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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into alleged irregularities in the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB), also known as Vyapam (the Hindi acronym for Madhya Pradesh Vyavsayik Pareeksha Mandal).

The court said the agency will also investigate the recent deaths of those associated with the case. A special task force constituted by the Madhya Pradesh government has been probing irregularities in the various tests conducted by Vyapam since 2013. That probe now stands transferred to CBI.

Nearly 50 people have died since 2009, when the Vyapam scam was first unearthed.

“We have nothing to hide. If the court feels that it should go to CBI, it will go," attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told the court. Rohatgi was representing the Madhya Pradesh government.

Reacting to the order, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Madhya Pradesh chief minister, said in Bhopal: “I am grateful. Whatever I have heard of the Supreme Court order, it said they appreciate the stand taken by the attorney general on behalf of the state government and accept the request for a CBI probe. I am very thankful to the apex court. This probe will be a trial by fire for me. Had I wished, there would be no probe. But I wanted anomalies in the system to be detected and fixed. The whole truth should come out before the nation."

The issue of the apex court monitoring the CBI investigation remains open. The court has asked CBI to respond by 24 July. Similar pleas before the Madhya Pradesh high court seeking a CBI probe were deferred on Wednesday, to be heard on 20 July.

The Supreme Court’s decision to allow CBI to investigate the Vyapam scam, including the alleged role of Madhya Pradesh governor Ram Naresh Yadav, came at a time when Union home minister Rajnath Singh met President Pranab Mukherjee. Senior ministers in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government said a decision on the governor will be taken only after Prime Minister Narendra Modi returns from his visit to five Central Asian countries and Russia on 13 July.

“There is a demand from opposition parties that the Madhya Pradesh governor must resign but any decision on the issue will be taken once the prime minister is back from his foreign tour," said a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Supreme Court also questioned why the Madhya Pradesh high court hadn’t transferred the case to CBI. A three-judge bench comprising chief justice H.L. Dattu and justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy sought responses from the Madhya Pradesh government, the centre and the state governor on a plea to set aside a 5 May high court order quashing a first information report against governor Yadav.

A separate petition seeking the removal of the state governor for his alleged involvement in the Vyapam scam has also been tagged with this plea, counsel Vivek Tankha, representing the petitioners, said. The court asked the parties to reply within four weeks.

The Congress-led opposition continued to question Modi’s silence on the issue and demanded that he make a statement. The fresh pressure on the NDA government just before the start of the monsoon session of Parliament will add to its problems, with demands for the resignations of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje for allegedly helping former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi already being made.

“I remember and the people of this country remember that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said ‘I will neither take bribe, nor let anyone else take it’. The only thing I want to ask the prime minister is that his words should carry weight. Why are you allowing people to take bribe... Why are you letting (Shivraj Singh) Chouhan take a bribe?" Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said in a dig at the NDA government on Thursday.

Political analysts feel Chouhan and his government are on the back foot after the Supreme Court decided to transfer the case to CBI, as it will affect the image of the chief minister and the BJP in the state.

“The chief minister is trying to defend himself but earlier he had refused to transfer the case to CBI... But both the chief minister and BJP have done a U-turn on the issue. So, obviously, the government and Chouhan will be at the receiving end and it will affect the image of the party," said Yatindra Singh Sisodia, professor at Madhya Pradesh Institute of Social Science Research in Ujjain.

Anuja, Gyan Varma and PTI contributed to this story.

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