Madhya Pradesh continues to be rocked by the revelations of the Vyapam scam. It is a non-ending saga of the state’s connivance on a scale hitherto unthinkable. The Vyapam scam, in short, is a multi-billion home-grown illicit business engineered with full state patronage. It is the largest scam engulfing the ‘highest’ and the ‘mightiest’ from the state. It is now an acronym for procuring illegal admissions in government and private medical and dental colleges and jobs in government services on a magnitude never seen before.
In March, the Special Task Force (STF) investigating the scam in its affidavit before the Supreme Court admitted that it arrested approximately 1,800 accused (mostly students, parents and some middlemen) and are on the lookout for another 800 people. According to conservative estimates, what has been uncovered so far is only 20% of the scam.
The scam involves the selection to jobs and various services in Madhya Pradesh including police, excise, revenue and teachers, between 2007 and 2013 to an estimated 140,000 posts. It also involves thousands of illegal admissions in graduate and post-graduate medical and dental seats.
Though the Madhya Pradesh chief minister never misses an opportunity to claim credit for starting the investigation into the scam, this is not true. The investigation commenced on July 7, 2013 on the basis of a report lodged by civil rights activist Anand Rai at Indore. For further investigation this report was later transferred to the STF Bhopal. Incidentally, according to Rai, officers who were in the crime branch at Indore investigating this offence and with close links to the ruling party were conveniently associated with the investigation of the STF.
Activist Ashish Chaturvedi, who is a crucial witness in the scam, continues to receive threats to his life. Court orders to protect him are observed more in the breach and less in action. His grief points a finger to the ineffectiveness of our justice delivery system to protect witnesses and whistle-blowers, and also raises questions on the intentions of the state and its agencies.
A crucial cog in the Vyapam scam is Prashant Pandey, a forensic–IT expert. The STF engaged the whistle-blower to unravel the truth of the scam. Pandey provided crucial leads and digital evidence connecting the top-most people of the state, including the office of the chief minister, with illicit businesses.
In order to ascertain the veracity of the excel-sheets submitted by the whistle-blower, a report was sought in March from the Truth Lab, Bengaluru. The lab submitted a report certifying that the original excel-sheet submitted by the whistle-blower was retrieved on July 18, 2013, at 4:20 pm; it was again opened at 6 PM the same day, and; it was modified at 8:15 pm the same day. The report also provides details of the analysis of metadata with precise details of the hard-disk and computer systems.
The original lab report with the pen drive is now in a sealed cover with the registrar general of the Delhi High Court. A certified copy of the lab report was submitted before the High Court of Madhya Pradesh at the Principal Seat, Jabalpur, on the directions from the Delhi High Court on March 26.
The Special Investigating Team constituted by the MP high court sought a report from the STF (the suspected agency) on the veracity of the material submitted by the whistle-blower along with the lab report. With full alacrity, within five days, a report was submitted before the Jabalpur bench of the high court on April 22, calling the material and the report “fabricated and forged” to mislead the investigation. The STF completed the task without seeking assistance from the whistle-blower or the lab — both of whom had offered their assistance.
Today the 75 million people in Madhya Pradesh are in search of justice, which seems to be eluding them. According to a recent report of a national daily, at least 41 suspects connected with the Vyapam scam have died in mysterious circumstances. The chairman of the SIT, retired Justice Chandresh Bhushan, in a media interaction admitted that more than 30 deaths have occurred in suspicious circumstances of persons crucial to the investigation. It seems that the STF is incapable of investigating a multi-state high-profile investigation of the current dimension. A recent news report claimed that STF officials were being held hostage in Uttar Pradesh. A crisis has engulfed our fast eroding institutional mechanisms.
It’s clear that neither the state government nor the Centre is in favour of an independent investigation into the scam. The Madhya Pradesh governor was an accused in the scam, with an FIR registered against him. The MP high court protected the office of the governor by passing an order on a petition by the governor in person by invoking the principle of constitutional immunity under Article 361(2) of the Constitution — a situation never envisaged by the founding fathers of our Constitution.
If the excel-sheet produced by the whistle-blower and certified by the Truth Lab is to be believed, the office of the chief minister, governor, other ministers and IAS officers are beneficiaries of the scam.
If 40 deaths cannot evoke the conscience of the rulers of the state and Centre for an independent investigation by an agency like the CBI, it only signifies the collapse of our criminal justice delivery edifice. Posterity will put the blame on all institutions.
The actors in this theatre of absurdity will come and go, but the fight for justice for the victims of the Vyapam scam will not end. There is hope among the people that justice may be delayed but not denied in our country.
Vivek K Tankha is former additional solicitor general of India and former advocate general of Madhya Pradesh
The views expressed are personal