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High Stakes Testing Goes Mega — With Predictable End Result: Billion Dollar Exam Scam in India — Dozens of Potential Witnesses Dead

In this Wednesday, March 18, 2015 file photo, Indians climb the wall of a building to help students appearing
in an examination in Hajipur, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. Education authorities in eastern India say
600 high school students have been expelled after they were found to have cheated on pressure-packed 10th
grade examinations.

By Rama Lakshmi
Nobody knows exactly when or why the witnesses and small-time crooks caught up in one of India’s biggest corruption scandals began dying under mysterious circumstances. But in the past two years, that’s what’s happened to more than two dozen people implicated in a $1 billion test-rigging scheme.
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Even by standards in India, where corruption is routine, the scale of the scam in the central state of Madhya Pradesh is mind-boggling. Police say that since 2007, tens of thousands of students and job aspirants have paid hefty bribes to middlemen, bureaucrats and politicians to rig test results for medical schools and government jobs.

So far, 1,930 people have been arrested and more than 500 are on the run. Hundreds of medical students are in prison — along with several bureaucrats and the state’s education minister. Even the governor has been implicated.
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Police have had their hands full racing to meet a July deadline in the criminal probe. And now they are faced with the deaths of more witnesses and suspects. In the past week, police said, one of those accused died after having chest pains in prison, another drowned in a village pond and a third died of a liver infection.

On Saturday, television reporter Akshay Singh died while investigating a suspect’s death. Singh sipped tea during an interview and began coughing and foaming at the mouth, according to media reports. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors said he had suffered a heart attack. Police said the initial examination did not reveal anything “suspicious.”
(5/7/15) Candle light vigil demanding justice for late journalist Akshay Singh held in Varanasi pic.twitter.com/lSdKjTgbC7

— ANI (@ANI_news) July 6, 2015
The state’s government, run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has said that “no conspiracy was found” in the recent deaths. But others involved in the case fear otherwise. The state’s chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, said on Sunday that his mind is in “agony and pain” and promised that all the deaths will be investigated.

“The police say they keep coming up against a wall in their investigation every time someone is found dead,” said Chandresh Bhushan, chairman of the special investigation team that was appointed by the state court to monitor the police probe. “We ask them, ‘Why are so many dying in road accidents in this case? Does this have any link to the scam?’ There is no evidence of a link yet, but we cannot overrule it, either.”
Cheating on school and college tests is commonplace in India. A few months ago, photographs of parents hanging precariously from school windows to throw cheat sheets to their children caused nationwide outrage.

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