A multi-crore scam in Madhya Pradesh got murkier on Monday with a mysterious third death linked to the scandal but the Centre ruled out a CBI probe despite mounting pressure amid allegations of witnesses being deliberately eliminated.
Police found the body of 25-year-old trainee sub-inspector Anamika Kushwaha -- who was recruited by the scam-tainted process that affected at least 2.5 million students – in a pond in a MP police academy and said preliminary evidence suggested suicide.
Her body was discovered a day after Arun Sharma, the dean of a Jabalpur medical college, who was helping the investigation, was found dead in his Delhi hotel room on Sunday and a journalist covering the multi-crore racket died mid-interview on Saturday night.
Opposition parties called for the resignation of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and demanded a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe as the investigation into one of the country’s biggest corruption scandals spread to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
“Chouhan should be sacked and an impartial probe ordered. How could such a mammoth corruption scam be carried on without the complicity and knowledge of the CM?” said Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala.
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 Chouhan’s political career and led to over 2,000 arrests, including politicians, bureaucrats and middlemen.
Police say an organised racket employed medics from as far away as Patna and Lucknow to impersonate medical students and write recruitment exams since as early as 2008. Middlemen manipulated seating arrangements and forged answer sheets in exchange of lakhs of rupees.
But 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.
A special task force probing the scam has visited medical colleges in Bihar several times in the past two weeks in search of 40 medical students from Bihar who helped impersonate candidates. Around 125 medicos from UP are also wanted for their alleged role as “professional solvers”, who were paid up to Rs 5 lakh to answer exam questions on behalf of the candidates.
As the crisis spiralled, the Aam Aadmi Party announced a nationwide protest on July 11 with senior leader Kumar Vishwas filing a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court demanding a court-monitored probe. The apex court is already hearing a petition to remove governor Ram Naresh Yadav, who is an accused in the case.
“People want Prime Minister to speak and intervene in Vyapam. PM should no more remain silent,” Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal tweeted.
But a combative Chouhan refused to give in, saying all deaths shouldn’t be linked with the multi-layered MP public examination board (PEB) scam, also known as Vyapam scam after the board’s Hindi acronym. “Her (Kushwaha’s) death is an unfortunate incident but it is not related to the Vyapam scam investigation. Every death is sad,” Chouhan said.
The Centre also appeared to back him, but Union home minister Rajnath Singh ruled out a CBI probe, saying a Madhya Pradesh high court-monitored special investigating team (SIT) was already investigating the allegations.
“The SIT is not working under the Madhya Pradesh government but under the supervision of the high court. Politics should be based on valid and reasonable issues,” Singh said in Jhabua. “We cannot direct the Supreme Court or the high court.”
The government also accused the Congress of playing petty politics over the deaths, saying the deaths had no connection with the scam.
“Kushwaha and Arun Sharma weren’t witnesses or accused in the scam. Kushwaha’s father has said she was having domestic problems. But the Congress is trying to unnecessarily link the deaths to Vyapam,” state health minister Narottam Mishra said.