It is over six months that Supreme Court entrusted to CBI the investigation of Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s notorious Vyapam scam which destroyed careers of thousands of young girls and boys. So far there is nothing in public knowledge to suggest if CBI is genuinely trying to bring culprits to book or following its past tradition of quietly burying politically sensitive cases such as Jhirniya arms recovery case or Malik Makbooja case.
The mysterious death of Delhi TV reporter Akshay Singh, followed by two more mysterious deaths in the next two days, had brought the murky goings-on in the investigation of Vyapam scam to a boiling point. The Supreme Court, which had earlier turned down the pleas for a CBI inquiry, not only allowed the fresh set of petitions but also showed its concern by directing the CBI to take charge of the investigation from the Special Task Force (STF) of Madhya Pradesh police within five days.
TV reporter Akshay Singh was interviewing Mehtab Singh Damor at his home in Meghnagar in Jhabua district on July 4 when he was said to have collapsed and died before he could be taken to the nearest health centre. Dean and Professor of Forensic Medicine at the Jabalpur Medical College Arun Sharma was found dead a day later in his hotel room in Delhi where he was on official business. On July 6, trainee police sub-inspector Anamika Kushwaha was found ‘drowned’ in a lake near Sagar even though she was a professional swimmer. All three were linked by a common thread: Vyapam scam.
On assignment to do stories for his organisation, Akshay Singh was said to have procured some crucial details about the death of Namrata Singh, a Vyapam-recruited MBBS student of Indore Medical College, whose body was found near railway tracks in Ujjain district in 2012. It was termed by the police as a case of suicide. Having spent a few days in and around Indore, Akshay had reached Meghnagar on July 4 to talk to the family members of Namrata Singh.
Dr Arun Sharma had stepped into the shoes of Dr D K Sakalley, Dean and Professor of Forensic Medicine at the Jabalpur Medical College, who had mysteriously died a year earlier. Dr Sakalley was in-charge of the in-house investigation team of the College to probe Vyapam scam and had identified 93 students who were said to have qualified through fraudulent means. He lived, along with his wife, in the official quarters inside the Medical College campus and was to retire at the end of 2014. In the morning of July 4, 2014, his wife went on her usual morning walk. By the time she returned, Dr Sakalley was engulfed in flames, not even in a position to talk. His unfinished work of identifying the Vyapam scam beneficiaries was taken over by his successor, Dr Arun Sharma.
Fraud and deceit are integral part of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s nature. His fraud was once exposed by one of his cabinet colleagues (how else would the outsiders know to which extent this disciple of Advani could go?)
Akhand Pratap Singh, who was a cabinet minister during Chouhan’s first tenure (now he is out of the BJP, naturally), had opposed at a cabinet meeting the proposal to allot 13.766 hectares of land in the chief minister’s Budhni Assembly constituency by overruling the objections of the revenue and finance departments to Narmada Samagra Trust floated by Anil Madhav Dave. The land was the pastureland belonging to the poor people of Ramnagar village on the bank of river Narmada.
Under the rules, this land could not be converted into the land for construction of houses. Dave’s phoney Trust was to be allotted the land at throwaway prices. Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s criminal intent had become clear in giving the khasra numbers of some other land in the newspaper advertisements inviting objections, so that the genuine owners of the land did not know and did not raise objections.
Dave, an RSS strongman and now BJP member of Rajya Sabha, is a shining star on the corrupt horizon of the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh, enjoying more powers and State-sponsored facilities than any cabinet minister without holding any position of responsibility in the government. His clout can be gauged from the fact that he was declared defaulter by a nationalised bank for not repaying the loan but he continues to guide the government as nothing had happened.
The ruckus created by Akhand Pratap Singh had unnerved Chouhan, which always happens when somebody challenges him face to face. He would probably have scrapped the proposal altogether but for the prompting by other ministers who wanted to show their loyalty to the RSS. Still, the cabinet reduced the area of the land from 13.766 hectares to four hectares for allotment to Dave’s Trust and decided that the allotment would not be made immediately but this chunk of land would be “reserved” for allotment to the Trust at a later date.
