New Delhi/Bhopal: The Supreme Court on Thursday transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) the investigation into the criminal cases related to the Vyapam scam and more than 40 deaths linked to it.
The CBI will begin its probe into the massive admission and recruitment scam in Madhya Pradesh from Monday as more skeletons tumbled out of the Vyapam cupboard with the death of yet another witness coming to light.
The SC, while directing the CBI to probe all cases of the Vyapam scam and alleged deaths of persons related to it, also issued notice to the central government, Madhya Pradesh government and Governor Ram Naresh Yadav on a plea challenging the Madhya Pradesh High Court order quashing the FIR against the state governor for his alleged involvement in forest guard recruitment scam on the grounds that he enjoyed immunity of the constitutional office he was occupying.
Congress had yesterday claimed 49 people associated with the scam had died so far.
The apex court's order transferring all Vyapam-related cases to the CBI came after the state government gave its consent to shifting investigation from the Special Investiation Team (SIT) and the Special Task Force (STF).
A bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu said all cases will stand transferred to the CBI from Monday and the agency will file its report before it on July 24.
Before handing over the probe to the CBI, the apex court took on record the submission of Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who on behalf of the MP government, said the state has no objection to transferring the investigation in Vyapam and deaths of people allegedly related to it for a free and fair probe.
"The Attorney General (AG) on instruction states that MP govt has no objection whatsoever for transferring the investigation of criminal cases relating to Vyapam scam to the CBI and the cases related to deaths of those allegedly connected with the scam for free and fair probe.”
"We appreciate the stand of the AG. In view of the above we transfer investigation of all criminal cases relating to Vyapam scam and death of people allegedly related to it, to CBI," the bench, also comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy, said.
The apex court was hearing a batch of petitions including one filed by senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh seeking CBI probe into all cases arising out of the Vyapam scam. As the Supreme Court ordered an inquiry by the central agency, reports came from Bhopal of a special court being informed about the death of yet another witness in the scam.
The Special Task Force of MP police, which hitherto investigated the scam, told the court that Sanjay Singh Yadav, aged around 35, died from illness at a private hospital in Bhopal on February 8. According to his family, he was suffering from Hepatitis-B.
The Supreme Court, while issuing notices relating to the Governor that are returnable after four weeks, refrained from making any remarks on him when Kapil Sibal, appearing on behalf of petitioners demanded that Yadav demit office to maintain its dignity.
"We are not going to say anything on it," it said.
The STF had registered a case against Yadav, a former Congressman appointed to the post by the previous UPA government, for favouring some candidates appearing for tests conducted by MP Professional Examination Board (MPPEB), also known as Vyapam. The high court, however, quashed it citing immunity from prosecution he enjoys while in office.
Yadav's son Shailesh, an accused in the case who was alleged to have accepted bribe for rigging Vyapam examination to favour some candidates, was the most high-profile person linked to the scandal to have died in mysterious circumstances. His body was found at his father's lucknow residence in March this year.
As soon as Sibal, appearing for Singh, submitted that it is a matter in which who's who of MP is involved, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said the state has already moved the high court for a CBI probe and the matter has been deferred to July 20.
Rohatgi's submission on MP government's stand evoked a quick response from the bench which said, "The High Court wants to wash off its hand."
"On CBI enquiry, instead of doing that, they are now saying that ball is in the Supreme Court," the bench observed.
A beleagured Chouhan, whose credibility has been severely eroded following the scam, hailed the apex court's order, saying,"I welcome it wholeheartedly. There was a burden on my heart."
Speaking to journalists in Bhopal, Chouhan said he would request the CBI to begin investigation at the earliest "so the truth comes before the country, the people, and justice is done".
He rejected Congress' demand for his resignation. "They ask for it (his resignation) 5-6 times a day. To discredit Shivraj Chouhan, they have discredited the whole state. Probity in public life is my capital," he said.
Referring to the probe conducted by the STF and SIT so far, Chouhan said,"It was my test by fire. Had I not wanted, investigation would not have happened. I wanted to set the system right."
Not only Chouhan, political parties of all hues welcomed the decision.
Congress and AAP, while hailing the decision, also demanded that Chouhan step down to facilitate a fair probe.
Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, one of the petitioners in the case, welcomed the apex court's order.
The BJP, however, patted Chouhan on the back for the apex court order.
"BJP wanted a CBI probe, BJP approached the court and the court has accepted it. We welcome it," party spokesman Nalin Kohli said.
Kohli was quick to remind the Congress that an earlier petition filed by Digvijay Singh for a CBI probe had been rejected by the Supreme Court.
(With Agency inputs)