‘Under supervision of Supreme Court’ does not always mean fair play

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N D Sharma
N D Sharma
is a senior journalist, and Patron of eNewsroom India.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh has tried to convince the people that the government has no role to play in the finalisation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and that the whole process has been completed– under the supervision of the Supreme Court.  Publication of NRC on July 30 created turmoil inside Parliament and outside for the simple reason that it has excluded from the list of citizens of Assam nearly 40 lakh persons, most of whom had migrated from Bihar and West Bengal to Assam decades ago and settled there. These were apparently the people who have not voted for the BJP and the party apprehends that they may not vote for it in the next elections also. Under the ruse of reconsidering their claims to citizenship, the government is saying it repeatedly that they can apply afresh for inclusion of their names in the list. According to an observer of the Assam scene, the government move appears to be to continue this reconsideration process till after the 2019 elections.

The government perhaps did not realise the publication of NRC would lead to the countrywide uproar as it has done. Hence the government’s attempt to shift the responsibility to the Supreme Court. However, it has been repeatedly seen in the past that ‘under the supervision of the Supreme Court’ is a myth and the agencies assigned the task had been bungling the investigation process blatantly in sensitive matters in which the powerful politicians had stakes. Two glaring examples are CBI investigations ‘under supervision of the Supreme Court’ in the Malik Makbooja scam and the Vyapam scam.

MALIK MAKBOOJA: In Bastar region, the law prohibits the sale of a tribal’s land to a non-tribal. What the unscrupulous traders/politicians/bureaucrats did to circumvent this provision in law was to persuade a tribal to sell his land to another chosen tribal. Bureaucrats dealing with the revenue matter from the Commissioner downwards were accomplices in this transaction. The politician or trader behind the deal would then cut down the trees, some two to three hundred years old, and make crores of rupees from the timber while a few thousand or a lakh or two in some cases would be paid to the tribal who had been made to purchase the land. The government officials also benefited from the transaction. This had gone on for decades.

In the 1990s, an environment activist from Karnataka, S R Hiremath, approached the Supreme Court with a prayer to put a check on the wanton destruction of forests and exploitation of poor tribals by a nexus of bureaucrats, politicians and timber merchants in Bastar district (which had larger area than that of Kerala but has since been divided into several districts). The Supreme Court directed the Madhya Pradesh Lokayukta to get the matter investigated. The Lokayukta constituted a committee comprising a retired district and sessions judge (chairman), a retired forest secretary to the MP government and a retired chief conservator of forests. The three-member committee did an excellent job and produced a 236-page report giving precise details of roles played by various people in nearly 800 cases.

The Lokayukta submitted the report to the Supreme Court which asked the Madhya Pradesh government of Digvijaya Singh (Chhattisgarh State had not yet been carved out) to initiate action against those indicted in the report. Then Chief Secretary of the State, K S Sharma, however, submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court expressing the State government’s inability to proceed against the Malik Makbooja culprits. In January 1998, a division bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice J S Verma and Justices B N Kirpal and V N Khare then directed the CBI to institute criminal cases against them and prosecute them. The CBI made a big show of registering a few FIRs against some minions and the case died down there. (K S Sharma’s wife Shakuntala Sharma was later appointed a member of the State Human Rights Commission. Incidentally, the wife drew the house rent allowance from the Human Rights Commission by submitting the house rent receipts signed by her husband with whom she lived in their own house — and still lives).

VYAPAM SCAM: Vyavsayik Pareeksha Mandal (Vyapam) or Professional Examinations Board (PEB) was constituted, initially, to conduct tests for admission to medical colleges (PMT). Later on, the tests for admission to engineering colleges (PET) were also entrusted to the Vyapam. In 2007, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan entrusted to Vyapam the responsibility of making recruitments for some government departments, public sector undertakings and semi-government bodies also, which was till then handled by the State Public Service Commission. The avenues of earning money and obliging important persons thus widened further with the recruitments being made for various departments such as the police, education, transport, civil supplies and weight and measures.

The modus operandi used in the scam was somewhat like this: the candidates for PMT who had done well will be disqualified and other names (either on the recommendation of some important person or against payment of a heavy amount) will be shown as having qualified, and even put in merit list, for admission to medical colleges. After investigation, the Special Task Force (STF) of Madhya Pradesh police has come across names of doctors working in important government hospitals who had not even appeared in PMT but had been declared qualified against payment of hefty sums. The young boys and girls who had worked hard for their tests were just at a loss to understand what went wrong.

Dr Anand Rai, an Indore-based ophthalmologist who has played an important role in exposing the Vyapam scam, explains the traditional methods of cheating as ‘impersonation’ and ‘engine and bogey system’. In the first the admit card of a candidate is used by replacing the photograph of the candidate with that of the impersonator. In the ‘engine and bogey system’ the person appearing in the test is strategically seated between two candidates by the Board officials and he/she can copy from their sheets. The Board officials, examiners and impersonators were paid hefty amounts.

Then a third method was evolved by Vyapam officials to help the paying candidates; they were asked to leave their answer sheets blank and were given high percentages after the exam. Later on, the records were changed or destroyed. Then the scam became digitalised. Names of candidates appearing in the test were simply replaced in the computers with the names and particulars of those who had paid money.

After the scam became wide-spread, the MP government constituted STF which did its best to suppress the involvement of high-ups. Then Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court and now a Supreme Court judge A M Khanwilkar played an active role in derailing the meaningful investigation of the scam. Deaths — people either ‘committing suicide or being killed in ‘accidents’ — related to Vyapam were mounting. When the figure neared 50, the Supreme Court asked CBI in July 2015 to take over the investigation. The division bench presided over by Chief Justice H L Dattu had made it clear that with the CBI on the case now, the High Court would not ‘touch’ the Vyapam cases.

In spite of so-called supervision by the Supreme Court, the CBI investigation is going only farther and farther from the real culprits of the Vyapam scam.

N D Sharma
N D Sharma
is a senior journalist, and Patron of eNewsroom India.

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