As the 2008 Assembly elections were due in a month or so and this could be a weapon in the hands of the opposition to hurt the BJP interests, Dave wrote to the chief minister two days later asking him not to consider his application for allotment of the land. He was quick to send the copies of his letter to the media for proper publicity. He had, however, not remembered the media when he had formed his dubious Narmada Samagra Trust or when he had applied for allotment of land to the Trust, nor had he publicised what exactly the Trust was supposed to do.
The focus on Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and wife Sadhna Singh for their alleged involvement in the Vyapam scam was deflected when the Special Task Force (STF) registered an FIR in connection with the same scam against Governor Ram Naresh Yadav as it was perhaps for the first time that a criminal case was instituted against a serving Governor. The Governor’s son, Shailesh, was named as an accused in an FIR filed on February 18 for recommending 10 people for appointment as teachers in 2013. He died in Lucknow under mysterious circumstances on March 24. The Governor had meanwhile moved the State High Court which eventually quashed the FIR.
While few will vouchsafe for Governor Yadav’s commitment to propriety in the discharge of his duties, the manner in which the criminal case was instituted against him left a stinking trail behind it. The Congress in the State had been agitating, on and off, over Vyapam scam for quite some time. Of late the agitation was intensified by Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Satyadev Katare, with the help of PCC spokesperson K K Mishra, an intrepid digger of BJP government’s dark secrets. Towards the middle of last year, AICC general secretary and former chief minister Digvijaya Singh had also started taking active interest in the scam-related agitation against the BJP government.
The budget session of the Assembly was scheduled to begin on February 18. Two days before that, Digvijaya Singh threw a virtual bombshell. He submitted a sworn affidavit to the High Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) claiming that the excel sheets in the computers of the Vyapam had been tampered with to save chief minister Chouhan. Later he released a copy of his affidavit with the “tampered” excel sheets at a press conference. In a rare show of unity in the Madhya Pradesh Congress, Digvijaya Singh was accompanied at the press conference by former Union ministers Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia, PCC president Arun Yadav and Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Satyadev Katare. Eminent advocate K T S Tulsi was also present. The affidavit says at the end: “vetted and settled by Sh. Kapil Sibal, Senior Advocate”.
According to Digvijaya Singh’s affidavit, the entry “CM” was deleted and replaced by other names 47 times in the computer to show that the illegalities were committed not on instructions of the chief minister but on the instructions of others. At a few places “CM” was replaced by “Uma Bharti” and at some other places by “Raj Bhavan”. He says: “as per law it is mandatory to maintain a record of ‘chain of custody’ of electronic evidence, which encapsulates the persons who handled the specimen/evidence at (the) time of seizure, what was collected, why it was collected, at what time it was handed over to next person for safe custody, to whom it was handed over, and for how long it remained in custody of various officials. The charge-sheet is silent on handling of records from local police, Indore, to Crime Branch, Indore and STF”.
This gave fresh ammunition to the Congress which created a ruckus in the House as the budget session commenced and held demonstrations outside. The ruling party became much too uncomfortable. On February 24, the STF told the media that an FIR had been registered against the Governor on the basis of the statements made by some Vyapam officials who had been arrested by STF over a year earlier and were in judicial custody. The STF did not explain why it waited for over a year to act on the allegations made by the Vyapam officials in custody.
The FIR against the Governor created a sensation but it did not dampen the clamour against the chief minister. As Chouhan found it too embarrassing to face the incessant Opposition demand in the House for his resignation, Speaker Sita Sharan Sharma abruptly adjourned the budget session sine die on a motion of Legal Affairs Minister Narottam Mishra as the House assembled on February 26 (though it was scheduled to last till March 27). Before adjourning the House, the Speaker declared the budget passed – as well as the Appropriation Bill introduced, admitted and passed, in flagrant violation of the rules. Apparently, for Speaker Sharma, saving the chief minister from continued embarrassment was more important than observance of the rules and propriety.
If the purpose of all this was to divert attention from the alleged roles of Chouhan and his wife in the scam, the STF and Speaker Sita Sharan Sharma had succeeded, at least for the time being. The intensity of the Congress agitation petered out. The scam came into the focus with greater intensity a few months later with three Vyapam-related deaths within three days. The investigation was eventually handed over to CBI by Supreme Court.