Whistleblowers in the multi-crore professional examination recruitment scam in Madhya Pradesh demanded a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe on Sunday, saying the suspicious deaths of people linked to the scandal would continue if the state government remained in charge of the investigation.
The appeal comes after the dean of a Jabalpur-based medical college Arun Sharma was found dead in a Delhi hotel room on Sunday, hours after a journalist, Akshay Singh, who was reporting on the scam collapsed and died in the middle of an interview.
"With each death, the sequence of investigation breaks and the evidence is affected, thereby helping the scamsters. It is high time the case is handed over to CBI," said former MLA and whistleblower Paras Saklecha in Bhopal.
At least 2,000 people have been arrested and another 500 are wanted for their role in rigging the professional tests conducted by the MP Professional Examination Board (PEB) for admissions and recruitment to various courses and government jobs.
But the investigation has been dogged with mysterious deaths of witnesses, accused and whistleblowers and the two latest deaths bring up the toll up to about 40.
"The deaths are suspicious. There are poisons and even certain seeds, if administered, lead to deaths due to cardiac arrest within two hours," said Dr Anand Rai, the initial whistleblower in the scam.
Dr Rai also raised questions on the manner in which deaths are being handled, especially, the post-mortems.
In spite of mounting protests by Opposition parties, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has ruled out a Central Bureau of Investigation probe and state minister Babulal Gaur has even said all deaths natural.
Police say the fraud, also known as the Vyapam scam from PEB's Hindi acronym, involved multiple rackets that helped candidates rig the examinations for money, including employing imposters to write test papers, manipulating seating arrangements as well as supplying forged answer sheets.
But whistleblowers say the special task force probing the scandal was being unfair in not interrogating the top PEB management. "The big fish have been let off while mostly the small ones are in jail," activist Ajay Dubey said.
Saklecha also said Sharma's death was significant because his college, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Medical College and Hospital in Jabalpur, was an important link as hundreds of students from the institution were involved in fraudulent admissions through the scam.