Ahead of assembly elections, the unsolved Vyapam scam is back in the spotlight with political parties in Madhya Pradesh charging accusations against one another. On September 27, Bhopal Police registered a First Information Report (FIR) against senior Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia, and a Right to Information (RTI) activist Prashant Pandey on charges of “fabricating evidence” in the Vyapam scam, on directions of a Special Court monitoring the massive scam.
The Court’s order came in response to a private petition filed by lawyer Santosh Sharma, BJP’s local leader, who, on September 24, complained against the former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh and others, accusing them of submitting false electronic evidence to the same court in the previous week. On September 17, Singh had filed a complaint and deposed in front of the Additional District Court Judge Suresh Singh against Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Union Minister Uma Bharti and a number of police officers accusing them of tampering with the 27,000 pages of excel sheets that constitutes the prime evidence in the Vyapam scam.
What is the Vyapam Scam?
The Vyapam scam refers to the irregularities in exams held by the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board, also called Vyavasayik Pareeksha Mandal (Vyapam), for admission in professional courses and recruitment in various state services. Last year, a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report had accused the Madhya Pradesh state government of allowing the Vyapam board to function in a “nebulous atmosphere” with irregular appointments and violation of many rules between 2005-2015. According to news reports, over Rs. 1000 crore were circulated as bribes, more than 1,000 persons fraudulently got appointments, and 45 persons who were directly or indirectly linked to the scam died under suspicious conditions.
Although, the BJP as well as Congress leaders have been trading charges against one another with accusations of fabricating or tampering with evidences, the evidence produced by the Congress remains crucial as it throws light on CM Chouhan’s alleged involvement in the scam.
The prime evidence
In the latest complaint, the Congress leaders have alleged involvement of Chouhan and Uma Bharti in the scam, as their names were allegedly written in the ‘Remarks Column’ of the excel sheets present in the hard disk of the computer owned by Nitin Mohindra, principal programme analyst at Vyapam. The complaint further alleged that the state police had tampered the hard disk with the help of computer expert Prashant Pandey and got Chouhan’s name removed, which was said to be mentioned 48 times from the digital document. Pandey had earlier admitted the same when he came out with a copy of the ‘untampered’ original document. The same document, however, has not been produced in the Court hearing the cases related to the scam.
Chouhan has been the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh since November 2005. From December 2008 to March 2012, Chouhan held the Medical Education portfolio. In 2012, whistle blower Ashish Chaturvedi, with his RTI applications, found that Chouhan had misled the Vidhan Sabha on orders issued for sending certain documents to the forensic test in relation to Vyapam, which he actually had not done. Despite the evidence provided by Pandey, last year in October, the CBI had given a clean chit to Chouhan, who was earlier accused by the agency of being “directly involved” in it.
Status of the CBI probe
The Vyapam scam came to light in 2013, and the CBI took over the Vyapam investigation in 2015 at the behest of the Supreme Court’s directions. Since then, the investigation has been dragging. While in its very first report, the CBI had proposed setting up of a special zone with a manpower of 500. Currently, more than 70 per cent of the team handling Vyapam-related cases have moved out to other departments. So far, the CBI has chargesheeted more than 500 people in the scam and has arrested several dozens of accused. However, the last wave of arrests by the agency was in March this year, when Bhopal's L.N. Medical College Chairman J.N. Chouksey was taken into custody.