Key documents related to the seven-year-old scam go missing from medical college in Gwalior, reports Geetanjali Krishna.
Seven years after the infamous Vyapam scam hit the headlines, the case continues to throw up fresh twists that are keeping the investigators busy. Recently, key documents related to the scam reportedly went missing from the records of Gajra Raja Medical College in Gwalior.
The gargantuan frauds allegedly committed by the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board, popularly known by its Hindi acronym Vyapam (Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal), is clearly an issue that the state government, which is going to the polls in a few months, will find hard to live down.
It all started quietly enough. In 2009 Gwalior-based Ashish Chaturvedi, who was getting his mother treated for cancer at local hospitals, was shocked by the shoddy standards of medical practice in the state. After his mother died, he filed a Right to Information query asking for the admission forms, records of answer sheets and the optical marking sheets of all the successful candidates in the 2009 state medical entrance examinations conducted by Vyapam.
Around the same time in Indore, Dr Anand Rai found that his rank in the state’s postgraduate medical entrance examination was way below those of some of his peers who barely managed to scrape through their previous exams. He filed a written complaint, alleging irregularities in the exams and requested that the photographs on candidates’ admit cards be matched with those on their subsequent counselling forms. When compared, it turned out that the photographs of 114 of the 600 students who took the exam did not match, indicating that they got proxies to write the exam on their behalf.
“Even though I’d expected the outcome, I was shocked at the extent of the fraud,” Rai recounts. He immediately requested that the same verification be carried out for the 2007-13 batches as well. And the can of worms which we now know as the Vyapam scam burst open.
Solvers, engines and bogies
Multiple frauds came to light during the investigation. Several “successful” candidates at the pre-medical test used “solvers” -- bright students who appeared for the exam on their behalf. Vyapam officials also manipulated seating plans in exam halls, where a “solver” would be seated in such a way as to enable a number students to copy from his answer sheet -- the “engine” pulling along the “bogies”, as it were.
Chaturvedi filed a complaint highlighting another admission irregularity. “Every private medical college in the state has a government quota,” he says. “Year after year, dummy candidates (mostly senior medical students) would block seats, then drop out at the last minute. The seat would then be sold for anything between Rs 10-15 million to anyone who could afford it.”
A new modus operandi
Cyber security expert Prashant Pandey, another whistleblower in the Vyapam scam, says the most brazen irregularity in examinations has not been properly investigated. “I found over 20,000 discrepancies between the original and scanned OMR sheets in not only PMT, but several other recruitment exams conducted between 2011 and 2014,” says Pandey, who was hired by the Special Task Force to analyse the confiscated digital material.
The then controller of examinations at Vyapam, Pankaj Trivedi, and principal systems analyst, Nitin Mohindra, were both chargesheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation. During the investigation, Pandey found dozens of excel sheets on Mohindra’s computer hard drive, detailing each OMR manipulation made, the name of the candidate and that of the person at whose behest it was made.
However, the state government says that Pandey tampered with the evidence. In fact, he was arrested on the charge of trying to sell confidential phone records that he had access to while working for the STF. “All I ask is for CBI to examine the discrepancies in the original and scanned OMR sheets,” says Pandey. “As for my supposed guilt -- don’t you think the government would have prosecuted me if they had any proof?”
Since the scam broke, over 250 FIRs have been filed against 5,000 accused parties. As many as 53 people associated with the scam in one way or another have died under unnatural circumstances. Most of the accused are out on bail now.
“Many believe that the investigations by the STF and then CBI haven’t unearthed all the ways in which the exams were being compromised, and that the corruption is continuing even now,” says Dr Shailendra Bhadouria, a recent graduate from AIIMS. Bhadouria himself failed to qualify at the state-level PMT several times. And yet he cleared both the AIIMS and JIPMER medical entrance examinations at his first attempt.
Whistleblowers like Chaturvedi and Pandey say the investigations are going nowhere. In fact, not a single arrest has been made since the CBI took over the case in 2015. Chaturvedi has suffered no less than 16 attempts on his life.
Rai and his gynaecologist wife have both been professionally victimised. “Some time ago, I came face-to-face with Dr Jagdish Sagar (one of the main accused in the scam) at an airport,” says Rai. “It felt strange to see the man against whom I’d collected so much incriminating information walking free while I live in constant fear for the safety of my family and myself…”
“Vyapam has affected every student and job seeker in Madhya Pradesh,” says Pandey, who plans to submit the evidence he has collected to a special court of the CBI next month.
With the Vyapam controversy simmering on, the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state government may have a tough time keeping the issue off the table when the state goes to the hustings later this year.