A seemingly routine investigation into the use of impostors for ‘helping’ candidates crack the pre-medical test (PMT) has unearthed one of the biggest scams in Madhya Pradesh, creating a crisis for chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
So far, 1,087 ‘fraudulent’ admissions to medical colleges have been cancelled in the state.
The entrance scam, exposed in July last year, was carried out with the help of officials of the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB). The board is responsible for conducting all entrance and recruitment tests in the state.
Parents of the students admitted through unfair means allegedly paid bribes to MPPEB officials through middlemen. While taking the exam, these candidates left answer fields in their optical mark reader (OMR) sheets blank. The officials in the systems wing of the board later marked the correct answers on the sheets, paving the way for the candidates to be admitted in medical courses.
The other tactic employed to fool the systems was to manipulate seating arrangements in the examination halls. ‘Scorer’ candidates — largely those who had cracked the PMT before — were made to sit close to the ‘beneficiary’ candidates so they could copy correct answers.
Records found in computers of the MPPEB official helped a special task force (STF) close in on those using unfair means to secure admissions. Former exam controller Pankaj Trivedi and systems analyst Nitin Mahindra of the board maintained records of all candidates whose parents had paid bribes. Though the two had deleted the data detailing the bribes, the cops managed to recover the information with help of a forensics team.
The probe into the scam began in Indore last year with complaints of a security breach at the MPPEB. As the investigation by the crime branch gathered steam, it was found that several people led by two doctors — Jagdish Sagar and Sanjeev Shilpkar — were involved in rigging the PMT for years. Indore-based whistle-blower Anand Rai claimed the examination racket was running since 1994.
Investigations suggested that more than 750 students were cleared in the PMT through fraudulent means in 2012 and 2013 alone. The STF arrested more than 100 students in the case within days of unearthing of the scam in July 2013.
From top state politicians such as former education minister Laxmikant Sharma, to bureaucrats such as deputy inspector general RK Shivhare, several influential people have since been arrested in the case. Sharma, a leader of the BJP, was arrested on June 15 for ‘recommending the names of candidates to be passed through fraudulent means’. He was also charged with involvement in fraudulent hiring of contractual teachers in the state.
The Madhya Pradesh chief minister on Tuesday filed a defamation suit against state Congress chief spokesperson, KK Mishra, for ‘levelling baseless allegations’ against him and his wife in the case. Mishra had alleged last week the involvement of Chouhan and his family members in the MPPEB and jobs scam.
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The name of the CM's former personal secretary, Prem Chand Prakash, is also under the scanner for allegedly getting his daughter admitted in the MBBS course with the help of the PMT racket. Dhanraj Yadav, who was officer on special duty (OSD) to governor Ram Naresh Yadav, has also been arrested in the case.
Other high-profile names that have surfaced in the scam are mining baron Sudhir Sharma, who is considered close to Laxmikant Sharma, the minister's former OSD OP Shukla, businessman Bharat Mishra, who is the brother of an IG rank officer and Vinod Bhandari, who is the chairman and managing director of Indore-based Aurobindo Medical College.
“Almost 500 persons have been arrested in the case so far. They include politicians, government officials, policemen, middle-men, students and their kin who paid bribe,” an STF officer said.
Chouhan’s political journey has hit a rough patch with the Congress also levelling allegations on the CM and others close to him in the case of recruitment in the transport department (the exam for which was also conducted by the MPPEB).
The CM, in a series of tweets posted recently, rubbished all allegations against him.
“They say that 139 phone calls from CM house and issue a Call Details Report where not even one call number is from CM house (sic).”
“Just as a lie has no legs to stand on, a CDR has no legs of its own. It requires substantiation. They do not even see the CDR.”
“I know defeat hurts. Particularly when it is twice. There are few who maintain grace in defeat. But should they (the Congress) stoop so low?” Chouhan posted in a series of tweets.