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MP: With Assembly Elections a few Months Away, Corruption Issue Dominates the State

The saffron government is again under attack after irregularities surfaced in grade 2, sub-grade 4, and Patwari examinations.
MP: With Assembly Elections a few Months Away, Corruption Issue Dominates the State

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI

Bhopal: "Which district falls under the Narmadapuram division of Madhya Pradesh? Your options are: Katni, Sehore, Harda or Raisen," Punam Rajawat, a resident of Madhya Pradesh's Morena district, failed to reply. Interestingly, she secured the third rank in the Patwari Recruitment Exam declared last week.

Before the 2013 Assembly elections, the PMT medical entrance examination scam rocked the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh. The scam became infamous with the name 'Vyapam' and claimed over 50 lives within two to three years of coming to light. Aspirants and teachers associated with the scam died an unknown death. A TV journalist who went to investigate the scam died of a cardiac attack a day after arriving to interview a family. The CBI, which is probing the scam, have managed to put many individuals under bars but failed to lay hands on big guns and politicians.

A decade later, in 2023, when the state is again heading for polls, the saffron government is again under attack after irregularities surfaced in the recruitment of grade 2, sub-grade 4, and Patwari examinations. The results declared by the MP Employee Selection Board, which is the new name of Vyapam, in the first week of July have many loopholes.

Aspirants and opposition Congress alleged that NRI college in Gwalior district, owned by the sitting BJP MLA Sanjeev Kushwaha, had given seven out of 10 toppers—over 140 aspirants who sat for the examination from that centre qualified for the exam. Six members of a family qualified for the examination. Those candidates who secured 25 out of 25 in English had signed their copies in Hindi, which raises suspicion of a Vyapam-like scam. 

Kushwaha, a sitting MLA from Bhind, is a former Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) leader who switched to the BJP recently.  

Against the vacancy of 6000 grade 2, sub-grade 4 and Patwari, the Employee Selection Board received 12.34 lakh applications, of which 9.74 lakh sat in the examination. 

The board, which has roped in a Bangalore-based company, Eduquity Career Techno Pvt Ltd, to conduct examinations, took online exams between March 15, 2023, to April 26, 2023. The company charges Rs 168 for a candidate.

When the protest over Patwari results got louder, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan ordered a judicial enquiry headed by a former High Court judge into the allegations and withheld the results.

"The name of Vyapam has changed thrice in the last decade. But the corruption continues unabated," lamented Arun Yadav, former Union minister and senior Congress leader, speaking on the recently surfaced scam to reporters during a press conference at the Party office in Bhopal.

Similarly, in February 2021, when Vyapam, then known as Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB), declared the results for the recruitment of agriculture officers on 862 posts in which all the toppers not only belong to the same region but their caste, their college and academic performance were also the same, and they made similar mistakes in the examination, a state-wide protest broke out forcing the government to set up a probe.

The examination was cancelled after glaring irregularities surfaced in the probe report.

In the 18 years of the BJP regime, the state has seen over 100 scams. As per Congress, there have scams in various sectors such as nutrition, women and child development, recruitments, mid-day meal, school dress, irrigation, PDS, nursing, Rs 3000 crore E-tender scam, plantation, Mahakal Lok Corridor, and many others.

For instance, in recruitment scams, the Vyapam, now MPESB, conducted 106 examinations between 2015 and 2023. The agency is under the scanner after irregularities surfaced in 24 examinations, and FIRs were lodged against individuals and officials for rigging the exam, according to the Assembly data.

A tribal aspirant, Sumeer Badole, said, "There is a pattern in recruitment. In an election year, the government notifies the vacancies. The last date gets extended multiple times. After a long wait, the agency announces the examination dates. After tom-tom, the exam takes place, but the paper gets leaked a day before or on the exam date."

He further said, "After the stiff protest, the government initiates a probe that lasts for months. Exams get cancelled after probes highlight scams. But the government has no accountability. The process takes over 2-3 years; in the meantime, elections take place. After returning to power, the government forgets about it."

