based Satyendra Varma, who had given 4 lakhs to appear in place of Ashish Yadav in Indore. A total of 15 test toppers from the previous year appeared for the test. Suspecting that these people had been called upon to impersonate someone or to support the candidates steal by sitting next to them, MPPEB challenged them to clarify their motives for re-taking the exams. MPPEB was utilizing biometric technology: thumbprints and photographs of all individuals appearing for the test were taken to suit post-results.

The Committee formed by Chouhan in 2009 submitted its report to the Government in November 2011. It was reported that 114 candidates had passed the PMT through impersonation. The contestants, mainly from wealthy backgrounds, were impersonated by practising doctors and young medical graduates, some of whom had migrated from the nearby states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Each nominee had been paid 1-4 million by the middlemen. The results posed suspicions that a variety of bogus physicians admitted by PMT in earlier years might have graduated as practitioners. The probability of government officials engaging in the fraud was also stated. 

In December 2011, the MP Government stated that any candidates who had been accepted through dishonest methods should be required to exit their courses. This involved those who had spent a couple of years after passing the test. In 2012, Indore police detained four men who had come to impersonate candidates for the PMT test. The accused were offered sums ranging from INR 25,000 to 50,000 each.

2013

In 2013, the large size of the Vyapam fraud came to light. On the night of July 6–7, the Indore Police detained 20 men from various city hotels. These men, 17 of whom were from Uttar Pradesh, had come to impersonate local candidates for the PMT exam scheduled for 7 July 2013. The impersonators had been offered amounts varying from INR 50,000 to 1,00,000. On the basis of knowledge gathered during the questioning of these 20 impersonators, Indore police noticed that an orchestrated gang operated by Jagdish Sagar was engaged in the scam.

Amid the arrests and release, Dr Anand Rai lodged a complaint with the district Superintendent of Police (economic crime wing) requesting a thorough inquiry. He tried to investigate the position of MPPEB Chairman, Exam Controller, Assistant Controller and Deputy Controller.

On 13 July 2013, Jagdish Sagar was arrested in Mumbai. A list of 317 students was confiscated from him. The MPPEB exam controller Pankaj Trivedi, who was not a suspect in the racket at the time, tried to defend these graduates. He submitted a letter to the different government departments and the deans of medical colleges demanding that such students be given entry after they have signed an affidavit. The letter would claim that they would not use any arbitrary methods and that their awards would be cancelled if they were found responsible in the criminal inquiry.

On 28 September 2013, Trivedi was also detained on the basis of Jagdish Sagar’s interrogation. On 5 October 2013, 28 persons were charged by the Special Task Force (STF) of the police, including Jagdish Sagar. In December 2013, the STF lodged a further 23,000 pages of charges against 34 defendants in the Indore District Court. Among the 34 charged, 30 were students and their guardians. Four others included Pankaj Trivedi, Dr Sanjeev Shilpkar, and Dr Jagdish Sagar’s associate Gangaram Pipliya.

Other Exams

In November 2013, the STF noticed that the scamsters had rigged five recruitment tests: the Pre-PG, the Food Inspector Selection Review, the Dairy Federation Exam, the Sub-Sub Inspector and the Platoon Commander Selection Review and the Police Constable Recruitment Examination- all carried out during 2012 for government employment in the state. For the 2012 Pre-PG Exam, Dr Pankaj Trivedi, former MPPEB director, and Nitin Mahindra, program analyst, gave model response keys to candidates by photocopies.

In March 2014, the government revealed that the STF had been probing the manipulation of nine tests and that 127 individuals had been detained. Past years of PMT tests have already been reviewed. The STF noted that 286 candidates had cleared PMT-2012 through dishonest means. On 29 April 2014, 27 students of MGM Medical College in Indore were expelled for using dishonest means to clear PMT-2012.

In June 2014, the High Court questioned the police that most of the suspects have not yet been detained in the event. Despite this, many charges were reported by the STF. On 15 June, the STF detained former Minister of Technical Education and BJP member Laxmikant Sharma for his suspected role in the contract recruitment of teachers. On 18 and 19 June 2014, more than 100 medical students from various sections of the state were detained by the police for engaging in the PMT racket.

Threats

Dr Anand Rai, based in Indore, filed a PIL which led to an inquiry in the scam. He mentioned getting frequent threats and even believed that contract killers had been hired to kill him. He addressed the court in 2013 demanding protection. He was ordered to pay 50,000 a month for police security, while his monthly wage was just 38,000. In 2015, he was issued with a security guard. Rai was suspected of being a Congressman by a BJP spokesman, but he denied the allegation that he had been a BJP leader and had been involved in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activities from 2005 to 2013. Dr Rai was moved from Indore to the district of Dhar in July 2015. He said that he was abused when he lodged a complaint with the CBI against the former Union Minister and BJP chief Vikram Verma. The complainant claimed that Vikram Verma had used his power to move his daughter from Ghaziabad to Gandhi Medical College in Bhopal.

