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A gaping and murderous rabbit hole: Life and death in times of Vyapam Scam

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By Ishan Kukreti   

Scams have never been a stranger to the world. Every now and then, there is a scam waiting around the corner, ready to say hello. India is so used to such acts of self-interests on a mass level that their occurrence is no more a surprise.

However in Vyapam, there is something morbidly awe-inspiring and scary at the same time. In drawing rooms, although jokes on politics turn no less cynical, a note of worry is nonetheless added to them when it comes to this cash-for-jobs scam.

Maybe this is because it is a scam which is tangibly close to the masses. Just like Bofors scandal, which pulled a string in people’s hearts, Vyapam has impacted the dreams of thousands of aspirants. A lot of people who, in this decade, wanted to be a doctor, engineer, management professionals, policemen, nurse, architect or even Hindi typist, feel that they have been wronged.

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On second thought, Vyapam is also different because there is blood on its hands, too much blood.

There have been 35-50 deaths according to various contradictory sources, while ‘over 25’ remains the official count so far. Yet, since its inception in 1970, proper exposure in 2013 and commission of SIT in 2014, many names behind it remain undisclosed.

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Here is a chronology that could be best compiled from the various sources available.

1970 – Pre  Medical Test Board is set up by the Government of Madhya Pradesh. It will later (in 1982) transform into Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) a.k.a VYAPAM.

What is VYAPAM? – It is the only institute of its kind in the country that organizes competitive tests for entrance to various professional courses every year on a very large scale.

In 2007, Board of Directors for the self-financed Vyapam is reconstituted under Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board Act.

After a PIL by Dr Anand Rai, an ophthalmologist in 2009, Chief Minister of MP,  Shivraj Singh Chauhan sets up a committee to look into the matter.

On July 26, 2011, 8 people are imprisoned for impersonation in Pre-medical tests.

Between 2000-12, 55 cases of impersonation in exams filed across Madhya Pradesh.

The scam is exposed on 6-7 July in 2013 when Indore police arrests 20 people. Based on the information elicited from them on 13 July, cops arrest Dr. Jagdish Sagar, the kingpin of the racket involved in illegal admissions, in Mumbai.

Under mounting pressure from the opposition to initiate CBI probe, CM Chauhan concedes to constituting a Special Task Force (STF), on 23 August 2013. By this time, around 13 people related to Vyapam are already dead.

As the probe of the STF continues, results of 345 students who wrote that year’s PMT are canceled on October 9.

On 13 December, STF produces its charge-sheet against 34 people including Pankaj Trivedi (Exam controller MPPEB), Dr. Sanjeev Shilpkar and Dr. Jagdish Sagar’s accomplice Gangaram Pipliya.

On 18 December, Vyapam gets its first high-profile name. Ex-Higher Education Minister and then in-charge of MPPEB, Laxmikant Sharma is arrested for involvement in the scam.

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On 16 February 2014, based on a Gujarat forensic lab results, HC dismisses charges by Congress leader and former CM of MP, Digvijaya Singh that evidences are being tempered to protect Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Whistleblower Prashant Pandey, an IT consultant working for SIT, who is named the source of his information by Digvijaya Singh, says the evidence sent to the Gujarat lab was itself tempered. MP police files an FIR against him for leaking information.

Meanwhile, the scam swells up. Till 20 June, 500 are arrested and names of RSS chief, late KS Sudarshan, and senior functionary Suresh Soni come up.

In view of the increasing death toll and demand for inquiry by activists, MP High Court sets up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) on 5 November 2014. By this time, more than 20 people related to Vyapam have been pronounced dead.
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Anand Rai, one of the main whistleblowers, requests the court for security, following death threats. He is asked Rs.50,000 for it. After much struggle, he is assigned a security guard in 2015.

Prashant Panday, also facing death threats, too demands protection from Delhi High Court on 20 February 2015.

Another big name gets associated with Vyapam. MP Governor Ramnaresh Yadav is drawn into the scam on 24 February. But, as an officiating Governor, SIT couldn’t investigate him. The Supreme Court will hear a case to remove him from office today.

