Vyapam scam: Insufficient Closure

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Supreme Court has cancelled the degrees of 634 doctors connected to the Vyapam scam but the real culprits remain unidentified despite the loss of 50 lives so far ~By Neeraj Mishra Former Additional Solicitor General Vivek Tankha has been at the forefront of a public interest litigation related to the country’s worst-ever education and jobs scam—widely known as the Vyapam scam—in the Supreme Court. Recently, the apex court cancelled the degrees of 634 doctors who had graduated between 2008 and 2012, in an appeal filed by 114 students who had been found guilty in an investigation instituted by Vyapam (Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board).  “It is not a satisfactory outcome,” he said, indicating that he expected the court to go a little further and identify the culprits or build a time-bound process in which their identification could begin. Students may be the worst affected in this scam which came to light in 2013. While 634 doctors lose their degrees immediately, a total of 1,087 doctors who graduated in the same period and were found guilty by an internal investigation stand to be hit by the judgment. The appellants had approached the SC against the judgment of the Jabalpur High Court which found them guilty based on the investigation reports. A two-judge bench last July found them guilty but could not reach a decision as Justice J Chelameswar was of the view that the students may be let off with a warning and on condition of social service to prevent “national waste”. The issue was referred to a three-judge bench headed by CJI Justice JS Khehar who wrote the unanimous judgment. Dismissing the social service plea, he stated unequivocally that “fraud cannot be allowed to trounce, on the stratagem of public good.”

vyapam box-1Various estimates put the scam—which principally worked on money for degree and jobs—at over Rs 20,000 crore, depending on the period taken into consideration. The most distressing aspect of the sordid drama has been the loss of nearly 50 lives over the past four years. At least 12 of these deaths have been highly suspicious as the deceased were either accused or witnesses. The scam is representative of everything that is wrong with our higher education system. Everyone from then RSS chief V Sudarshan and RSS leader Suresh Soni, two BJP chief ministers, the state’s Governor and several top bureaucrats and their wards have dipped their hands in a system which has kept out the deserving and kept in the moneyed and the influential.

Among those who have died, some have been allegedly murdered or have committed suicide, include the son of the state Governor, the dean of a medical college and a top bureaucrat. Investigations into the scam reveal what is wrong with our policing—shoddy scrutiny of evidence, insufficient inquiry, deliberate omissions and commissions. Though the arrests have included Laxmikant Sharma, a BJP minister and several of his office staff, Vinod Bhan, CMD of a medical college, RK Shivhare, IPS officer, Amit Pande, husband of an IAS officer, Pankaj Trivedi, ex-examinations officer, and VS Bhadoria, who headed the Vyapam in the given period, political moves have hit investigations.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text="QUESTIONS GALORE" font_container="tag:p|font_size:20px|text_align:left" google_fonts="font_family:Open%20Sans%3A300%2C300italic%2Cregular%2Citalic%2C600%2C600italic%2C700%2C700italic%2C800%2C800italic|font_style:700%20bold%20regular%3A700%3Anormal"][vc_column_text]Some of the submissions of the Special Task Force of the state government and later the CBI have been confounding. These include the confusion regarding the hard disk found on the computer of the chief digital officer of Vyapam. Former chief minister Digvijaya Singh, who is one of the petitioners in the PIL filed in the SC, had submitted a pen drive as evidence which shows excel sheets with names of successful candidates and those who had recommended them. Forty of these names had CM marked against them. When the STF presented its interim report to the Jabalpur HC in 2015, it was alleged that the hard disk had been tampered with and Union cabinet minister Uma Bharti’s name had been inserted in place of the CM. Bharti went on the offensive and declared her life was in danger. vyapam-box2The HC dismissed Digvijaya’s allegations and maintained that the hard disk had not been tampered with. The CBI has said the same in the SC. Does this amount to saying that the CM stands for Shivraj Singh Chouhan? That is not clear. Meanwhile, the CM has claimed victory and says truth has prevailed. Which truth has prevailed is difficult to establish at the moment without the CBI questioning the chief minister and going into the details of how the names of RSS and BJP leaders Sudarshan, Soni, Bharti etc have appeared. Chouhan has meanwhile tilted the narrative towards the inclusion of former CM Digvijaya Singh’s tenure in the investigations. Politically it is a difficult road ahead for him. The Vyapam was formed in the 1970s to conduct exams for the limited number of engineering and medical seats which the state had through PMT and PET tests. In 2006, it was the BJP government which had expanded its mandate to holding tests for contractual teachers, forest guards, constables and food inspectors, amongst others. This opened a gateway to corruption like never before. The booty was shared all around as a medical seat fetched Rs 30-40 lakh, while a job offer got anywhere between Rs 10-30 lakh. Fate and justice have a way of catching up with perpetrators of scams at the most inopportune moment as RJD  supremo Laloo Prasad Yadav and the new AIADMK queen who missed the crown VK Sasikala Natarajan have learnt. The UP results may have an unexpected fallout if the BJP loses and fate may yet catch up with Shivraj when he least suspects or expects it.

 —Neeraj Mishra is a senior journalist and a practising lawyer at Chhattisgarh High Court