With the multi-crore Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board scam getting murkier every day, the trust of people in doctors, especially those who joined the medical fraternity in the last half a decade, in Bhopal has taken a hit.
Hindustan Times asked people in the state capital whether they still trusted doctors after details about the Vyapam scam, after the board's Hindi acronym, came to light. Most of them we spoke to said there is a growing sense of suspicion about junior doctors that they might have made their way into the medical profession through fraudulent means.
The examination and recruitment scandal involved imposters writing tests conducted by the board for admission and recruitment to various courses and government jobs, and supplying forged answer sheets by bribing officials between 2012 and 2013. Police say an organised racket employed medics from as far away as Patna and Lucknow to impersonate medical students and write exams since as early as 2008. Middlemen manipulated seating arrangements and forged answer sheets in exchange of lakhs of rupees.
Sunej Mishra, who works for a multi-national company and lives on the Hoshangabad Road, says the scam has indeed dented the reputation of the medical fraternity.
"If there is one profession in which people repose so much faith and trust, it is that of the doctors. But when you realise that you can become a doctor just through your contacts and money, you cannot help but suspect the doctors," says Mishra.
Saket Nagar's Atul Dubey echoes Mishra's feelings saying, "Earlier every doctor meant God to us. Not anymore. Now, you cannot be sure about the way the person to whom you go for treatment, has come into the medical profession in the first place."
Sharad Jain from MP Nagar, who supplies medical equipment to healthcare institutions, says he too has apprehensions whether the doctor he is visiting has genuine credentials but adds a word of caution.
"No doubt the credibility of the doctors here has suffered. But at the same time we must realise that many genuine persons, who have become doctors because of their hard work, are suffering for no fault of theirs. They are paying the price for those who bought their way into this noble profession. The irony is that it is not easy to identify such doctors even now," says Jain.
Sonu Sarathe, a tea vendor who lives in Old Subash Nagar, says he prefers to go to senior doctors for treatment these days.
"I feel safe with senior doctors. With young doctors, you are never sure these days. So many medical aspirants have been caught. Who knows how many must have passed the gate," he says.
Doctors, too, have started noticing people's changing perception toward them.
President of the Resident Doctors' Association at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Bhopal Dr Harsh Anand agrees that the Vyapam scam has given them a bad name.
"These days young doctors are being asked where have they done their MBBS. And if they say they have done their MBBS from MP, a sense of suspicion creeps in. This was not the case earlier," he says.
Dr Adarsh Bajpai, the former president of Gandhi Medical College's Junior Doctors' Association (JDA), says many junior doctors working in government hospitals in the city are being regularly humiliated because of scam.
"Many a times when patients die in the emergency [section] and family members get violent with the junior doctors, they openly accuse us of being fraud doctors or Vyapam doctors. It really hurts," he says.
At least 40 people including witnesses, accused and beneficiaries connected to the racket have been found dead since 2013, when the arrest of 20 people in Indore blew the lid off the massive scam. It has since snowballed into the biggest crisis to threaten chief minister Chouhan's political career and led to over 2,000 arrests, including politicians, bureaucrats and middlemen.
Many whistleblowers, who initially spearheaded the investigation, say they now fear for their lives after scores of people, many of them in their 20s, were found dead in recent months. Some bodies have been found under bridges and on railway tracks while other died of freak accidents or mysterious illnesses, sometimes while behind bars.
The opposition Congress has been demanding that the probe into the scam, conducted by a special task force (STF) under the supervision of a court-appointed special investigation team (SIT), be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The Centre has, however, said there would be no CBI investigation into the Vyapam scam until a court directed the central investigating agency to look into the examination and recruitment scandal.
The Supreme Court has said it will hear on Thursday a plea by Congress leader Digvijaya Singh and three whistle-blowers seeking an apex court-monitored CBI probe into the Vyapam scam and the string of mystery deaths related to it.