On 25 March, Sailesh, Ramnaresh’s son dies in Lucknow. His name too had surfaced in the scam. However, the family members deny foul play.

In a major shock to the fourth pillar of democracy, an Aaj Tak journalist, Akshay Singh, dies while investigating into the scam on 4 July.

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After three more deaths and mounting pressure from various quarters,  Shivraj Singh Chauhan agrees for a CBI probe into the matter on 7 July.

As of today, things stand here. Vyapam scam slowly breathes, hiding much in its bosom and SIT and STF cautiously investigate.

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 (Cartoons by Aseem Trivedi)

 

 

Next Story

CBI Unravels Wrongdoing in Atomic Minerals Mining Licensing

The Delhi High Court that it had taken a policy decision not to auction or re-grant the offshore blocks

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Coal, Mining, China, 5G
5G-powered tramcars went into service in a coal mine in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Pixabay

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has uncovered large-scale irregularities in the ownership pattern, financial resources and technical ability of five companies granted mining licences for offshore blocks bearing rare and atomic minerals.

The companies, while applying for mining licence in June 2010, had a common director, the Central government has told the Supreme Court.

The Centre has argued that the five companies were registered after the government called private parties for mining licences in June 2010, says a CBI document.

At that time, the government was unaware that these minerals had strategic and defence value.

CBI, Atomic Minerals, Mining
The companies, while applying for mining licence in June 2010, had a common director. Pixabay

The administering authority of these licences did not obtain mandatory clearances from various ministries, especially the Home Ministry, according to the CBI.

The Delhi High Court, in an order dated April 25, directed the Centre to execute the exploration licence of the companies as per the procedure within four weeks from the date of receipt of the order.

The verdict came even after the Centre, in an affidavit dated April 16, told the Delhi High Court that it had taken a policy decision not to auction or re-grant the offshore blocks, bearing atomic minerals, to private parties.

Moving the Supreme Court against the High Court ruling, the Centre accused the companies of not submitting the proper supporting documents on the basis of which the marking was done in the evaluation sheet.

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The companies were charged with not providing any document indicating the sanctioned line of credit from any financial institution or bank.

One of the companies approached a leading financial services company seeking finance to carry out mining.

“This document was accepted as a document in support of the financial capability of the applicant company. Accordingly, a MoU was signed on September 23, 2010, which was received by Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) in October 2010, after the date of submission of application for grant of licences on September 14, 2010,” said an internal CBI document.

Therefore, the Centre believed that the company had not confirmed the sanctioned credit limit as per the revised guidelines.

CBI, Atomic Minerals, Mining
The Centre has argued that the five companies were registered after the government called private parties for mining licences in June 2010. Pixabay

“The above MoU was valid only till March 31, 2011. Thus, on the date of issue of grant order by IBM on April 5, 2011, the MoU was null and void,” said the document.

According to information from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), the authorised share capital of this company and its sister concerns was Rs 25 lakh each whereas the paid up share capital of each of the companies was Rs 1 lakh.

The net worth was negative for each company during fiscal 2016-17. The companies, even as of now, are not financially capable of undertaking any activities or business operations, said the document.

The companies stated that they were sister companies of 12 other companies engaged in different business sectors.

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“The worth of the companies and their directors are more than Rs 300 crore. If the exploration licence is granted to the applicant companies, expenses up to Rs 50 crore can be spent easily and can be further increased up to Rs 100 crore, if required,” says a petition in the Supreme Court.

“However, this is not acceptable since the company has been incorporated as Limited Liability Company and therefore the financial commitments by the sister companies had no relevance in the absence of resolution passed by the Board of Directors of the sister companies,” it added.

Despite the inadequate documents in support of their financial strength, the companies got 25 marks by the screening committee which shortlisted applications for mining licence.

“These private companies failed to produce satisfactory documentation for the requisite technical ability and financial resources to undertake exploration operation”, said an officer familiar with the investigation.

The CBI has charge-sheeted the government officials who in November 2017 signed in haste two licence deeds with one of the companies without following the due process.

The CBI, which has started preliminary enquiry after a gap of six years following a go-ahead from the apex court, favours a full-fledged investigation against everyone linked to the grant of licences. (IANS)