Is the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh getting away with murder?
With two more accused in the infamous Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) aka Vyapam scam dying under mysterious circumstances on Sunday, the toll has now reached 25. Most deaths have occurred in either police custody or while the accused were out on bail. The special task force (STF)of the Madhya Pradesh police is probing the scam for the past two years under the supervision of Special Investigation Team (SIT)constituted by the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
While the STF has told the court that the number of unnatural deaths was 23 (excluding the two of Sunday) the state Home minister, Babulal Gaur claimed on Monday that most deaths were ‘natural’. The STF has also told the court that most deaths have occurred before it took over the investigation. One high profile deaths was that of Shailesh, son of Governor Ram NareshYadav. The STF had also registered an FIR against Yadav for alleged involvement in recruitment of forest guards. The high court prevented action against him as he enjoyed constitutional immunity while in office.
The head of the SIT had put the deaths since the scam broke at 40. The scam is perhaps of the highest magnitude in the state in terms of arrests made, deaths recorded and money involved – various estimates put the figure at over Rs 2,000 crore. The Prime Minister who rode to power on a promise of corruption-free governance has opted to keep quiet on the issue as some RSS functionaries have also been named in the case.
Sunday’s deaths occurred in Gwalior and Indore. Dr RajendraArya(40) who was on bail in the PEB scam reportedly succumbed to some disease in Gwalior while Narendra Singh Tomar (29) complained of chest pain while in Jail in Indore and died on being taken to a government hospital. Tomar’s father Kailash Singh has attributed the death to police torture. He said police officials had demanded Rs seven lakh from him. In March, the STF in an affidavit had told the Supreme Court that it arrested nearly 1,800 accused (mostly students, parents and some middlemen) and are on the lookout for another 800 people.
Estimates vary on the progress the STF has made to uncover the scam so far. While former advocate general of the state Vivek Tankha quotes some to suggest it is 20 percent of the scam, digital forensic expert Prashant Pandey claims only five percent of irregularities have been exposed so far.
Pandey, a whistleblower in this case, has been given security on the directives of Delhi High Court after he expressed fear for his life from the “high and mighty” in state government and police. Pandey, hails from Indore but has been living in Delhi with his family. Strangely, the STF has not announced any inquiry into the 25 unnatural deaths so far. The High Court that is monitoring the investigations has upbraided the STF for delaying the investigations.
The Vyapam scam involves selection of candidates for and various state services like police, excise, revenue and teachers, between 2007 and 2013 to an estimated 140,000 posts. It also involves thousands of illegal admissions in graduate and post-graduate medical and dental colleges.
The Congress is constantly raising doubts about the STF investigations since the confidential reports of the investigation officers are written by the government. Though Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has frequently said he is not afraid of investigations he has stubbornly resisted the demand for CBI inquiry.
Though Chouhan claims credit for starting the investigation into the scam the investigation began two years ago following a report lodged by civil rights activist Anand Rai at Indore. The government transferred investigation to the STF Bhopal to keep a check on its direction. Rai had pointed out that officers with close links to the ruling party were suitably associated with the investigation of the STF.
The Congress alleges that “investigating agency has been undermining the majesty of justice and hoodwinking the High Court” by submitting flawed charge-sheets to shield the chief minister and other ministers by tampering with the evidence while another accused, the higher education minister Laxmikant Sharma, has been in jail for over 16 months.
Some members of the ruling party have often questioned the logic behind the STF-conducted inquiry even while several police officers are accused in the scam and many policemen having been recruited via PEB. Scepticism grew as STF kept making selective leaks through the media and refused to go into the cases before 2012 claiming non-availability of earlier records.