When Indore police exactly two years ago arrested 20 people, including 18 impersonators attempting to appear in an exam for admission in Madhya Pradesh’s medical colleges, no one could have imagined that they had uncovered one of India’s biggest and most sinister scandals, the multi-layered Vyapam scam.
Since then, bodies have been piling up of people with any links to the case. While state officials put the death count at a little over two dozen and say most resulted from “natural causes”, activists and opposition parties cite over 40 mysterious deaths while seeking a central or Supreme Court-monitored probe.
At least 55 police cases have been filed and over 2,000 arrests made with allegations linking the governor and chief minister’s offices pouring forth, but sources say the most influential of the scammers and those patronising them are still out of the inquiry net. About 500 accused are reportedly missing.
The arrests by Indore crime branch led to the unearthing of several rackets that helped candidates rig most of the entrance and recruitment tests of the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board, also known as MPPEB or Vyapam, for almost a decade by using impersonators, altering seating arrangements and manipulating answer sheets.
The Special Task Force (STF) of local police that took over the investigation from the Indore crime branch stumbled upon a massive network of racketeers that thrived with the help of senior PEB officials.
The Madhya Pradesh high court is monitoring the STF’s investigation directly through a Special Investigating Team after a pitched Opposition campaign against the state government for allegedly going slow in the probe. The scam is said to be worth over Rs 10,000 crore and involving very powerful people – politicians, bureaucrats, influential doctors, mining barons and some RSS leaders.
More than 2.5 million young people have been affected by the scandal if only the recruitment and entrance tests conducted in 2012 and 2013 being probed by the STF are taken into account.
Whistle-blowers and opposition leaders say the scam will not be completely unravelled and the most influential culprits will never be booked unless the probe is handed over to the CBI, a demand that the state government has repeatedly rejected.
Activists have raised suspicions about the deaths, pointing out that most of them were of young people with little or no history of serious health problems, but the state government maintains that autopsies do not indicate any wrongdoing and every death should not be linked to the scandal.
What probably gives the BJP government the confidence to stand its ground is that it cleared three major electoral tests in the interim and the state high court as well as the Supreme Court turned down applications from Congress leaders for a CBI inquiry.
“In such a situation, there is no reason for the BJP to allow the Congress to score political brownie points by bowing down to the pressure,” says political analyst Girija Shankar.
Mystery behind the deaths
10 other deaths