This past week, your news notifications and social networking website's newsfeed would have been flooded with developments on Vyapam. But if your interest in the matter piqued a little late and the barrage of news is confusing you, here’s something that will help you understand the issue better.

What is Vyapam?

The Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPBP), the government body responsible for conducting several entrance tests in the State, is popularly known as ‘Vyapam’ (Hindi acronym for Vyavsayik Pareeksha Mandal). These entrance tests are used for recruitment to government jobs and admissions to educational institutes in the State.

What is this scam about?

If you’re a fan of the hit TV series Game of Thrones, then you’d understand when we say the Vyapam scam’s plot is (sadly) akin to that of the show. For the uninitiated: in the show, as the plot thickens and a particular character begins to garner the viewers’ collective sympathies, he’s unceremoniously, and often gruesomely, bumped off!

The scam, which has been in the news recently, is an admission and recruitment scam involving politicians, senior government officials, business-persons and others in Madhya Pradesh. In it, undeserving candidates bribed politicians and MPPEB officials, through middlemen, to get high ranks in the entrance tests or secure jobs.

Many of those who discovered these sordid facts — whistleblowers and journalists responsible for unearthing the details — have died in a spate of suspicious incidents. The three main whistleblowers — social activists Dr Anand Rai and Ashish Chaturvedi, and IT consultant Prashant Pandey — have been receiving death threats.

How did they hoodwink authorities?

According to varied reports from whistleblowers, the following tricks were used by those involved in the scam:

Impersonation : All the information of the candidate remained the same, except the photograph. The candidate’s photograph was replaced by that of the impersonator and after the exam, it was changed back to the original. Obviously, the impersonators were brilliant students and they received huge sums to keep their mouths shut.

Engine and bogie system : A person was strategically made to sit in front of the candidate in question. The person let them copy from his sheet or exchanged the sheet with them at the end of the exam.

OMR sheets : The candidates in question were asked to leave their answer sheets blank and were given high marks in the exam. Or they were supplied with solved OMR sheets before they took the exam.

Timeline of events

While complaints against irregularities came trickling in from the mid-2000s, the Vyapam issue turned murkier from 2007-08 onwards. However, it was only in 2013 that the lid was blown. The Opposition claims that over 77 lakh candidates have paid bribes to secure seats and jobs. Here’s how it all began:

2007 : This was the year when the scent of a scam was sniffed. The MP Local Fund Audit office found financial and administrative irregularities in Vyapam.

2009 : Activist and doctor from Indore Anand Rai filed a public interest litigation (PIL) with the MP High Court, alleging foul play in the recruitments and admissions.

2011 : Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan set up an enquiry committee to look into the matter.

2013 : Anand Rai made startling revelations that led to a series of arrests. On the intervening night of July 6 and 7, the police arrested 20 persons who were to impersonate candidates scheduled to appear on July 7 for the MPPEB. On July 12-13, the kingpin of the racket, Jagdish Sagar, was arrested. A list confiscated from him revealed the names of 317 candidates.

MPPEB’s exam controller, Pankaj Trivedi, who vouched for students who had fraudulently ‘answered’ the exam, sending letters to institution heads to accept them, was later arrested and removed from his post.

A Special Task Force of the MP Police began handling the investigation. The Congress requested the High Court to conduct a CBI probe.

2014 : The MP High Court rejected the demand for a CBI Inquiry by the Congress and other parties. In April, 27, students from MGM Institute of Health Sciences were expelled for fraudulently clearing the medical test back in 2012.

2015 : Accused, witnesses and investigators have been dropping like flies this year. So far, around 1,900 are in jail. According to latest developments, though the State Government of Madhya Pradesh wanted to hand over investigation to the CBI, the MP High Court quashed the request, stating it will not take a decision till the Supreme Court weighs in on the matter.

The bloody timeline

Possibly one of the more sinister scams to have come to the fore in India, the Vyapam story has left a trail of blood and gore. From the time people began sniffing around to dig out the truth in 2009, as many as 50 people (others say the toll could be as high as 156) have died mysteriously. Some 35 have died since 2012, and this year’s toll is eight. Some killed themselves; others suffered heart-attacks and accidents. Here’s a round-up of some of the most talked about deaths.

January 2012 : Namrata Damodar, a 19-year-old medical student accused in the scam, was found dead on the railway tracks near Ujjain. While the police had filed ‘suicide’ as the reason in the closure report, in a latest development, three doctors had said her death was result of ‘violent asphyxia as a result of smothering’, which they had maintained from the beginning. Dr BB Purohit, one of those who performed the autopsy, said there were bruises on the nose and mouth of the woman, indicating strangulation.

July 4, 2014 : Dean of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Medical College, Jabalpur, Dr DK Sakalle’s burnt body was found in his home. He was looking into cases of fake admissions in the medical college.

March 25, 2015 : Possibly one of the most high-profile deaths in this case, Shailesh Yadav , son of former Madhya Pradesh Governor Ram Naresh Yadav, was found dead at his father’s residence in Lucknow. Unconfirmed reports say brain haemorrhage was the cause of his death.

June 28-29, 2015 : Narendra Singh Tomar, an accused who reportedly arranged for proxies, dies of ‘heart attack’ in jail in Indore. The assistant veterinary officer’s family alleges foul play. Dr Rajendra Arya, another accused who was out on a year’s bail, was returning from Kota when his health deteriorated, due to liver infection.

July 4, 2015 : A reporter with TV channel Aaj Tak, Akshay Singh , was interviewing the parents of Namrata Damodar (an accused in the scam who was found dead on the rail tracks). Even as he was talking to the late girl’s father, he began frothing at the mouth and collapsed. While doctors have said he passed away due to heart attack, an investigation is underway at Delhi’s AIIMS hospital.

July 5, 2015 : Dr Arun Sharma, Dean of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Medical College, Jabalpur, was found dead in his hotel room in Delhi. He was on his way to Agartala, as part of an inspection team of the Medical Council of India. He was assisting the Special Task Force that is probing the scam. Some whiskey and an assortment of medicines were found at his bedside.

July 6, 2015 : Trainee sub-inspecto r Anamika Kushwaha, recruited through Vyapam, jumped into a lake in Sagar district and ended her life. Eyewitnesses confirm that they saw her jump at 4.45 am.

July 7, 2015 : Constable Ramakant Pandey was found hanging from the ceiling fan at his police outpost in Tikamgarh district. Four months ago, he was reportedly questioned with regard to the scam, after three constables were arrested for fixing recruitment exams for constables. The police, however, maintain that he was an alcoholic and ended his life because of debts.

(This story was first published on The Business Line On Campus )