Inquiry into deaths linked to college and job scam

Left-wing students protest against the scam. Picture: AP
Left-wing students protest against the scam. Picture: AP
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Dozens of deaths and the rigging of eligibility tests for admission to medical colleges and for government jobs in India are to be investigated.

The country’s top court has ordered a federal investigation into a multimillion-pound college admission and job recruitment scandal in the police force, schools and banking sector in central India.

The Supreme Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation, India’s FBI, to take over from the state police to investigate the alleged irregularities as well as the deaths of nearly 50 people associated with the scam.

Police have arrested hundreds of parents and students for paying bribes and officials for allegedly rigging eligibility tests in Madhya Pradesh state.

The court directed the Madhya Pradesh government to respond to a petition demanding the removal of the state’s federally appointed governor after questions were raised about his involvement in the scandal which dates back to 2007.

Governor Ram Naresh Yadav’s son Shailesh Yadav died mysteriously in May after he was alleged to have accepted bribes in the governor’s house.

Opposition Congress party leaders had been demanding a federal inquiry into the scam, accusing the Madhya Pradesh government of trying to influence the outcome of the inquiry by the state police.

Congress leader Digvijay Singh demanded the resignation of Madhya Pradesh’s senior elected official, saying chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan should step down to allow for a free and fair investigation.

“Students who have been arrested in connection with the scam should be made witnesses for the state,” Mr Singh said. “Isn’t it strange that hundreds of students and their parents are in jail, while those who took the bribes are roaming free,” he added yesterday.

More than 2,500 people have been accused in connection with the scandal and around 1,900 of them have been arrested.

Dozens of people, either witnesses or suspects in the scam, have died over the last five years in inexplicable circumstances. Congress leaders have alleged that some top state bureaucrats and politicians accepted millions of pounds in bribes to facilitate the admissions.

The scandal has come to be known in India as the “Vyapam scandal,” after the Hindi language acronym for the state-run employment agency in Madhya Pradesh.

The scandal hit the front pages of newspapers once again last weekend after the death of an investigative journalist who had gone to Madhya Pradesh to speak to witnesses.

The following day, the body of a medical college dean was found in a New Delhi hotel. The official, Arun Kumar, headed a medical college in Madhya Pradesh that was involved in the admissions scandal. Mr Kumar was helping the state police investigation.

The many suspicious deaths of people linked to the scam have raised concerns among civil society groups who feel the deaths were in some way connected. Many of the dead were younger than 40 and autopsy reports in most cases were inconclusive.

Madhya Pradesh home minister Babulal Gaur dismissed the opposition’s charge that witnesses and whistle-blowers were being targeted to shield top politicians and bureaucrats. He said most of the deaths were due to natural causes.