Bhopal: Buckling under intense pressure, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Tuesday made a U-turn and decided to seek an investigation into the Vyapam scam by the CBI.
Hours after Chouhan's announcement, the state government filed a plea in the Jabalpur High Court recommending probe by the central agency into the massive admission and recruitment scam.
A day after the Centre and BJP disfavoured handing the case over to the central agency without a court directive, Chouhan today announced at a hurriedly called press conference that he was ready to recommend a CBI probe into the scam.
The announcement came two days before the Supreme Court hears a clutch of petitions seeking a CBI inquiry into the scam monitored by the apex court.
"Loktantra lok lajja se chalta hai (public perception is important in democracy). Honouring public sentiments, I will request the high court for a CBI probe," Chouhan said, adding "the functioning of the government should be beyond any doubt."
"I have full respect for both High Court and the Supreme Court and have total faith in the ongoing probe into the Vyapam scam," he said, as per PTI.
Expressing faith in the ongoing investigations being conducted by the Special Task Force of the MP police under the supervision of the High Court-appointed Special Investigative Team headed by a retired HC judge, Chouhan deplored the "atmosphere created in the aftermath of unfortunate deaths which have created doubts in the minds of people."
Noting that the developments in the case demanded fair answers, he said,"I thought about the matter the whole night...The questions which have been raised need answers. It has become necessary now that CBI investigates the case."
Asked if he wanted the CBI probe to cover cases of unnatural deaths as well, he said the agency should probe "all aspects".
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had yesterday said the state government cannot order a CBI probe into the scam.
"SIT probe into the scam is on, and the government cannot direct the High Court or the Supreme Court on the issue," he had said in Jhabua yesterday, noting the MP High Court and the Supreme Court had already rejected PILs seeking a CBI inquiry.
"If the Supreme Court or the High Court feels that the probe is not perfect to the extent it should be, then it will give directions and the government will immediately accept it and hand over the matter to the CBI," he had added.
BJP too had adopted an identical line.
Chouhan said since the matter got exposed, it was he who had decided to hand over the case to the Special Task Force (STF) for an impartial investigation.
The CM said it was he who had directed bringing all examinations conducted by Vyapam under the ambit of STF probe, including admissions in medical colleges and recruitments for various government jobs.
Even while disposing of a number of PILs seeking a CBI probe earlier, the High Court and Supreme Court expressed satisfaction with the ongoing STF probe, he said.
Chouhan, however, refrained from making any comment on Union Minister Uma Bharti's remark that she too felt "scared" over the deaths.
"She is like my elder sister and a very respected leader. I respect her a lot. I made no comment against her even when she was not in BJP," he said.
"There is panic in Madhya Pradesh due to the deaths. I am scared for the lives of people connected to me. I am a minister but still I am scared. I will convey my fears to CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan," Bharti had said.
SC to hear Digvijay Singh's plea on July 09
In a related development, the Supreme Court today agreed to hear on July 9 the plea of Congress leader Digvijay Singh and three whistleblowers seeking an apex court-monitored CBI probe into the scam.
Singh and whistleblowers - Ashish Chaturvedi, Anand Rai and Prashant Pandey - have also moved the apex court seeking a CBI probe under its supervision.
Chouhan was under mounting pressure from opposition parties, particularly the Congress to order a CBI probe following the death of Arun Sharma, the dean of a Jabalpur medical college probing the scandal on Sunday in Delhi, a day after Akshay Singh, a journalist belonging to a TV channel on the Vyapam scam trail, mysteriously died minutes after he had interviewed the parents of a deceased girl accused.
At least five people associated with Vyapam, including Sharma and Singh, have died under mysterious circumstances in the last one week.
The Opposition has claimed nearly 45 people linked to the scandal in some manner have died so far though the official figures put the "unnatural deaths" at 25.
Will not call deaths as 'mysterious': Vyapam SIT Chief
Meanwhile, chief of Special Investigation Team (SIT), a retired Judge of the High Court, monitoring the probe into the case said today that series of deaths of those associated with the Vyapam scam do not look "mysterious" but come forth as "abnormal".
Justice (retired) Chandresh Bhushan told TV news channels that he has asked the Special Task Force (STF) constituted to probe the admission and recruitment scam to "enquire" into these cases and tell the SIT how "these fellows have died".
"I would not like to use that word (mysterious). I will say there are certain deaths and those deaths are not normal deaths... So, if they have any connection... I am only interested in knowing if there is any connection with Vyapam scam... I will call them abnormal deaths," he said.
Bhushan said that till now the STF has not reported "any connection" of these deaths with the scam.
The Opposition parties have claimed that as many as 45 persons have died in connection with the scam while the official figure is over 25 since the investigation began into the case a few years ago.
"The STF is not probing these deaths and these deaths are being investigated by the local police concerned," he said.
(With PTI inputs)