Bhopal: Ask whistleblowers Anand Rai, Ashish Chaturvedi and Prashant Pandey whether the Supreme Court ruling entrusting the Vyapam scam probe to the CBI has fulfilled their objectives and they will tell you that their mission in Madhya Pradesh is not quite over, for the canvas of corruption stretches much wider.
As of now, the trio is awaiting the apex court’s ruling on their petitions seeking a CBI investigation into yet another explosive admission racket in the state. This high-end scam involves IAS/IPS officers, judges as well as influential BJP and Congress politicians as beneficiaries of the manipulation of the Dental and Medical Test (DMAT) conducted by the Association of Private Dental and Medical Colleges of Madhya Pradesh (APDMC). The APDMC admits around 1500 candidates every year in undergraduate programmes run by the six private medical and 16 private dental colleges in the state.
The Supreme Court heard the DMAT petitions on July 9, the day it handed Vyapam over to the CBI. However, it deferred its verdict on how to handle this related scam by a week since the petitioners sought to provide additional information regarding the collusion of people in high places as well as the trail of black money that kept the dodgy process going. According to Rai, the DMAT scam is estimated to have netted its beneficiaries anywhere between a staggering Rs 8000 crore and Rs 10,000 crore.
List of top names
The names mentioned by the Congress and whistleblowers as beneficiaries of the DMAT scam read like a who’s who of the state’s legislative and judicial spectrum. Prominent among them is the name of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s wife Sadhana Singh, whose niece secured admission in a Bhopal medical college in 2012. Anand Rai, who was the first to flag the issue of fraudulent admissions in private medical colleges, says that from the inception of the DMAT in 2006, as many as four ministers in the present Chouhan government and four ministers from the CM’s earlier tenure have secured admissions for close relatives in private medical colleges. But politicians weren’t the only ones to take advantage of the system. The list of alleged beneficiaries makes for impressive reading:
VIPs whose wards have allegedly benefited from DMAT irregularities
Justice SC Sinho
Justice Abhay Gohil
Justice AK Maheshwari
Justice Shantilal Kochar
Judge PC Gupta
Judge KC Garg
Judge Shrawan Raghuvanshi
Bureaucracy and Police
Mahendra Singh Sikarwar
Vishnu Dutta Sharma
Harnam Singh Rathore
Source: Multiple press reports (1)
Hope rises, and dims
Even as the political slugfest continues in Madhya Pradesh, a recent development has made Rai, Chaturvedi and Pandey hopeful of a ruling in their favour by the Supreme Court.
Some time ago, whistleblower and former legislator Paras Saklecha moved the High Court seeking cancellation of the DMAT scheduled on June 21 this year because candidates were allowed to apply well beyond the stipulated cut-off date, in fact till the very last moment. On July 11, the Madhya Pradesh High Court passed an order acknowledging grave irregularities in DMAT 2015 and directed the APDMC to conduct the test in a more transparent manner. Issuing strict instructions to curb exam malpractices, the High Court directed APDMC to install optimal mark recognition (OMR) scanners at examination centres so as to prevent any tampering with answer sheets at a later stage. Further, the court directed that the scanned copies of completed OMR sheets be kept with different authorities, including the Principal Secretary (Home) and that these sheets be matched with the original sheets before the declaration of results.
However, the June 21 DMAT that was rescheduled to July 12, was postponed yet again. While the APDMC cited lack of preparedness to meet the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s directives as the reason for the postponement, a likelier reason is the difficulty it faces in figuring out how to deal with the candidates who have already booked seats in colleges after paying a hefty donation.
Dodgy from the word go
The DMAT has been under a cloud from its very inception in 2006. Following complaints of huge irregularities in the very first DMAT, Shivraj Singh Chouhan set up the Justice Chandresh Bhushan committee to monitor DMAT-linked cases. This is the same Justice Bhushan who later became chairman of the special investigation team (SIT) that monitored the investigation of the special task force (STF) into the Vyapam scam before the Supreme Court ordered a CBI probe into it on July 9.
