“We will not allow the number of deaths to go up from 36 to 37 or 38. Not one more will die,” Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu was quoted saying in July 2015 when the Supreme Court directed that all cases linked to the Vyapam scam be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Investigations have been dragging on with since then. On October 31, one result of the investigation was revealed: the CBI gave a clean chit to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who was earlier accused of being “directly involved” in it. Earlier, on October 15, the CBI had ruled out any conspiracy in the 24 deaths linked to the scam. Reportedly, the CBI said that the deaths took place either from natural causes, accidents or suicides before the scam surfaced, or they were because of genuine reasons after the scam. Thus, the probe into all these mysterious deaths stands closed except the one in to medical student Namrata Damor’s death.
With these preliminary reports submitted by the CBI, certain questions essential to the Vyapam scam seem to be left unanswered by the investigative agency.
Charges of irregularities in the official examinations conducted by the state-owned Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal - Vyapam) date back to 1995, when initial cases were filed in various police stations in Madhya Pradesh. State govt. officials used to take bribes to get applicants to clear the Vyapam exams and secure govt. appointments. It was estimated that more than Rs 1000 crore was transferred as bribes between 2009 and 2013. A Special Investigative Team lodged a number of cases in 2013 for corrupt admissions and recruitments related to Vyapam. It was also alleged that over the years, various people - students, doctors, journalists and civil servants had died suspiciously because they were either involved or associated with the Vyapam cases while many whistleblowers and investigating officials were threatened. Although the Madhya Pradesh Police put the number of deaths to be 24, Congress party in the state claims that the deaths due to the scam were 46.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh since November 30, 2005. He also held the Medical Education portfolio from December 2008 to March 2012. In 2012, whistle-blower Ashish Chaturvedi, accused Chouhan of direct involvement in Vyapam. With his Right To Information applications, he found that Chief Minister Chouhan had misled the Vidhan Sabha about issuing orders on sending certain documents for the forensic test in relation to Vyapam which he actually did not.
The main accusation against Chouhan was that he was part of the scam, and involved in fixing recruitments. The crucial evidence for this arose from a hard drive belonging to Nitin Mohindra, a Vyapam official (one of the main accused) which was alleged to contain Chouhan’s name and other details. However, it was later alleged that the hard drive had been tampered with by police officials and details of CM had been removed from it.
Whistle-blower Prashant Pandey, a cyber-security expert, who had earlier helped the Madhya Pradesh Police in Vyapam scam investigation during 2014, reportedly had a copy of Nitin Mohindra’s hard drive in which CM Chouhan’s role in the scam is evident. Although, in its charge sheet before a special CBI court, the CBI denied the allegations of “tampering” with the hard drive.
Another pending issue is the unsolved murder of Namrata Damor. Bafflingly, the police insisted that she had flung herself from a moving train. However it soon emerged that the Madhya Pradesh police had ended their investigation into Namrata Damor’s death on the basis of a second postmortem report, prepared by a doctor who later admitted that he had not examined the body and had based his findings solely on photographs provided by the police.
Earlier this 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.
Though the CBI has chargesheeted 490 people in the scam including Nitin Mohindra, events unfolding slowly seem to indicate that the truth is yet to emerge from behind the veil cast over it by the powerful accused. Is the freeing of Chouhan from involvement the beginning of the end?
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