54 cases, 2,000 accused, 500-600 counsel — and just one judge to hear them

Hearing the bail plea of an accused in the biggest ever educational scam, Vyapam in 2017, the then Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court made an observation, and the order was noted as the law laid down.

“The petitioners may be an accused of taking life of a person but if the allegations are proved, they cannot commit more heinous crime that of playing with the life of young students. It would be a case of mass killing of the career of numerous students,” the then MP HC Chief Justice Hemant Gupta had said.

Based on the Madhya Pradesh police and the CBI’s investigation reports (charge sheets), the trials in the multi-layer scam pertaining to forgery, cheating, bribery, misuse of government office and many more are under way in different district courts in Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur and Gwalior.

Most of cases are being heard in a special CBI court in Bhopal, and the single court is dealing with as many as 54 cases, including the ‘engine bogie’ scam in the PMT exams in 2012 and 2013, which has a roster of more than 1,300 accused persons.

Though the irregularities in the Vyapam exams and recruitment of employees for different departments in the state government were noticed first in 2001, a strong nexus of corrupt bureaucrats, politicians of both the ruling and opposition parties, and racketeers and middlemen kept executing their plans for over a decade, until the lid was blown off it in 2013.

Since then nearly one more decade has passed, and all the key accused who were involved either directly or indirectly have got interim or conditional bail. Over 2,000 persons were chargesheeted by the CBI, and at present only those accused are in jail who have been convicted. Some of them have died, including former MP Governor Ramnaresh Yadav’s son Shailesh Yadav.

If the same process is maintained, it may take one more decade to complete the trial in this multi-layer scam, and the reason is obvious that the courts dealing with the cases are overburdened. The cases are being heard on a daily basis in the special courts assigned particularly to the Vyapam related cases.

For instance, the special CBI court dealing with the Vyapam case in the Bhopal district court, which has disposed off nearly 50 per cent cases, the case named Engine-Bogie (PMT exams 2012 and 2013) which has over 1,300 accused was still pending.

Special Public Prosecutor (PP) representing the Central agency (CBI) in the Bhopal district court, talking to IANS exclusively, said, “With the daily hearing on Vyapam, 50 per cent cases have been disposed off till now. Often the court continues hearing beyond working hours, but it is also a fact that the court is overburdened. Now, the trial in the engine-bogie case has taken off, which has over 1,300 accused. Further, there are multiple defence counsel and the court has to follow the rules and give every defence counsel an equal opportunity to present their side of the story.”

Dinkar said for over the 1300 accused in the engine-bogie case alone, at least 500-600 defence counsel cross-examine each witness in the case (the collective number of witnesses being around 2,000). “Besides these, there are some other CBI cases, which the court has to deal with daily. Around 30 accused have died since the court proceedings started,” Dinkar claimed.

Earlier, particularly in Bhopal, there were five courts assigned to conduct trials particularly in the Vyapam related cases in 2015. However, as of now, a single court of Justice Nitiraj Singh Sisodia is hearing all the Vyapam related cases.

“Five special courts were notified to deal with the multi-layer Vyapam case in 2015. Later in 2019, the number of courts dealing with the case were reduced to three and since 2021, a single court is hearing all the cases,” Dinkar added.

The scam involved as many as 13 different examinations conducted by the Vyapam or Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board for recruitment to government jobs and admissions to educational institutions in the state.

The irregularities were first noticed over a decade back before the scam was broken in 2013 by a group of whistleblowers, following which Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan constituted a Special Task Force (STF) of the state police to probe the scam.

During the investigation, several accused and witnesses died in suspicious circumstances and all those deaths still remain a mystery. In almost all those death cases, the investigation teams have filed closure reports in the courts.

Due to the number of suspicious deaths in the case, questions were raised about the state government and the STF, and subsequently the Supreme Court directed to hand over the Vyapam case to the CBI in 2015. Since then, in a bid to distance the scam-tainted organisation from its roots, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government renamed Vyapam twice — first in 2015 and again in February 2022 and now the department is called the Staff Selection Board (SSB).

The board responsible for conducting exams and recruitments has been shifted from the technical education department to the general administrative department of the state government. On the other hand, the thousands of youths whose careers got spoiled and the relatives of those who died are still waiting for justice.

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