Justice Bhushan had the first DMAT cancelled in the wake of allegations of question paper leaks and other irregularities. The credibility of the DMAT took another hit when the Bhopal Crime Branch seized incriminating documents, post-dated cheques and cash from an employee of a private dental college at Bhopal.
The trajectory of the DMAT was not very different the following year either. In 2007, it was the turn of the student wing of the ruling BJP, namely the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), to petition the Madhya Pradesh High Court for closer police scrutiny of the admission test process. Similar grounds of gross opacity in the admission process were cited in the petition to demand the cancellation of DMAT 2007. However, the court’s intervention did little to restore the test’s credibility. The APDMC’s gravy train continued undeterred on the rails of huge amounts of money coughed up by ineligible candidates upon securing admission.
Five years later, in October 2013, when the Bhopal police came within inches of exposing the scam, it seemed as if the APDMC’s uninterrupted run was finally about to end. However, the operation was scuttled due to political intervention. Reason: Madhya Pradesh assembly elections were barely a month away and the ruling BJP was obviously not inclined to antagonise the owners of private medical colleges, all of whom had liberally financed the party’s expensive election campaign. It was quid pro quo time.
Police officers state on condition of anonymity that had it not been for instructions from their political masters to obfuscate the investigation, the DMAT scam would have unravelled easily after the interrogation of LN Medical College director Anupam Chouksey in October 2013.
Chouksey also happens to be secretary of the APDMC and is a supporter of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has used the college campus for its brainstorming sessions. In fact, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has even stayed in the LN college campus.
During his interrogation, Chouksey reportedly told the police that it was a fairly common practice to sell exam forms beyond the cut-off date so that students could appear in the test. Subsequent police investigations uncovered more aspects of the scam. For instance, the arrest of Nagarjuna, a resident of Andhra Pradesh, from a Bhopal hotel in November 2013 revealed that he was a commission agent who got aspiring candidates from Andhra Pradesh for the DMAT test in Madhya Pradesh. The 25-year-old Nagarjuna, an MBA from Bangalore, was accused of issuing forged admission letters and was interrogated for his links with other gangs involved in forgery of documents in the city.
In fact, the entire modus operandi of the DMAT scam came to light in 2013 when over a dozen students from Andhra Pradesh complained of being duped of Rs 3 crore by a gang that had promised them admission in private medical and dental colleges in Madhya Pradesh. What’s more, in the course of police investigation it was ascertained that the accused in the case had links with LN Medical College as well as the APDMC office. The father of one of the students later posted a video on YouTube and complained that despite Chouksey’s arrest, their money had still not been returned.
The connections could not have been more glaring: One of the arrested individuals, Surendra Singh Chouhan, had introduced himself to the complainants as a personal assistant of the college director Anupam Chouksey. In some cases, victims allegedly paid money to Chouhan even outside Chouksey’s chamber at LN Medical College.
In all, six interstate gangs involved in the swindle of providing forged admission letters for medical seats to the tune of Rs 3 crore were busted by the police. One complainant said he had paid around Rs 17 lakh for a medical seat for his son for the next academic session. On raiding the DMAT office, the police recovered around Rs 5 lakh cash and seized admission records and computers from the office. But the matter simply did not proceed beyond this stage.
Evidence kept surfacing all over, pointing to the deep rot in the system. Around the same time, a scam in the Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) admission test was unearthed in Barkatullah University of Bhopal by the Madhya Pradesh police. In this instance, hired writers wrote the answers outside the exam hall. Around two dozen persons were arrested. During the same month, i.e. October 2013, one Komal Pandey was arrested for duping dozens of students throughout the country by assuring them seats in private medical colleges of Madhya Pradesh. Yet the scam continued unhindered. The police did not follow the trail of the crimes with due diligence. Consequently, the cases faded from public memory.
