With over 2,500 people accused, nearly 2,000 arrested and 55 cases currently being investigated by various courts, the “Vyapam” scam dominating India’s news networks over the last week has been more than a decade in the making.
Here’s everything you need to know about the scandal that is starting to cast doubts over Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of “clean” governance.
What is Vyapam?
“Vyapam” is the Hindi acronym for the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB), a government-controlled body in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, tasked with conducting entrance tests for professional courses and jobs.
According to the Indian Express, the organization -- which has existed in its current form since 2007 -- has conducted, on average, 21 exams every year for appointment to government jobs and educational institutions in the state, including for engineering and medical courses. Some estimates suggest that between 2007 and 2013, a staggering 8 million people took exams conducted by Vyapam.
What’s the scam?
Candidates appearing in exams conducted by Vyapam allegedly hired impersonators to write their exams or paid “scorers” who sat close to them during exams and helped them cheat. Another method involved submitting partially blank answer sheets that were later filled up by teachers involved in the scam.
Some reports also suggest that question papers were leaked and sold to candidates prior to the exam -- a method that would need the active involvement of Vyapam officials. Candidates allegedly paid anything between $15,000 and $110,000 to secure a seat, making it a multimillion-dollar scam.
While the practice is believed to have been widespread since 2000, it only came to light two years ago.
On July 7, 2013, law enforcement officers in Indore, one of the largest cities in the state, arrested 20 people suspected of plotting to rig medical school exams conducted by Vyapam. Six days later, the alleged kingpin, a man named Jagdish Sagar, was arrested in Mumbai. This is when the true scale of the scam was revealed.
It is estimated that at least 1,000 “illegal appointments” have been made through Vyapam -- a number that activists say could be much higher.
Alarmingly, at least 35 people connected to the scandal including a journalist, a medical college dean and several accused have died over the last two years, triggering allegations of a “larger conspiracy” to cover up the scam.
Who is involved?
“It is a criminal nexus of politicians, bureaucrats, police officers, students, teachers, agents, brokers -- everyone is involved,” Anand Rai, a whistleblower who helped blow the lid off the scam, reportedly said.
As of now, 2,530 people stand accused. Around 1,980 people have been arrested and 550 people are still sought by police. Twenty courts in Madhya Pradesh are currently looking into 55 cases registered in connection with the scandal.
Additionally, a top private medical school owner, aides to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and state Governor Ram Naresh Yadav, senior police officials and several top bureaucrats are also under the scanner. Chouhan belongs to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Yadav is from the Indian National Congress party.
What’s being done about it?
If the Congress, India’s largest opposition party, is to be believed, the answer is nothing.
“Chouhan should step down from his post to pave the way for a fair probe into the scam. A Supreme Court monitored CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] inquiry should be initiated. Furthermore, the CBI should also probe into investigations carried out into the scam so far,” Mohan Prakash, a senior Congress official in the state, reportedly said on Tuesday.
According to local media reports, several top Vyapam officials, including the former examination controller, politicians, doctors, senior law enforcement officials and students are currently behind bars.
However, given the sheer scale of the scam, many are now calling for a country-wide investigation to unearth similar scandals in other states.
“Vyapam is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. This is happening all over the country,” Chandresh Bhushan, a retired judge heading a Special Investigative Team probing the scam, reportedly said.