When a professional examination scam broke in Madhya Pradesh in 2013, authorities thought it was just another case of candidates paying touts to get into a coveted college or secure a plum government job.
Now over two years later, the irregularities have snowballed into a massive multi-layered scam that has claimed the lives of 25 whistleblowers, accused and witnesses with others saying they received death threats as the top leaders find themselves embroiled in the scandal. Unofficial reports put the toll at 41.
Many of them -- such as the 29-year-old Narendra Singh Tomar who passed away on Sunday -- have died under mysterious circumstances with several approaching the courts seeking protection, saying the scam involved powerful political leaders and police officials who wanted witnesses silenced.
“There is a clear pattern. People are being targeted and killed,” said a Bhopal-based activist, who refused to identify himself.
India’s biggest recruitment scam throws Chouhan’s third term into turmoil
What is the scam all about?
More than 2,000 people have been arrested in connection with the scam, where organised rackets allegedly rigged tests conducted by the MP Professional Examination Board (PEB) for admissions and recruitment to various courses and government jobs.
Police say scamsters employed imposters to write papers, manipulate sitting arrangements and even supply forged answer sheets by bribing officials between 2012 and 2013.
How was the scam unearthed?
While investigating complaints of imposters in the Pre-entrance Medical Test (PMT), Indore Police stumbled upon multiple rackets that committed large-scale fraud in PEB examinations for years.
Among the tests rigged were the PMT 2008-13, Pre-PG test for postgraduate medical courses 2012, and recruitment exams for contract teachers, food inspectors, police constables and Ayurvedic medical officers.
How many were affected?
As many as 1,087 ineligible students got admission in medical colleges from 2008 to 2013. Their admissions were cancelled. Thousands of candidates who appeared in the rigged tests were also affected.
The modus operandi
Several gangs operated with the connivance of PEB officials to manipulate sitting arrangements in examination halls and to fill optical mark recognition answer-sheets. While the rate started from Rs 15 lakh for the PMT, it was more than Rs 50 lakh for admission in PG (Medical).
The investigation was handed over to the Special Task Force (STF) of the state police. The high court is monitoring STF’s investigation directly through a Special Investigating Team after a pitched Opposition campaigned against the state government for allegedly going slow in the probe.
Separate cases have been registered for investigating scams in different tests. In March, the SIT told the Supreme Court it had arrested approximately 1,800 accused and was on the lookout for another 800 people.
Who are the top accused?
Former education minister Laxmikant Sharma was jailed for fraud in the contract teachers recruitment test. His former officer on special duty (OSD) OP Shukla and former PA Sudhir Sharma are also behind bars.
Shukla was charged with taking Rs 85 lakh from suspended officials of the PEB –- director and controller of tests Pankaj Trivedi and principal systems analyst Nitin Mahindra -– for getting candidates selected.
Dhanraj Yadav, former OSD to governor, is accused of being involved in the recruitment of a large number of candidates through his links with suspended PEB officials.
DIG RK Shivhare, a suspended IPS officer, was arrested for allegedly getting candidates selected in the sub-inspectors recruitment test. His daughter and son-in-law were allegedly involved in fraudulently cracking the pre-PG (medical) entrance test.
Governor Ram Naresh Yadav was booked for allegedly accepting bribes from five people for recruiting them as forest guards but the high court later quashed the FIR in view of his constitutional position.
With the buzz about the massive scam kept getting louder, MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s image as a loving ‘mama’ (uncle) protecting the interests of youngsters has taken a beating.