The Vyapam Scam operated exactly like a mafia ring with sophisticated systems in place. It had a centralised chain of command with the ring master at the top and differentiated delegation of authority for its henchmen and supporting staff.
The ring master worked in a meticulous consonance with senior Vyapam board officials and had a hideous nexus with senior politicians and bureaucrats to execute the scam to its very end. Now with over 40 ‘unnatural deaths’ of witnesses and whistle blowers, the tell-tale signature of a mafia looms larger and larger. Also, the voices for a strong witness protection programme grows louder than ever before.
Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal (Vyapam) is a Hindi acronym for Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB). The MPPEB is an autonomous and self-financed institution and conducts various entrance exams in the state of Madhya Pradesh. These exams help to recruit candidates for government jobs and admissions in educational institutions of Madhya Pradesh. The Vyapam scam is an admission and recruitment scam in which undeserving candidates were offered high marks in the exams, in exchange for kickbacks. The fake results were delivered with the aid of collusion among exam candidates, government officials and middlemen who operated in a concerted manner to aid undeserving candidates gain top ranks in the entrance exams.
2. How the scam operated
3. Scam Investigation
From mid-1990s till 2009, there were many complaints regarding serious irregularities in the functioning and administration of many entrance exams conducted by Vyapam board. However, the state government of
Madhya Pradesh took no action. In the year 2009, massive irregularities were noted but still nobody took any action. Because, the scam operated by collusion of undeserving candidates, their parents, the politicians, Vyapam officials and various middlemen, it could work in a sustained manner for a very long time.
In 2013, when the Indore police arrested 20 people who had come to impersonate candidates for PMT 2009 exam, the shit hit the roof. Their interrogation revealed that there was more than what meets the eye. The investigators realised that the scam had been operating for decades and that its management systems worked like a ‘mafia ring’ with a gravy train that ran to the top officials of the state. Slowly, the involvement of several politicians, bureaucrats, Vyapam officials, racket leaders, middlemen, candidates and their parents in the scam came to light one by one.
After over 2000 people were arrested in connection with the scam (the list included the state's former education minister Laxmikant Sharma and over a hundred other politicians and their stooges)and about 40 ‘unnatural deaths’ of key witnesses, RTI activists and whistle blowers has occurred, the Supreme Court of India finally agreed to transfer the case to the CBI. As investigations continue, one can only hope that all faces will be unmasked and truth will prevail.
4. Needed: strong witness-protection programme
There is an urgent need to create a strong witness protection programme to protect those who put their lives on line to expose the corrupt. One must note that the Vyapam Mafia has killed witnesses, whistle blowers and RTI activists. According to the High Court Special Investigation Team (SIT), 32 people identified as 'racketeers' during the investigation, died in suspicious circumstances since the investigation started in 2012. Independent media reports point out that ‘unnatural deaths’ at over 40.
Several witnesses under state protection have complained of lax security, including 26-year-old, Gwalior-based whistle-blower Ashish Chaturvedi who says he has been attacked 14 times since the court assigned him protection last year. There are well-defined witness protection laws in all developed countries, which include changing identity of the witness for providing security, shelter and livelihood.
In the US, protection is provided not only to a witness but even to his or her close relatives and even a potential witness. Laws in the US and Canada assist in providing housing, medical care, job training, employment and subsistence funding to the witness as also the whistle-blower. In the UK, laws consider threat to a witness as contempt of court. In 1994, UK enacted the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which provides punishment for intimidation of witnesses. The Act provides protection of the witness and also a potential witness who is helping or could help with the investigation of a crime.
However, India lacks such legal and administrative framework of witness protection programme, which results in the witnesses risking their life while seeking to expose the corrupt.
The Vyapam Board was a self-financed and fully autonomous body incorporated by the state government of Madhya Pradesh and was responsible for conducting several entrance tests. As an independent institution it failed in its most important duty of keeping the examination free and fair for all. Corrupt officials used political nexus and hideous methods to help the undeserving candidates gain top seats in professional examinations that were meant for the meritorious candidates. Even if one goes by entrance tests conducted in 2012 and 2013 (currently being probed by the STF) more than 2.5 million young people have been affected by the scandal. If one makes a conservative estimate that the scam was running for over two decades, the number of candidates affected would rise to 25 million, a figure that makes the notion of professional examination in Madhya Pradesh a mockery.
In the book “Why nation’s fail”, researchers Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that independent political and economic institutions are basis for success of a nation. In other words, nations that succeed are those that have managed to keep its independent institutions fiercely independent and ensure that they work in a free and fair manner with partisanship towards none. Nations that fail are those that could not salvage their independent institutions from termites both from inside and outside. If the Vyapam scam is taken as an indication of a deeper malaise of our independent institutions then the foretelling does not bode well for our nation and our society at large.
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