Vyapam scam: SC hands over all cases to CBI

Shivraj Singh Chouhan
The Supreme Court on Thursday transferred all cases of corruption and serial deaths related to the Vyapam scam to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). It also took the unprecedented step of issuing a notice to Madhya Pradesh Governor Ram Naresh Yadav, allegedly involved in the recruitment scandal.

Whether or not the apex court will monitor the probe will be decided on July 24, when the CBI will reply to a notice in this regard. Apart from the CBI and the governor, notices will also be sent the central and state governments.

At a press conference in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan termed the probe into the Vyapam scam his “trial by fire”, adding he would come out clean. He said he felt relieved at the development and was “grateful” to the apex court for acceding to his request for a CBI probe. “Had I wished, there would be no probe. But I wanted anomalies in the system to be detected and fixed,” he said, dismissing allegations of his involvement in the scam.

THE BIG PICTURE
  • On July 24, it will be decided whether or not the apex court will monitor the probe
  • Chouhan is yet to speak to the Prime Minister regarding the issue
  • Congress has demanded Chouhan’s immediate resignation
  • Senior counsel Kapil Sibal argued for the removal of the governor of Madhya Pradesh in the SC on Thursday
  • Congress plans to go on a statewide bandh on July 16

Chouhan, who had met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during his visit to New Delhi on Wednesday, returned to Bhopal on Thursday. He said he was yet to speak to the prime minister on the issue. During his stay in New Delhi, Chouhan met the family of journalist Akshay Singh, who died under mysterious circumstances in Madhya Pradesh while covering the scam.

On demands by the Congress that he quit, Chouhan said the Opposition suffered from “Shivraj-phobia”. He slammed the Congress for giving Madhya Pradesh a bad name and said the truth behind the deaths should come out. He asserted the state government tried to fulfil its “raj dharma” by requesting for a CBI probe. In the backdrop of the apex court sending a notice to Ram Naresh Yadav, Home Minister Rajnath Singh called on President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday.

In the Supreme Court on Thursday, senior counsel Kapil Sibal argued for the removal of the Madhya Pradesh governor. The court, however, did not comment on this aspect. Appearing for the state government, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said the government had no objection to the transfer of the probe from a special task force (STF) of the Madhya Pradesh police to the central agency. “We have nothing to hide,” he said.

Sibal said the high court had “abdicated all principles laid down by the Supreme Court, while quashing the first information report (FIR) in the case”. The complaint was about a recommendation for the appointment of five forest guards. The counsel said the conspiracy involving top leaders should be probed by an external agency and monitored by the Supreme Court. If the governor retained his position, the evidence would disappear, he said. More, people connected to the scam were dying every day and the count had exceeded 40, he added.

Though the governor was named, he secured relief from the Jabalpur High Court, as he had constitutional immunity under article 361 (2) and 361 (3) of the Constitution. A division bench of the Jabalpur High Court had set aside an FIR against the 88-year-old Yadav and directed the STF, the prosecuting agency, not to take any “coercive action” against him.

The Supreme Court criticised the high court for giving an adjournment in the case till July 20 and transferring the responsibility to the apex court. Congress leader Digvijaya Singh was among the petitioners, represented among others by Abhishek M Singhvi, Indira Jaising and Prashant Bhushan. The scam pertains to candidates resorting to bribery to be recruited to colleges, the police force, etc.

The Congress, meanwhile, stepped up its attack on the BJP. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his alleged failure to check corruption. “I have just one question: Mr Prime Minister, what you say must carry weight. You said na khaoonga, na khane doonga (I won’t engage in corruption nor allow others to). Why are you allowing corruption in Rajasthan? What are you doing to bring back Lalit Modi? Why are you not acting against Shivraj Singh Chouhan.”

The party continued to demand Chouhan’s resignation. Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Suresh Pachouri demanded the governor, too, quit on moral grounds, adding his party would insist on a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe. He said the Congress would go ahead with its call for a statewide bandh on July 16. Digvijaya Singh said students jailed in the case be made prosecution witnesses.

The Congress has often alleged Chouhan ignored the scam since it was brought to his notice in 2009. The first FIR in the matter was registered by the Indore Crime branch in July 2013. As many as 3,800 have been accused in the scam, about 500 of them still at large.

In a related development, the STF of the Madhya Pradesh police told a special court a witness in the Vyapam scam, Sanjay Singh Yadav (35) died of liver disorder at a private hospital in Bhopal on February 8.

Yadav was a witness in a constable recruitment scam in which three accused from Uttar Pradesh were arrested. The Congress has said so far, 47 people with direct or indirect links to the Vyapam scam have died.

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