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Raging scam fire threatens to singe Madhya Pradesh’s investigating agency

bhopal Updated: Jul 07, 2015 17:59 IST
Shams Ur Rehman Alavi
Shams Ur Rehman Alavi
Hindustan Times
Madhya Pradesh special task force

The single-storey building is heavily guarded with gun-toting policemen manning the gate. CCTV cameras constantly sweep the perimeter for possible intruders. But the irony is unmistakable.

At the headquarters of the Madhya Pradesh special task force (STF), the team probing the state’s biggest examination scam is itself under siege, facing a potential credibility crisis with allegations of a goof up on the investigation flying from all sides.

In August 2013, the STF took over the probe into the scam in the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board, also known as Vyapam.

The first questions about the STF’s ability – and sincerity – to conduct a fair probe were raised in 2014 when several people moved the high court. On November 5 last year, the high court constituted a special investigation team (SIT) headed by a retired judge to monitor the STF’s probe.

What has made matters worse for investigators are a spate of mysterious deaths of people with some links the scam. The suspicions have only grown deeper with each of those deaths.

“For a scam of this magnitude, it is impossible that state-level officers can conduct proper investigation, when almost everyone at the top is involved in some way (or the other),” a retired IPS officer said on condition of anonymity.

The STF itself has admitted in court that at least 23 deaths are not above suspicion but the opposition Congress has pegged the number at nearly 40.

Besides political parties, even whistleblowers and activists are pointing fingers at the STF, alleging that it has avoided action against high-profile individuals and remained soft on bureaucrats, ministers and their kin, whose names have cropped up in the probe.

As STF officials are drawn from the state police, critics point out that they can be influenced, which has led to a growing demand for a CBI probe. Former legislator and one of the whistleblowers Paras Saklecha alleged that the STF investigation was just aimed at saving the high and mighty.

“It was an organised crime, the racket was functioning for years, with everybody at the top, that is bureaucrats, ministers and other high-profile persons benefiting from it.

However, these have not been probed and neither top officials nor top politicians have been quizzed,” he added. Sources pointed out that a former chairperson of Vyapam, Ranjana Chaudhary, was accused of earning heavy amounts from touts involved in the scam but she was not made an accused despite the allegation finding mention in the STF chargesheet.

What has also surprised many is the fact that the STF has “failed” to locate another accused Gulab Singh Kirar, known to be close to CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan. However, there are allegations that he has been attending public functions and even shared the dais with Chouhan a few months ago.

“The police had failed to quiz politicians and even tried to pass it (Masood’s murder) off as suicide as high-profile people were linked,” he added.


STF probe into PEB scam comes under a cloud

What is the STF?

The special task force (STF) of Madhya Pradesh police, formed in 2002 but were initially only assigned cases of abductions and fake currency

Was under the CID till 2007, later functioned under special branch (SB) till it became a separate unit under the MP police in 2011

How does it function?

Has 211 members led by senior IPS officer, additional director general of police (ADG) Sudhir Sahi who is assisted by additional SP-level officers;

All STF members are drawn from state police, no special criteria for nomination to STF

Operates from its single-storey headquarters opposite the MP police headquarters in the Jehangirabad locality in Bhopal; heavily guarded now with CCTV cameras mounted along its perimeter

When did STF get PEB scam investigation?

On August 26, 2013, more than a month after Indore crime branch busted an examination racket now infamous as the PEB scam

On November 5, 2014, MP high court constituted a special investigation team (SIT) headed by retired judge Chandresh Bhushan to monitor the STF probe

The HC intervened after several petitions were filed alleging that the STF’s probe was not impartial