'Hindustan ka Dil Dekho' is the tagline for the Madhya Pradesh tourism campaign, which boasts its tourist attractions, UNESCO heritage sites and so on.
Increasingly, however, the state has come to become associated with a far more insidious phenomenon – the Vyapam scam.
The Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) scam, commonly known by its Hindi acronym as the "Vyapam (Vyavsayik Pareeksha Mandal) scam" has been grabbing headlines for a macabre reason: people associated with it have been dropping dead for no apparent reason.
Read more from our special coverage on "VYAPAM SCAM"
While most have been witnesses, accused or beneficiaries so far, taking the toll to over 40, on Saturday a journalist who was investigating the scam also died suddenly.
Akshay Singh, a journalist with Aaj Tak news channel, last week died soon after he interviewed parents of a girl who was found dead after her name came up as having benefited from the recruitment scandal. On Sunday, 64-year-old Dr Arun Sharma, dean of a medical college in Jabalpur was found dead in a Delhi hotel. Sharma was assisting the Special Task Force (STF) that is probing the scam, and was reportedly providing documents on fake medical entrance examinees in the state-run medical college he headed.
Many questions remain unanswered as the scam gets murkier. Here’s a list of things that you need to know about the scam so far.
What is it?
The multi-crore Vyapam scam
involves allegations of widespread corruption in the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB), which conducts admissions to various professional courses and recruitment tests for state government jobs. Its purview includes tests for medical college admissions and government employment as police constables, teachers, and banking officials, among others, since 2007.
Officers of MPPEB
were found to have been rigging a variety of eligibility tests for courses and recruitments for close to six years. Over Rs.2,000 crore is believed to have been exchanged in bribes. The state police has arrested about 2,000 people, and are looking for about 700 more.
How was the scam unearthed and who are the whistleblowers?
In July 2013, while investigating complaints of imposters in the Pre-entrance Medical Test (PMT), the Indore crime branch arrested 20 people, 17 from Uttar Pradesh. Among the tests rigged were the PMT 2008-13, Pre-PG test for postgraduate medical courses 2012, and recruitment exams for contract teachers, food inspectors, police constables and Ayurvedic medical officers.
A list of 317 candidates was confiscated from Dr Jagdish Sagar, considered to be the mastermind of the scam. He was arrested by the Indore police on July 12, nine days before the PMT counselling.
The investigation in the scam commenced on 07th July, 2013 on the basis of a report lodged on the information of an Indore-based civil rights activist, Dr. Anand Rai.
Forensic expert Prashant Pandey
said he became a whistleblower in July last year, when he realised the Special Task Force was relying on documents that seemed to have been tampered with.
Gwalior-based social activist Ashish Chaturvedi, who disclosed the involvement of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s relative and seven others in the scam.
How was the scam executed?
In an interview to news website The News Minute, Rai reveals how tests were carried out. Several gangs operated with the connivance of PEB officials to manipulate seating arrangements in examination halls and to fill out optical mark-recognition answer sheets.
One way was to hire fake candidates or impersonators who would write the exam on behalf of the actual student.
Another was to fix seating arrangements: strategically seated between two other candidates allows them to copy from the student in the middle.
Another way was by leaving the answer sheets blank. Candidates were randomly given high percentages during the grading process.
Who are the people accused of the scam?
Numerous high-profile officers, with whose connivance the scam was operating, have been arrested, including MPPEB’s former exam controller Pankaj Trivedi, MPPEB’s system analysts Nitin Mahendra and Ajay Sen and state PMT’s examination in-charge CK Mishra.
Laxmikant Sharma, former education minister, was jailed for fraud in the contract teachers’ recruitment test. His former officer on special duty (OSD) O P Shukla and former P A Sudhir Sharma are in jail. Shukla was charged with taking Rs 85 lakh from suspended officials of the PEB –- director and controller of tests Pankaj Trivedi and principal systems analyst Nitin Mahendra -– for getting candidates selected.
Ram Naresh Yadav, MP Governor was booked for allegedly accepting bribes from five people for recruiting them as forest guards. The high court has quashed the FIR in view of his constitutional immunity.
Dhanraj Yadav, former OSD to governor, is accused of being involved in the recruitment of a large number of candidates through his links with suspended PEB officials.
Suspended IPS officer DIG RK Shivhare was arrested for allegedly getting candidates selected in the sub-inspectors recruitment test. His daughter and son-in-law were allegedly involved in fraudulently clearing the pre-PG PMT.
The rising death toll
More than 40 of the accused persons or witnesses in the case have died, according to media reports.
The state government’s Special Investigation Team – set up after a High Court directive – admitted before the Madhya Pradesh High Court that 23 of these were ‘unnatural’ deaths. Many of the dead were between the age of 25 and 30, and ‘road accidents’ were cited as the leading cause of death. It all points to serious and persisting foul play.In 2015, as many as 10 persons linked directly or indirectly with the scam have died so far. Here is list of some of the mysterious deaths.
Akshay Singh, the journalist with Aaj Tak died on Saturday after interviewing parents of Namrata Damor, the girl who was found dead near railway tracks after her name figured in the scam.
Anamika Kushwaha, Trainee Sub Inspector who was recruited through VyapamScam in 2014 Batch. Found dead in mysterious circumstances in a lake in Sagar district of Madhya Pradesh.
Narendra Singh Tomar, was posted as an Assistant Veterinary Officer at Raisen before being arrested. He was accused of arranging impostors to stand in for genuine candidates. In Indore jail, he complained of chest pain around 11:15 pm. He was taken to Maharaja Yashwant Rao Hospital, where he was declared brought dead. He is said to have died of a heart attack, but his family members allege foul play.
Shailesh Yadav, the son of MP Governor Ram Naresh Yadav was one of the accused in the Vyapam scam.
He was found dead at his residence, the Governor’s bungalow in Lucknow, in March 2015.
Vijay Singh Patel, a pharmacist posted at Shajapur District Jail who was arrested for his alleged role in three cases related to the scam, was found dead at a lodge in Kanker, Chhattisgarh in April 2015.
Namrata Damor, a native of Meghnaghar in Jhabua, 25-year old Namrata was a first year student of MGM Medical College, Indore. Her death was initially ruled as a suicide in 2012. However, in 2014, her name appeared in the list of students who had cleared PMT-2010 using unfair means.
Amit Sagar, a veterinary student in Mhow was named by the prime accused Indrajeet Bhushan in the case. When the police tried to contact him, his body was found in a pond in Sheopur district.
Dr DK Sakalley, the dean of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Medical College
of Jabalpur, died in July 2014. A suicide note was reportedly recovered, but the police declined to confirm the death as a suicide on the basis that he had died under suspicious conditions.
The government’s response
Already battling the Opposition over the Lalit Modi issue, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre is facing the brunt of questioning that seems unlikely to subside, given the mystery surrounding the Vyapam scam
and related deaths.
Though the party which incidentally heads the Madhya Pradesh government also, had initially dismissed reports of more than 40 unnatural deaths as “totally baseless”, is now preparing to answer some real hard questions.
On Sunday, Chouhan, who heads the BJP government in the state, said every death in Vyapam scam
would be investigated.
Speaking to the Economic Times Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, "Since various issues are being raised with regard to the circumstances of his (TV journalist Akshay Singh) death, it would be important that a very fair inquiry is held so that all doubts are put to rest."