As NEET row rocks India, a look back at the Vyapam scam

Vyapam remains one of the largest and most complex corruption scandals to have broken in India in recent years

Madhya Pradesh Vyapam (file photo)
Madhya Pradesh Vyapam (file photo)

NH Digital

With the country rocked by allegations of irregularities and corruption surrounding two major competitive exams — the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET)-UG for medical students and the NET (National Eligibility Test) for research scholars and future college professors, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Thursday compared the situation to the 'Vyapam scam'. Which makes it a good time for a refresher course.

The Vyapam scam, officially known as the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) scam, is one of the largest and most complex corruption scandals to have rocked India in recent years.

The scandal involved a massive admission and recruitment scam that implicated politicians, government officials, and aspiring candidates in Madhya Pradesh. Most notoriously, it will be remembered for a series of mysterious deaths of individuals linked to the scam, either as witnesses or as accused.

Background and origin

The scandal came to light in 2013 when irregularities were discovered in the recruitment process conducted by the MPPEB for various professional courses and government jobs. MPPEB, commonly referred to as Vyapam (Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal), is responsible for conducting entrance exams for medical, engineering, and other professional courses, as well as recruitment exams for government positions in Madhya Pradesh.

Initially, irregularities were suspected in the pre-medical test (PMT) conducted by Vyapam, where several candidates with dubious credentials managed to secure high ranks. Subsequently, a deeper investigation revealed a pervasive network of corruption involving the manipulation of examination seating arrangements, answer sheets, and even the selection process for government jobs and college admissions.

Scope and scale of the scandal

The Vyapam scam's scale was staggering, involving thousands of fraudulent admissions and recruitments over several years. It wasn't just limited to a few individuals but implicated politicians, government officials, Vyapam employees, middlemen, and even parents and candidates who colluded to rig the examinations. The scam encompassed a wide array of exams beyond just medical, including police recruitment tests, forest guard exams, and even admission tests for veterinary colleges.

Legal and investigative fallout

The exposure of the scam led to a series of investigations, arrests, and legal proceedings. A special task force (STF) was established to investigate the scam, and the case was later handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for further probe.

Hundreds of arrests were made, including politicians, bureaucrats, Vyapam officials, and several candidates involved in the fraud. Many accused persons were put on trial under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including cheating, forgery, criminal conspiracy, and corruption charges.

Court proceedings and challenges

The legal proceedings faced significant challenges owing to the complexity of the scam, the large number of accused, and the vast amount of evidence to be reviewed. The trials were marked by delays, allegations of witness tampering, and the mysterious deaths of several individuals linked to the scam, raising concerns about witness protection and judicial integrity.

Series of mysterious deaths

One of the most alarming aspects of the Vyapam scam is the series of deaths of individuals — as many as 40 officially recorded — who were either directly involved in the scam, were witnesses, or had information related to fraudulent activities. These deaths occurred under suspicious circumstances, leading to allegations of foul play, cover-ups, and attempts to silence key witnesses.

Examples of witness deaths

1. Namrata Damor: A medical student whose body was found near railway tracks in 2012. Initially ruled as suicide, her death was later suspected to be a murder linked to her involvement in the Vyapam scam as a beneficiary of manipulated admissions.

2. Akshay Singh: A journalist who was investigating the Vyapam scam, Singh suddenly collapsed and died in 2015 shortly after interviewing the family of a deceased Vyapam accused. His death raised significant questions about potential threats faced by those exposing the scam.

3. Shailesh Yadav: A medical student who allegedly died by suicide in 2015, he was an accused in the scam and was reportedly under stress owing to the ongoing investigation.

4. Dr. Arun Sharma: An accused in the scam who once again died under mysterious circumstances in 2015. His death, initially attributed to a heart attack, raised suspicions as he was a key figure in the medical entrance examination fraud.

These are just a few notable cases among many others where individuals linked to the Vyapam scam met untimely deaths. The circumstances surrounding these deaths often pointed to lapses in security, inadequate witness protection measures, and the potential risks faced by those involved in exposing corruption at high levels.

Investigations and controversies

The deaths sparked widespread outrage and demands for thorough investigations into possible links to the scam. Concerns were raised about the safety of witnesses, the credibility of investigations, and the integrity of judicial processes. The CBI faced immense pressure to uncover the truth behind the deaths and ensure justice for the victims.

Legal and social impact

The witness deaths have had a chilling effect on whistleblowers and individuals willing to expose corruption. They underscored the challenges faced by those attempting to bring to light malpractices in a system where powerful interests are at stake.

Impact on Madhya Pradesh politics

The scam had far-reaching consequences for Madhya Pradesh's political landscape. It tarnished the reputation of the ruling BJP at the time, as several of its leaders and officials were implicated in the scandal. The Opposition Congress party demanded resignations and thorough investigations.

At the height of the scandal, the administration of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan faced severe criticism for alleged administrative lapses and failure to prevent such widespread corruption. However, the BJP government maintained that it cooperated fully with investigations and took action against those found guilty.

Current status and aftermath

As of the latest updates, several trials related to the Vyapam scam are ongoing in various courts across Madhya Pradesh. Many accused individuals have been convicted and sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. The CBI continues to investigate related cases and appeals are being heard in higher courts.

The scandal prompted significant reforms in the examination and recruitment processes in Madhya Pradesh, with stricter protocol implemented to prevent future frauds.

However, the impact of the scam on the public's trust in government institutions and the credibility of examination systems remains profound. As legal proceedings continue, the scandal continues to shape conversations about governance, integrity, and the rule of law in India's public sector.

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