On 2 September 2015, Dr Rai submitted an affidavit to the High Court of Madhya Pradesh stating that Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had visited him and had suggested the cancellation of the transfer orders because he had stopped protesting against him over the Vyapam and DMAT scandal. The Chief Secretary acknowledged the conference but claimed it had been called at Dr Rai’s invitation to discuss some of the scam-related details.

Allegations against the Chief Minister and the governor

In 2014, Prashant Pandey (aka “Mr X”), an IT specialist recruited by the STF, was arrested for trying to exploit the details received by the Vyapam team to threaten the victim. Pandey then approached the leader of the Indian National Congress, Digvijaya Singh, and said that he was an informant harassed for revealing the involvement of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in the fraud. He said that the investigation agencies had tampered with the contents of the excel sheet retrieved from the hard disk of the scam accused Nitin Mohindra’s device.

Digvijaya Singh then sent an affidavit of 15 pages to the SIT, charging that the prosecutors had been protecting the Chief Minister. SIT accepted Singh’s concern and submitted both copies of the excel sheet for forensic examination.

The forensic laboratory confirmed that the Excel sheet available with the STF was authentic, while the Pandey edition was forged. Consequently, Singh’s application was dismissed as a forgery by Justice Khanwilkar in the High Court of Madhya Pradesh. Pandey was struck by his story, saying that it had been checked by Truth Laboratories, an independent forensic laboratory.

The STF has also identified facts against State Governor Ram Naresh Yadav. On 24 February 2015, Yadav was charged with criminal attempt to manipulate the MPPEB Forest Guard Recruitment Test. His son Shailesh was charged with contractual recruitment of teachers and later found dead in suspicious circumstances in March 2015. His former special duty director, Dhanraj Yadav, was detained by the STF in 2013 in connection with the case. The Governor informed the High Court that no criminal action should be taken against him as the Constitution of India gave him protection when he was in office. The High Court accepted and postponed his detention, but allowed the probe against him to proceed. The Chief of the SIT confirmed that the prosecutors will move against Yadav after his retirement in September 2016.

Arrests

Laxmikant Sharma

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief, Laxmikant Sharma was in charge of MPPEB in his role as Minister of Technical Education. He was initially arrested on the basis of details obtained from the excel sheet held by Nitin Mohindra for his role in the contract recruitment of teachers. However, he was often investigated for misconduct in the recruiting exams of constables; according to the STF, he proposed the names of at least 15 appointment applicants as constables. In June 2014, he resigned from BJP after being transferred to the police office for four days. Sharma asserted his innocence, accused his cop, OP Shukla, and found out that his own daughter had skipped PMT twice.

Sudhir Sharma

Sudhir Sharma, a coal businessman, was once the Special Duty Officer (OSD) of Laxmikant Sharma, Minister of Education. He was active in the 2012 police performance assessment scandal. In December 2013, despite absconding briefly, he confessed to the STF. The STF interrogated him twice, but at the time he was not arrested. Although STF discovered prosecutable facts against him, he went missing again. The STF has declared a cash incentive of 5000 for details on it. He confessed to the court in 2014 and was charged by the STF. In 2010–2013, Sharma paid off to several politicians and officials, including former BJP Leader Madhya Pradesh Prabhat Jha and his family, Congressman MLA Veer Singh Bhuria, many ABVP members, RSS Officer Suresh Soni, and several civil servants. Laxmikant Sharma was the greatest winner of his kickbacks. He also collected substantial amounts of money from educational organizations on a daily basis.

Jagdish Sagar

Indore-based Jagdish Sagar helped some 140 students get unfairly picked for medical courses in 2009-12 alone. He recruited impersonators, many from Uttar Pradesh. He had been operating the suspected scam since the late 1990s and had accumulated a large sum of money, including many real estate assets. He was detained in 2003 on similar allegations, but the police did not hold an eye on him until he was charged.

Sanjeev Shiplakar

Shilpakar, a Bhopal-based junior at Jagdish Sagar Medical College, began his own racket. In the case of PMT 2013, Shilpakar had enrolled 92 contestants, of whom 45 had already been awarded 30 million. Shilpakar, on the other side, bribed MPPEB officials, including Nitin Mahindra, impersonators and brokers who took candidates to him. He absolved after the arrest of Jagdish Sagar but was subsequently detained by the STF.

CK Mishra

CK Mishra has confirmed that he has worked with Dr Sagar, Santosh Gupta and Sanjiv Shilpkar since 2009. In 2009, Dr Sagar approached him with the selection forms of 20 applicants who were to be allocated roll numbers in such a manner that their seats in the exam were one after the other. Rs. 50,000 a roll was billed to him. As a consequence, he got Rs 1 million. In 2010, Dr Sagar provided the form to 40 students. This period, Rs. 2 million has been paid. Throughout 2012, Dr Sagar took over 60 pupils, and Shilpkar offered 20 boys a game. They paid Rs 3 million and Rs 1 million.

