The Vyapam Scam is an admission and recruitment scam involving politicians, senior officials and businessmen in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB), popularly known by its Hindi acronym “Vyapam” (Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal), is a self-financed and autonomous body incorporated by the State government responsible for conducting several entrance tests in the state. These entrance exams are held for recruitment in government jobs and admissions in educational institutes of the state.The scam involved a collusion of undeserving candidates, who bribed politicians and MPPEB officials through middlemen, to get high ranks in these entrance tests.
Cases of irregularities in these entrance tests had been reported since the mid-1990s, and the first FIR was filed in 2000. However, until 2009, such cases were not thought to be part of an organized ring. When major complaints surfaced in the pre-medical test (PMT) in 2009, the state government established a committee to investigate the matter. The committee released its report in 2011, and over a hundred people were arrested by the police.
The sheer scale of the scam came to light in 2013, when the Indore police arrested 20 people who had come to impersonate candidates for PMT 2009. The interrogation of these people led to the arrest of Jagdish Sagar, the leader of an organized racket involved in the scam. The state government established a Special Task Force (STF) on 26 August 2013. Subsequent interrogations and arrests uncovered the involvement of several politicians, bureaucrats, MPPEB officials, racket leaders, middlemen, candidates and their parents in the scam. By June 2015, more than 2000 people had been arrested in connection with the scam. These included the state’s ex-education minister Laxmikant Sharma and over a hundred other politicians. In July 2015, the Supreme Court of India issued an order to transfer the case to the country’s premier investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Vyapam is entrusted with the responsibility of conducting large-scale competitive tests for admission to various professional courses and for recruitment to government jobs.
The Vyapam scam involved collusion among exam candidates, government officials and middlemen: undeserving candidates were offered high marks in the exams, in exchange for kickbacks. The following tricks were used by those involved in the scam:
Brilliant students (including previous years’ top candidates) or practicing doctors would be paid to impersonate exam candidates. The photograph on the candidate’s admit card was replaced by the impersonator’s photograph. After the exam, it was changed back to the original. This was done in collusion with the corrupt board officials.
Undeserving candidates bribed the board officials through middlemen to be seated strategically next to a brilliant dummy candidate, who was also paid money. The dummy candidate let them copy from his sheet or exchanged the sheet at the end of the exam.
- Manipulation of records and answer sheets
The undeserving candidates would leave their OMR answer sheets blank or fill in only the answers they were sure about. The corrupt board officials would manipulate records to give these candidates randomly high percentages. To avoid being caught in case of an audit, they would file an RTI request demanding to view these answer sheets, and fill in the answers according to the marks.
- Leaking the answer key
The corrupt board officials leaked the answer key to the selected candidates.
Unearthing the Scam
Cases of malpractices in Vyapam scam had been reported since 1995, and the first FIR was found in 2000 in Chhatarpur district. In 2004, seven cases were registered in Khandwa District. However, such reports of malpractice were seen as isolated cases.
· 2009-11: Initial probe by committee
A report by the Madhya Pradesh Local Fund Audit office for 2007-08 found several financial and administrative irregularities in MPPEB, including unauthorized disposal of application forms. It was suspected that the application forms were being destroyed so that they could not be compared to exam admit cards and other records. In 2009, fresh complaints of irregularities in the pre-medical test (PMT) surfaced. Indore-based activist Anand Rai filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) requesting investigation into the scam. In 2009, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan set up a committee headed by the State Joint Director of Medical Education to probe the allegations.
In July 2011, MPPEB monitored 145 suspects during the Pre-Medical Test (PMT). Most of the suspects did not turn up, but 8 were caught for impersonating others. This included Kanpur-based Satyendra Varma, who had accepted ₹ 4 lakh to appear in place of Ashish Yadav, in Indore. 15 exam toppers from the previous year appeared for the exam. Suspecting that these people were called in to impersonate others or to help candidates cheat by sitting adjacent to them, MPPEB asked them to explain their reasons for re-taking the exams. MPPEB also started using biometric technology: thumb impressions and photographs of all the persons appearing for the exam were taken to be matched during the post-results counselling.