DMAT scale vs Vyapam range
In terms of their morphology, the DMAT fraud is less complicated then the multi-layered Vyapam scam. When the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government privatised medical education, it created the need for a separate test for admission to private medical colleges. In 2006, with the approval of the Medical Council of India (MCI) and the Union Health Ministry, a separate test was held for seats in the management quota in private medical colleges in Madhya Pradesh. Later, following a Supreme Court ruling stipulating reservation of 15 per cent seats for Non Resident Indians (NRIs), it was decided with the consent of all stakeholders that 58 per cent of the seats (including 43 per cent management quota and 15 per cent NRI quota) would be filled through admission tests conducted by private medical and dental colleges, while the remaining 42 per cent seats would be filled through the pre-medical test (PMT) conducted for government colleges by the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB), or Vyapam, in which candidates who score below the cut-off marks required for government colleges are offered seats in the private medical colleges.
As the body representing private medical colleges, the APDMC has devised ways and means of ensuring that nearly 100 per cent of its seats are sold for a handsome price. The association books seats in advance for a price starting from Rs 15 lakh for almost all the 58 per cent seats that fall under its dispensation. The candidates who are ‘booked’ are told to leave their OMR sheet blank so that the correct answers can be written on them later.
The remaining 42 percent seats are filled by Vyapam employing three kinds of fraud as has been described by this correspondent in The Wire in an earlier report: one, brilliant students are hired to impersonate registered candidates; two, brilliant students or scorers are seated along with ‘booked’ aspirants ‘engine and bogey’ style so that the aspirants can copy from their answer sheets for a price; and, three, OMR sheets are left blank or incomplete to be filled with correct answers later. This last method was common to the DMAT exam as well.
The method whereby a brilliant student register himself as a dummy candidate, works smoothly. Once the result is out, the successful dummies vacate their seats at the last moment. The APDMC then fills the resulting vacancies with candidates from the management quota who are willing to pay a high price for those seats. The exam takers who vacate their seats are paid between Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh each.
There is some overlap between the modus operandi of Vyapam and DMAT but unlike the former, which has spawned a complex nexus of several hundred beneficiaries making money at the expense of thousands of gullible youths seeking recruitment or admission to medical colleges, the DMAT scam resembles a cosy club of the rich and the influential, such as politicians, judges, bureaucrats and businessmen. Also, there is a vast difference in the stakes involved in the two scams: while an undergraduate seat in a government medical college would fetch an average of Rs 3 lakh to Rs 5 lakh in the Vyapam scheme of things, the same seat in a private medical college would fetch the owner up to Rs 1 crore through the DMAT fraud.
There is also a vital difference in the way the two admission scams have been perceived by people in Madhya Pradesh. The Vyapam scandal, which impacted a large number of youths largely from the middle and lower middle classes, made a deep impression on the minds of the people. The shocking spectacle of boys and girls being herded to police stations like hardened criminals and poignant stories of parents having pawned their worldly assets to procure the amount required to secure admission for their children to medical colleges has pricked the collective consciousness of the state. The DMAT scam, on the other hand, has been viewed cynically as an exchange of wealth between affluent sections of society. Perhaps that is why it did not become a bigger issue until now.
Moreover, while news about the DMAT racket has made it to the local media time and again, the fact that newspaper proprietors belong to the same cosy club has prevented the occasional news items from building up to a sustained media campaign against corruption in the sector of higher professional education. To put it baldly, private medical colleges are a big source of advertisement revenue for newspapers. There are instances of individuals associated with such institutions who own newspapers, among them Suresh Vijayvargiya (Peoples’ Group) and JN Chouksey of the LN Group of colleges.
Two sides of corrupt coin
However, now that the lid has been blown off the Vyapam scandal, the domino effect has come into play. The growing public outrage over the magnitude of Vyapam-related ‘unnatural deaths’ as well as the arrest on May 30 of an accused, Yogesh Uprit, with links to both Vyapam and DMAT has made people view DMAT for what it is: an extension of the canker of Vyapam that has affected the fortunes of an entire generation.
Uprit, 75, was arrested by an officer of the SIT in Gwalior on the charge of helping a medical student from Jabalpur secure a postgraduate seat in the Jabalpur Medical College after taking Rs 25 lakh from her father, a well known neurologist. Uprit’s arrest resulted in a closer scrutiny of the link between Vyapam and DMAT as he has played a key role in both – in the capacity of director in Vyapam and, post-retirement, as controller DMAT, as desired by the APDMC. While in custody, Uprit apparently confessed to having copied the template of Vyapam’s former chief system analyst Nitin Mahindra (now in prison) for manipulating the DMAT.