Deaths

A number of individuals interested in the fraud and its aftermath have died during the inquiry.  Opposition parties and critics have alleged that some of these deaths have happened under mysterious circumstances. In 2015, the Special Task Force (STF) sent a report to the High Court, listing 23 individuals who are suspected to have died of “unnatural death.” According to the STF, half of these fatalities happened until the inquiry took effect in July 2013. Some media outlets also reported that 40+ people connected with the fraud also died in suspicious circumstances.

The State Government rejected the charges, claiming that Vyapam is performing very large-scale exams and that thousands of people are accepted or employed into such tests every year. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan agreed that the death of an individual affiliated with the Vyapam exam should not be related to the Vyapam scam. Home Minister Babulal Gaur said that the deaths were “normal.” According to the informant Anand Rai, ten of these deaths were suspicious, although the others could be coincidences. Deaths found suspicious include the deaths of Akshay Singh, Namrata Damor, Narendra Tomar, D K Sakkale, Arun Sharma, Rajendra Arya, and four middlemen who died in the area. According to the High Court Special Investigative Team SIT, 32 persons in the 25-30 age range listed as racketeers during the trial have died in mysterious cases since the inquiry started in 2012. The SIT officials posed suspicions that the people detained were identifying others who had already been murdered in order to confuse the investigation.

Politics

In every election since 2013, Vyapam has controlled the democratic debate. Kamal Nath, president of Madhya Pradesh Congress, and Scindia, chairman of the party’s election strategy committee, posed the problem in almost all their public meetings to target CM Chouhan, who in effect declared that CBI had given him a “safe chit” barely six months before the November elections. The late CBI investigation struggled to reveal some large sharks behind the Vyapam racket. There’s a lot more to this than the eye sees. If a fair trial is held, the whole government will be revealed, said state Congress media in control of Shobha Oza.

The Congress claimed that the CM was connected to the fraud, an assertion that Chouhan declined to respond to in his election campaign speeches.

The BJP opposes the allegations and has accused the opposition party of defaming the reputation of Chouhan, who has been a CM since 2005. The Congress realizes that it can not contest the Assembly or Lok Sabha polls in the State without tarnishing the reputation of the Chief Minister, said Madhya BJP spokesperson Rajneesh Agrawal. He also said that “The members of the Congress have addressed the question in almost every election over the last five years or so, but they have provided a suitable response from voters. The ensuing assembly elections will be no exception”.

Social Media

The unexplained deaths of people related to the Vyapam scandal have sparked morbid comedy on different social networking sites throughout India. Some likened it to the popular tv show Dexter and named it the Indian equivalent of Game of Thrones. The untimely and abrupt death of a journalist immediately after questioning family members of another convicted dead man was found inauspicious. An online impression has been developed that some sort of connection to the scam may lead to trouble or even unexplained death. Different hashtags such as #KhooniVyapam (Bloody Vyapam), #killervyapamscam, #vyapam, #VyapamGenocide, and #shivrajisteefado (Shivraj, resign) have been used by people to share their reactions.

Judgement

On 13 February 2017, the Supreme Court of India issued a judgment of 83 lines, cancelling the ranks of 634 doctors. The court claimed that:

The court held that The acts of the appellants are focused on immoral behaviour, and are in total breach of the rule of law. Their activities constitute acts of deception.  National dignity, in the court’ opinion, can not be traded for benefiting any individual or the system. The court viewed that unless we wish to create a country on the touchstone of ethics and morality, and if our decided intention is to construct a country where only the rule of law prevails, then we can not support the argument of the appellants (students) for the proposed social gains (by alloy). They have little trouble in arguing in terms of the rule of law. Lastly the court viewed that fraud can not be permitted to slip under the stratagem of public welfare.

Conclusion

The Vyapam fraud is an admission and promotion racket that includes leaders, government officers and businessmen in Madhya Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB), popularly called by its Hindi acronym Vyapam (Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal), is a self-funded and self-governing entity established by the state government responsible for conducting many college entrance exams. Such entrance tests are conducted for employment of government positions and admissions to public educational institutions.

Possibly one of the most dangerous scandals in India, the Vyapam saga has left a trail of blood and gore. By the moment people began sniffing around to find out the facts in 2009, as many as 50 individuals (others claim the figure may be as large as 156) died suddenly. Some 35 have died since 2012, and this year’s count is 8. Some of them killed themselves; some experienced heart problems and injuries.

The multi-crore rupee racket contained a conspiracy of undeserved candidates who bribed lawmakers and MPPEB officials by middlemen to get high ranks in such entrance exams. More than 2,000 suspects were detained in conjunction with the fraud. Police claim that scamsters used imposters to write documents, exploit sitting conditions, and even provide fake answer sheets to bribing officials between 2012 and 2013. Irregularities snowballed into a huge, multi-layer fraud that took the life of 25 informants, suspects and witnesses, along with others, who said they got death threats while the top leaders found themselves entangled throughout the controversy.

References

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