The committee set up by Chouhan in 2009 submitted its report to the government in November 2011. It mentioned that 114 candidates had passed PMT using impersonation. The candidates, mostly from rich families, had been impersonated by practicing doctors and talented medical students, some of whom had come from neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh & Bihar.The middlemen had charged each candidate ₹ 1-4 million. The findings raised concern that several fake doctors admitted through PMT in earlier years might have graduated as practitioners. The possibility of government officials being involved in the scam was also mentioned.
In December 2011, the MP Government announced that all the students who had gained admissions by fraudulent means would be asked to quit their courses. This included those who had already spent some years taking the course.
In 2012, Indore police arrested four people who had come to impersonate candidates in the PMT exam. The arrested had been promised sums ranging from ₹ 25,000 to ₹50,000 each.
· 2013 MP-PMT exam
The massive scale of the Vyapam scam came to light in 2013. On the night of 6-7 July, the Indore police arrested 20 people from various city hotels. These people, 17 of whom were from Uttar Pradesh, had come to impersonate local candidates in the PMT exam scheduled on 7 July 2013. The impersonators had been promised sums ranging from ₹50,000 to ₹ 100,000. Based on information collected during the interrogation of these 20 impersonators, Indore police found out that an organized racket headed by Jagdish Sagar was involved in the scam. After the arrests and the revelation, Dr. Anand Rai submitted a complaint to the local Superintendent of Police (economic offence wing), seeking a detailed investigation. He sought probe into the role of MPPEB’s chairman, exam controller, assistant controller and deputy controller.
On 13 July, 2015, Jagdish Sagar was arrested in Mumbai. A list containing names of 317 students was confiscated from him. MPPEB’s exam controller Pankaj Trivedi, who was not a suspect in the scam at that time, tried to protect these students. He sent a letter to various government departments and the deans of medical colleges, insisting that these students should be allowed admission once they sign an affidavit. The affidavit would state that they didn’t use any unfair means, and that their admissions would be canceled if they were found guilty in the police investigations. On 28 September 2013, Trivedi was also arrested, based on Jagdish Sagar’s interrogation. On 5 October, the Special Task Force (STF) of the police chargesheeted 28 people, including Jagdish Sagar. In December 2013, the STF produced a 23,000-page supplementary chargesheet against 34 accused in the Indore district court. Out of these 34 accused chargesheeted, 30 were students and their guardians. Four others included Pankaj Trivedi, Dr. Sanjeev Shilpkar and Dr. Jagdish Sagar’s accomplice Gangaram Pipliya.
· Other exams probed
In November 2013, the STF found that the scamsters had rigged five recruitment tests: Pre-PG, Food Inspector Selection Test, Milk Federation test, Subedar-Sub Inspector and Platoon Commander Selection Test and Police Constable Recruitment Test – all held during 2012 for government jobs in the state. For Pre-PG Test of 2012, MPPEB’s former examination controller Dr Pankaj Trivedi and its system analyst Nitin Mahindra provided model answer keys to candidates through photocopies. For the other four exams, the Vyapam officials manipulated the OMR answer sheets by taking them out of the strong room. Different FIRs against 153 people, including Sudhir Sharma, were filed. Sharma had earlier been interrogated by CBI in mining scam of Madhya Pradesh. In March 2014, the government announced that the STF was investigating rigging of nine examinations, and 127 people had been arrested.
The previous years’ PMT exams were also investigated. The STF found that 286 candidates had cleared PMT-2012 through fraudulent means. On 29 April 2014, 27 students of MGM medical college in Indore were expelled for having used fraudulent means to clear PMT-2012.
In June 2014, the High Court asked the police why several of the accused in the case had not been arrested yet. Following this, the STF made several arrests. On 15 June, the STF arrested the state’s former technical education minister and BJP leader Laxmikant Sharma for his alleged involvement in the contractual teachers recruitment scam. On 18 and 19 June 2014, the police arrested over 100 medical students from different parts of the state, for their involvement in the PMT scam.
In September 2014, the STF revealed that Jagdish Sagar’s racket had also rigged the entrance exams for recruitment in SBI and other nationalized banks. These entrance exams included the IBPS exams and the SBI Probationary Officer’s exam.