Uprit also told investigators that the modus operandi used in Vyapam and DMAT was the same. Candidates who paid money were told to leave their OMR sheets blank so that they could be filled with the right answers later.
Most importantly, Uprit disclosed that the DMAT has been a complete sham since its very inception, with all its seats being sold to bidders in high places capable of paying high prices. He divulged that from 2006 onward, every successive health minister in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government has taken Rs 10 crore from the APDMC to desist from exposing the scam. No wonder that State Congress chief Arun Yadav has been quick to state that Uprit’s allegations are so grave that either he should be booked for making sensational accusations or the ministers he has accused should be arrested.
Assuming that Uprit’s confession of 100 per cent rigging in the DMAT is true, the scam is estimated to be in the region of Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 crore, rivalling Vyapam in magnitude. In nine years, more than 13,000 admissions have taken place in private medical and dental colleges. Around 1,500 graduate and postgraduate seats were filled up every year in private colleges. Candidates reportedly paid between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 1 crore to secure a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS), MBBS or postgraduate seat. Going by that, says whistleblower Anand Rai, “over Rs 10,000 crore has easily been transacted in the DMAT scam. All the seats in the private colleges were compromised.“
In a similar vein, 26-year-old Chaturvedi stresses the importance of CBÏ “taking up the investigation of the DMAT scam under the monitoring of Supreme Court precisely because of the many prominent people involved.”
To lend weight to the accusations in their petitions to the Supreme Court, Rai, Chaturvedi and Pandey have cited the decision of the state’s Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee (AFRC) to impose a fine of Rs 13.10 crore on six private medical colleges in the state for massive irregularities in conducting admission tests from 2010 to 2013. All the six medical colleges have been found guilty of fraudulently converting seats under the state quota into management seats so as to earn exorbitant profits from their sale to candidates. The MCI has asked all those colleges to surrender the state quota seats that they have thus manipulated. On its part, the APDMC has moved the Supreme Court against the MCI directive as well as AFRC’s decision to slap a fine on the private colleges.
The AFRC, a statutory body, issued a statement in June 2015 that in four successive years, from 2010 to 2013, as many as 721 seats under the state quota were filled up at the last minute owing to the fact that those seats were mysteriously vacated on September 30, the last day of the admission process. These pre-medical tests for the state quota seats were conducted by Vyapam. According to state Congress spokesperson KK Mishra, going by simple arithmetic of one crore rupees per seat (following the manipulation of state quota seats into management quota seats), the DMAT scam works out to Rs 721 crore at the very minimum.
These figures acquire special significance when they are correlated with the state of healthcare in Madhya Pradesh. The state has 8,000 hospitals, but the number of government doctors is only around 400. There is a need for 4,000 more doctors. According to the government, however, only 2,500 doctors are required to fill the gap.
The facts on the ground are as follows:
- As many as 3,000 posts of doctors are lying vacant in Madhya Pradesh.
- Out of 2,789 posts of medical officers, 1951 have not been filled; and
- Of 1,251 posts of medical specialists in the state, 806 posts are still vacant.
The human cost of the DMAT and Vyapam scams is manifested in several ways. Given the acute paucity of qualified doctors and poor health infrastructure, it is not surprising that Madhya Pradesh continues to be near the top of the list of states with high infant mortality and maternal mortality rates.
According to the World Bank, in 2012, India had 0.7 doctors for every 1,000 patients. By contrast, Switzerland had four and Cuba had 6.7 doctors for every 1,000 patients. The figure in Madhya Pradesh is five times lower than the national average. This speaks volumes for the way in which the admission scams have not only hollowed out public health facilities in the state but have also struck a blow to the aspirations, confidence and future of an entire generation of youth. Do the twin scams of Vyapam and DMAT represent the dawn of ‘public-private partnership that the young have been told about ad nauseam?