Madhya Pradesh home minister Babulal Gaur sought to deflect blame for a string of deaths linked to the Vyapam scandal on Thursday, pointing to the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to argue it was difficult to protect witnesses in India.
The probe into one of India's biggest corruption scandals has got murkier with at least 40 witnesses and accused dying in the past three years as whistleblowers allege a deliberate ploy to eliminate evidence and shield top ministers and bureaucrats.
Several witnesses under state protection have complained of lax security, including 26-year-old, Gwalior-based whistleblower Ashish Chaturvedi who says he has been attacked 14 times since the court assigned him protection last year.
"He keeps on moving on a bicycle and security personnel keep on following him on a bicycle. You should also be concerned about your life. You say you face a threat to your life but you are moving around and you are going to the market," Gaur told Hindustan Times.
"(The security personnel) follows him with a gun slung (on his shoulder). When the security of Indira Gandhi could not be ensured how can their (witnesses') security be ensured?"
Gandhi was killed by two Sikh bodyguards seeking to avenge an army assault she had ordered to clear the Golden Temple, the highest temporal seat of Sikhism, of Khalistani militants in 1984.
In Gwalior, Chaturvedi is often seen riding his bicycle across the town, followed by a police constable assigned to protect him on another bicycle, struggling to keep pace.
"How long can he (the constable) follow? You move around in the sun, how much can he follow?" Gaur said in an interview at his residence where rabbits, pigeons, free range Tasmanian chickens and a turkey roamed the sprawling lawns.
Watch: The A to Z of the Vyapam scam
The minister said the government was doing enough to provide security to the witnesses, accused and whistleblowers in the exam-rigging scandal that involved imposters and forged answer sheets among a slew of tricks used to gain jobs and seats in medical schools.
"The quality of security depends on the SP's report… (in) serious cases, witnesses or accused on bail ask for security, we have given," Gaur said, referring to the recommendations of a district's police chief that are taken into account while determining witness protection.
Gaur also sought to lay the blame for the scandal on civil servants, saying it was the responsibility of the then chief secretary to stay vigilant.
"We committed a blunder. We gave work to the same officers for years. The way we rotate collectors and other officers, if we had done the same with them, then this scam would not have happened," he said.
"It's the chief secretary's (responsibility). The responsibility for everything is of the administration. We are responsible for our policies. Individually if the CM or Gaur had been involved then we would have been responsible."