Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Sunday ruled out handing over the MPPEB scam to the CBI but said he would refer the sudden death of a television reporter who was probing the scandal to the court-appointed Special Investigation Team.
Speaking a day after the death of Aaj Tak reporter Akshay Singh in Jhabua district, Chouhan also expressed his willingness to refer to the SIT the cases of all accused and witnesses linked to the scam who had died in suspicious circumstances.
Amidst speculation that the Centre may, sooner or later, take a tough stand against Chouhan over the scam, the chief minister said he is ready to "face the consequences” arising from the probe into the multi-layered scandal that saw scamsters rig tests conducted by the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) for admission and recruitment to courses and government jobs.
“The death of the Aaj Tak journalist is very unfortunate. My condolences are with the family of Mr Aksay Singh. A post-mortem was conducted on his body in Gujarat by a panel of doctors on Saturday. The process was video-graphed. The facts will emerge after the report of the autopsy comes in," Chouhan told a hurriedly-called news conference in Bhopal.
He said he would write to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the high court to probe the Vyapam or MPPEB scam to examine Singh’s sudden death.
Chouhan, however, said an investigation by the CBI into the examination and recruitment scam is not needed.
“I ordered a probe into the Vyapam scam. There is no need for a CBI investigation… The state government is not interfering in the probe at all; we will also investigate the (mysterious) deaths (linked to the case), not just the scam," he said.
Singh, a journalist from Delhi covering the scam in Madhya Pradesh, died on Saturday after becoming unwell during an interview with the family of a woman who had died in suspicious circumstances.
His sudden death caused a ripple as 38 people linked to the scam, including governor Ram Naresh Yadav's son Shailesh Yadav, have died mysteriously since the issue came to light in 2013.
Chouhan is under immense pressure from the opposition to order a CBI investigation into the scam and related deaths.
Reacting to the journalist's death, Congress leader RPN Singh said there should be an independent probe into the development. "There have been more than 25 deaths linked to the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh. When will the state and Central governments wake up from their slumber?" he said.
"If a CBI enquiry is ordered into the Vyapam scam, things will get crystal clear," Singh added.
Facing a volley of questions from journalists on why the state government had not yet ordered a CBI inquiry, Chouhan said: ““The state government is not above the Supreme Court and the high court. The state government got itself dissociated from the Special Task Force’s investigation the moment the high court decided to monitor the investigation. The STF doesn’t report to the state government.
“The high court has even created a button on its website on which more than 100 complaints have been registered. Our judicial system is the repository of the faith of people in the country. Hence, it is the high court which will take any decision on the investigation, whether it should be done by CBI or any other agency.”
Asked why he had not responded to the common man's demand for a probe by the CBI, Chouhan said people trusted his government and their faith will be proved in the next elections.
Responding to another question, Chouhan said he was yet to get all information related to the death of Arun Sharma, the dean of the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Medical College in Jabalpur.
Sharma’s body was a hotel in Delhi on Sunday morning and some reports said he was probing irregularities in the Vyapam scam.
Hitting back at the Congress in his news conference, Chouhan said all charges levelled by the opposition were baseless.
Meanwhile, police sources said an initial probe into the death of television journalist Akshay Singh has revealed nothing suspicious.
A doctor who examined Singh's body told IBN Live on condition of anonymity: "We have done the post-mortem and didn't find any injuries. Viscera samples have been sent for analysis. We will be able to give the exact cause of death only after the report comes in."
Singh's colleagues said his death was suspicious. Fellow Aaj Tak reporter Arvind Ojha told HT he had spoken to him just half an hour before he took ill.
"We were working together on unearthing the scam. This morning we split up, he went to Indore and I came to Bhopal. He told me he was going to interview a victim's family. I told him to be careful. Half an hour later, he was dead," Ojha said.
More than 2,000 have been arrested in connection with the scam and a special task force is probing 25 of the suspicious deaths.
Many politicians, bureaucrats and middlemen are said to be involved in the Vyapam scam - named after the Madhya Pradesh Vyavasayik Pariksha Mandal - which, according to police, involved scamsters employing imposters to write tests conducted by the MPPEB.
The scamsters also supplied forged answer sheets by bribing officials between 2012 and 2013.