When the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board scam first broke, it was a racket of candidates doling out money to touts for a seat in a medical or engineering college or a job in a government department.
Years later, as the plot thickens, it is no longer just an examination and recruitment scam.
One after the other, people linked to what is now infamous as the PEB scam, are dying in mysterious circumstances. Others are getting death threats.
Some of them are accused. Others are whistle-blowers. But all have important roles to play in the probe carried out by the special task force (STF). A special investigation team (SIT) constituted by the Madhya Pradesh high court is monitoring the probe.
Many of these people have expressed fear for their lives. Some have even moved court seeking protection, saying the scam involves powerful people including political leaders and police officials.
“There is a clear pattern. People are being targeted and killed,” said a Bhopal-based activist, who refused to identify himself.
Nearly 1,500 people have been arrested in several cases related to the scam. But even investigators admit that there are hundreds of others who have knowledge of what exactly took place in the PEB, who are yet to be traced and arrested. However, some of these people have died of natural causes.
The PEB scam involved multiple rackets that helped candidates rig examinations for admission to colleges and recruitment in government jobs. Scamsters employed imposters to write test papers, manipulated sitting arrangements and even supplied forged answer sheets.
Since January 2012, when the body of Namrata Damor, a medical student, was found on a railway track near Ujjain, nearly half-a-dozen people have lost their lives, who many claim were murdered.
The dead include DK Sakalle, the former dean of the Jabalpur Medical College, and pharmacist Vijay Singh Patel, who was found murdered in a hotel room in Chhattisgarh recently.
One among the dead is Shailesh Yadav , an accused in the PEB scam, the eldest son of governor Ramnaresh Yadav. Shailesh was found dead in mysterious circumstances in his Lucknow residence.
The governor himself is implicated in the scam and the STF had even filed an FIR against him in a case related to recruitment of forest guards. However, the high court later quashed the FIR in view of his constitutional position.
But the court did allow the STF to question him in the case.
The opposition Congress has alleged that even chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his family is involved in the scam, a charge he has categorically denied.
The latest to be targeted by unknown persons, allegedly in attempts on their lives, are whistle-blowers Prashant Pandey and Ashish Chaturvedi.
Pandey is an Indore-based cyber expert who had once helped in the scam probe but allegedly fell out with police later. He had recently moved the Delhi high court seeking protection. Pandey claims to posses “sensitive information” relating to the scam, having worked with the STF earlier.
On May 8, Pandey filed a complaint alleging that unknown persons rammed into one of his cars which overturned on impact. Police, however, said the car overturned after it hit a cow.
Read | FIR against Madhya Pradesh governor in exam scam quashed
“The PEB scam is the biggest scam in the history of the country, it has thrown many VIPs in jail and many more could go behind bars, and hence the stakes are very high for those whose future is affected by witnesses’ statements or whistleblowers,” said the Bhopal-based activist.
While STF chief Sudhir Sahi did not respond to HT calls, one official refused to comment on whether the incidents are aimed at “silencing” key witnesses and whistleblowers.
“Our focus is on presenting strong cases so that the guilty are convicted. I can’t comment on separate incidents which have occurred over the last two years, as local police are investigating them,” the official added.
Congress leader and party’s chief spokesperson KK Mishra said “the deaths and attacks suggest that people linked to the scam, are being targeted.”