He continued, "For instance, during school teachers' recruitment, the agency declared the results after a tiresome process, but the selected candidates are on protest to get joining letters from the last three years. Their silent protest often dealt with the battens."

In the end, the recruitment agency gets the benefit as it earned over Rs 607 crore from recruitment applications between 2014-15, according to the data tabled in the assembly in the Budget session of 2023, says the assembly data.

The condition of lakhs of aspirants coincides with one of the most iconic scenes from Satyajit Ray's 1972 film Pratidwandi. In the film, a lead character was questioned about his "purpose in life" during a job interview. He replies, "To get a job." Yet, he was turned down. The real and the fictional worlds have merged as MP finds itself in a similar situation where an excessively high number of people are looking for work but cannot find any.

In 2020, the question paper of the MP Teacher Eligibility Test - 2020 examination leaked from two colleges; one Sagar-based college belonging to Madhya Pradesh's Revenue Minister, Govind Singh Rajput. After the enquiry, the government blacklisted Rajput's college and lodged an FIR against five accused at Bhopal's MP Nagar police station.

The state has seen corruption in the supplementary Take Home Ration scheme, affecting over 20 lakh children and pregnant and lactating women.  

In 2022, the leaked audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General revealed sub-standard food and fake beneficiaries. In some cases, there was no distribution system either. The audit has also found that the number of beneficiaries was hugely inflated and that vehicles listed as trucks turned out to be scooters, motorcycles and autos. The government says the vehicle mismatch was a clerical error. 

"The series of corruption cases across the departments indicate a pattern and nexus but never probed on these lines, and cases were seen as individuals," says Paras Saklecha, a 2009 Vyapam whistleblower who joined Congress later. "Major scams took place in those schemes which were introduced to elevate poverty and hunger. 

Saklecha heads Congress' Aarop Patra Samiti. The Samiti is preparing a book ahead of the polls to corner the government over the corruption issue during the 18 years of the BJP regime.

One scam that rocked the previous term of Chouhan is Rs 3000 crore E-tender scam about alleged tampering of electronic tendering documents. 

In 2018, after the then-managing director of MP State Electronics Development Corporation, Manish Rastogi, flagged a bulk of the doubtful tenders pertained to the WRD, the department headed by Chouhan, launched the probe, which was later transferred to the economic offences wing (EOW).

Later, Rastogi was elevated to principal secretary in the chief minister's office. 

Four years later, on November 23, 2022, a special anti-corruption court in Bhopal acquitted six accused in the e-tendering 'scam'. The court, presided by Judge Sandeep Shrivastava, let off the accused, stating that the prosecution agency, the economic offences wing (EOW) of the state government, could not prove the charges against them.

"Lack of professionalism in the bureaucracy and their inclination towards politics is one of the major reasons for rampant corruption in the state," says Ajay Gangwar, an IAS officer who retired from the post of Secretary of Madhya Pradesh Urban Development. 

"The department with the highest cases of corruption is school education, but no one talks about it. The public delivery system and policing are marred with massive corruption."

Referring to the 'achievements' of the irrigation sector, he pointed out, "Government claimed that Madhya Pradesh is acing in the field of irrigation and winning Krishi Karman Award for years. The truth is the landless labourer is on the rise. The migration is a rampage. The MSP of garlic, tomato and onion crashes yearly, selling at Rs 50 paise/kilo. People die in queues for urea. Hundreds of ponds were only constructed on paper. The quality of seeds the farmers get is of substandard." 

He further noted, "Thousands of new colonies were cropped up illegally in the last two decades. Could this be possible without corruption?" 

"In the election year, the government legitimises this corruption by legalising over 6000 colonies illegally constructed with political support."

The irregularities that surfaced in the Patwari exam during the election year have once again refreshed the memory of voters. It will hurt BJP's vote bank as 30% of the state's population are young and directly connected to the issue.

The incumbent government, which is trying hard to fight back with lucrative announcements, including Rs 1000 to women aged 23 to 60 under Ladli Behna Yojana, has no solution to come clean on corruption. The state government is also under the opposition's attack for protecting corrupt bureaucrats by keeping their permission to prosecute pending.

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