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Saturday, July 18, 2015

India's scam of the year

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Protesting against the scam
This is one scam that the Hindu right wing party ruling in Delhi and in Bhopal, the capital of the central Indian province of Madhya Pradesh, will have to live through for a long time. It is so big that most parts of the country are involved in it and its reverberations have travelled far and wide. The media in the West have had occasion to report it in great detail. What is peculiar about the scam is that not only it is a multibillion- dollar scam and has been running for almost a decade some of its witnesses and accused are being systematically liquidated. So far 48 such men and women have either died suspicious unnatural deaths or have been bumped off. Even two deans of an university in a prominent town of the state, Jabalpur, investigating the matter died in quick succession one after the other – one was burnt, reportedly by a laser gun and the other was found dead in Delhi early one morning before. He was on his way to North-East of the country for inspection of another university.

The whole scam is about manipulations in examinations and recruitments by politicians, officials and businessmen of Madhya Pradesh. Known by its Hindi acronym “Vyapam”, the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examinations Board (MPPEB), a government body, was established 1982 to conduct examinations for recruitment to several inferior lower grade positions in state government and for entry into engineering, medical and other professional colleges in the state. Instead of being an establishment for conducting fair recruitments and examinations its officials, including politicians and the minister in charge, indulged in various malpractices to clear candidates for huge monetary considerations.

This cancer has been festering since mid 1990s. But actual action commenced in 2007 after an audit team came across large number of administrative and financial irregularities. Later as many as three whistle blowers had complained about massive irregularities and corruption in admissions for tests and then rigging up of the results. The scale of the malpractices came out in the open in 2013 when it was detected that several politicians, officials and gangs were involved in the scam. By June 2015 around 2000 people were arrested including the State’s education minister, several petty politicians, officials of Vyapam including its System Analyst, bureaucrats, middle men, students and parents. A First Information Report was also filed against the State Governor who survived arrest claiming immunity because of his constitutional post.  However, his days as Governor seem to be numbered.

The modus operandi of the scam was varied and it included bribing officials and politicians, forging answer sheets, allowing impersonators to write the examinations and even manipulating the seating arrangements in the examination halls for facilitating impersonators to write the exams. For pre-medical tests (PMT) practicing doctors were engaged on payment of enormous sums to them and to fixers who maneuvered their admission at exams to write the answers. Another curious method was that the examinee would leave several questions unanswered which would eventually get written with the good offices of the officials, including the System Analyst of Vyapam. 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


The entire thing blew up in the face of the local chief minister when a TV channel reporter died soon after interviewing the father of a girl whose body was found on the railway tracks two years ago. She too was an accused in the scam for having fraudulently cleared pre-medical tests (PMT) but was done away with. Soon, thereafter, another girl, once again an accused, was found dead and floating on a lake. A police constable too committed suicide by hanging himself after he was questioned by investigators.  Recently another suspicious death of a dean of an university in another town in the state was reported from Delhi. His body was found in a hotel where he had checked in for the night. He was to leave for inspection of another university in the North-East of the country. He too was an investigator in the scam and was reported to have submitted around 200 reports to the investigating authorities.

The chief minister claims to be the whistleblower in this case as he appointed an investigating team in 2011. But there are three other whistleblowers that include Dr. Anand Rai, an Optholmologist, Ashish Chaturvedi, a social activist and Prashant Pande, an IT professional hired by the Special Task Force investigating the scam. They have had an uneasy life, living as they do under constant threats of attacks. One of the whistle-blowers claims to have evidence of involvement of the chief minister in the scam

There have been around 2000 arrests and 45 unexplained deaths of people connected with the scam generally in the north of the country. With so many suspicious deaths in quick succession the matter attracted national attentions. The TV news channels – English and vernacular – went to town reporting every facet of the scandal. The Indian National Congress, currently out of power in the State and at the Centre, is crying hoarse for the blood of the chief minister who is in his third five-year term and runs a Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state. It also has questioned Prime Minister Modi’s silence in the matter.

So far the Special Investigating Team appointed by the Special Task Force created by an order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court was investigating the mess. As the details of the scam continued to unfold, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition was filed in the Supreme Court which, after a hearing, ordered that the matter was serious enough for the Central Bureau of Investigations to investigate it. It has also agreed to the petitioners’ demand to monitor the investigations.

That is all well and good. But the scam has fanned the generally prevailing atmosphere of distrust against government institutions. No one knows how many fake and undeserving candidates were recruited over the years for entry into professional institutions or were appointed teachers. While the fake engineers, medical and dental professionals are practicing their professions either privately or in colleges and institutions or in private and government hospitals playing with the lives and wellbeing of the innocent persons, the fake, unqualified and undeserving teachers are playing with the future of school-going children. They are all misfits in their trade having hardly any credentials to practice the highly evolved professions. For a country, people of which suffer from malnutrition, ill-health and several kinds of diseases, such ignorant and unscrupulous professionals like medical doctors pose a threat to their lives. Likewise the undeserving and unqualified teachers are damaging the future of the indifferently tutored, ignorant and incompetent school pass-outs who might eventually be of no use to the country.

The only remedy would seem to be to hunt them down wherever they are after an extended investigation and strip them of their ill-gotten placements and appointments.

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