Millennium Post

When education is big business

The surrender of high-profile BJP leader Sudhir Sharma is a major breakthrough in the investigations of Special Task Force (STF) of Madhya Pradesh police into various scams of State Professional Examinations Board, popularly known as Vyapam. After former minister, Laxmikant Sharma, Sudhir Sharma is another important ruling party leader, who was deeply involved in the various scams.

Sudhir Sharma, a mining baron, was absconding since May this year. He surrendered before Bhopal Chief Judicial Magistrate after the STF initiated a move to attach his property.  Sudhir Sharma began his career as a teacher. His fortunes zoomed after the BJP came to power in the State in 2003. He was a close aide of former minister Laxmikant Sharma but his desire to enjoy proximity with the top echelons of the government pushed him into breaching the thin line that distinguishes a shrewd businessman from a criminal.

Sharma acquired Manganese mines in Jhabua, working as Laxmikant Sharma’s aide. He started earning handsomely from mining but he was still seen merely as a Laxmikant Sharma flunkey. He had bigger ambitions. After earning enough, he started striving to establish his position in the government. Sharma took support of Rajya Sabha MP and former BJP state president Prabhat Jha in this endeavour. He also had a good rapport with Suresh Soni, a senior RSS leader. Jha, through Soni, succeeded in becoming BJP national secretary and then state BJP president. During Jha’s term, Sharma was appointed State BJP education cell President.

Although the then BJP organisational general secretary Makhan Singh was against Sharma’s appointment, Jha not only gave the post to Sharma but he was seen in Sharma’s company at many public functions. Jha brought pressure to bear upon the state government for appointment of Sharma as chairman of CRISP - a state-owned scientific research organisation.

Sharma is accused in two cases related to Vyapam scam - police constables’ recruitment exam and the sub-inspectors’ (SI) recruitment exam though he has been arrested by Special Task Force (STF) only in police recruitment exam. STF officials claimed the investigation in SI recruitment exam was on and Sharma would be arrested in the case soon. In STF custody, Sharma only confessed to his relations with the Vyapam officials including Pankaj Trivedi and Nitin Mahindra, who are the key accused of multi-layered scam and are now in jail, but he denied recommending the names of any candidate for selection.

The STF officials raided Sharma’s office, located in his native village Meghnagar in Jhabua district.

They, however, had to return empty-handed. ‘We went there to seize an important document related to the scam but we did not find anything’, an official said.

Beside Vyapam, there are several other government organisations whose top officials have been found involved in corrupt activities and also guilty of amassing wealth disproportionate to their known legal sources of income. The latest in the series of such persons is Pradip Chaudhary, Additional General Manager of Central Power Distribution Company.

Officials of Lokayukta organisation raided his residence and unearthed property worth crores. Chaudhary fainted on seeing Lokayukta officials and regained consciousness after half-an-hour. The officials said the search continued for more than three hours.

The officials found papers related with 22.5 acres of land in his wife’s name and 7.5 acres in his son’s name in Raisen district, along with six flats, one house and three shops in Bhopal, Rs 15 lakh in fixed deposits and huge investments in shares and insurance policies. Besides, foreign-made liquor bottles, Rs. 82,000 cash and details of 16-17 bank accounts in different banks were also found.

Besides hundreds of cases of frauds, manipulation and bribery in the recruitment to various departments of Madhya Pradesh, the Bhopal police have got a whiff of a major inter-state racket for recruitments in nationalised banks.

Following interrogation of two impersonators, who were caught within a week, a special team of police has left for Bihar in search of a racket member who may be a crucial link, to bust the racket.

The impersonators, who were held from a centre where online written exam of State Bank of India (SBI) for the post of clerks was being conducted, told the interrogators that they were ‘recruited’ by a Bihar-based person – Ravi Kumar – for appearing in the exam in place of other candidates. And, they were promised Rs 2 lakh each. The police officials feel a big racket was involved in the bank recruitment exam. ‘Both the impersonators belong to Bihar and the original candidates are from Rajasthan. It seems that an organised gang is active behind entire scene,’ said a police official.

During interrogation, Shlok Kumar, 23, admitted that he had already appeared in the exam in place of another candidate, a day before he was caught by the police. He sat in the same exam in place of another candidate, who also belongs to Rajasthan, at a different exam centre.

Police source said the impersonators revealed that like them many others had appeared in the exam at various other examination centres across the state. ‘Once the person who had sent both the impersonators for taking exam in place of other candidates is caught, we hope we will crack a big racket’, a police spokesperson said. Meanwhile, the Congress is persisting with its demand for a CBI probe into Vyapam scams. Madhya Pradesh Congress President Arun Yadav has alleged that not only BJP leaders but some important bigwigs of the RSS were also involved in the rackets.

In a related development, the Home Minister Babulal Gaur has announced a CBI probe into the mysterious death of the Dean of Jabalpur Medical College D K Sakalle. Sakalle was found dead with serious burns at his house by his wife, when she returned from her morning walk on 4 July. He was rushed to hospital where he was declared dead. When a probe is carried out into his death it will invariably include the Vyapam scam as he was enquiring into the impersonation of candidates in PMT scam at the behest of the SIT. Thus, if not directly, the CBI is all set to join the probe into the scam indirectly. IPA
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