Three whistle-blowers who helped the police unravel a huge multi-billion-rupee exam and recruitment scam in Madhya Pradesh have said that their lives are in danger in the state and that they need the protection of central security agents.

The scam relates to the state’s Professional Examination Board, which is responsible for conducting tests for admission into the state’s medical colleges and for recruitment to government departments. The police investigation has implicated officials and politicians, and is now inching ominously close to the Bharatiya Janata Party chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

On Wednesday, at the behest of the union home ministry, the state’s governor, Ram Naresh Yadav, resigned after a special task force named him in a first information report relating to the scam, alleging that he was involved in irregularities in the recruitment of forest guards. They booked him under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 420, which relates to cheating. Yadav’s son, Shailesh, had already been named in a chargesheet that the special task force investigating the scam had filed on February 9. Yadav is possibly the first Indian governor to be booked in a cheating case.

Over the past week, the otherwise fractious Opposition Congress closed ranks to vociferously demand that Chouhan and Yadav resign for their alleged roles in the scam.

The whistle-blowers — doctor Anand Rai, computer security expert Prashant Pandey and right-to-information activist Ashish Chaturvedi — say their lives are in danger. The three men, who provided vital information to the police last year, say they have lost faith in the state police, whom they claim are trying to frame them.

The state home minister, Babulal Gaur, promised to ensure full security to the whistle-blowers. “If any of the whistle-blowers has any problems with the police, they should come to me,” he told “If Mr Rai had come to me I would have increased his security. If Ashish is being tortured by the guards we have provided him, he should come to me. I will appoint others in their place.”

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Pandey is perhaps the most vulnerable because insiders say he was the one who supplied crucial information to Congress leader Digvijay Singh that might implicate Chouhan. The information includes a spreadsheet containing the various requests made to bypass rules in the exam board and the corresponding names of the people who made the requests. Chouhan’s name figures four dozen times in that spreadsheet, Singh alleged at a press conference addressed by several Congress leaders on February 16.

This is the original spreadsheet that was recovered from the hard disk of the exam board’s former systems analyst, Nitin Mahindra, who is in jail for his alleged role in the scam. Chouhan had tampered with this spreadsheet by deleting his name in all instances and inserting those of others, including union minister and former state chief minister Uma Bharati, Singh alleged.

On February 24, Singh also submitted to the Special Task Force a soft copy of the spreadsheet and details of mobile calls allegedly made by the chief minister's wife to exam board officials. Singh has also submitted an affidavit to the Special Investigation Team that is supervising the STF, saying that the chief minister was free to take legal action against him if the allegations are proved to be incorrect.

Two days after the Congress leaders’ joint press conference in Bhopal, Pandey received a call from a state intelligence agency official at his house in New Delhi. “He asked me several questions,” Pandey told the Bhopal-based newspaper, Nav Dunia. “I felt some people were following me and tapping my phone. I was scared. I immediately decided to move the Delhi High Court for protection.” The next day, the Delhi High Court accepted Pandey's plea for protection against possible retribution, and directed the Madhya Pradesh police not to arrest Pandey in connection with a case they had lodged against him last year.

In August, the Bhopal police had arrested Pandey and a friend from a city hotel. They accused him of accessing various devices and laptops without authorisation. They lodged a criminal case against him under several sections of the IT Act and section 420 of the Indian Penal Code, which relates to forgery. Pandey obtained bail and fled to Delhi. The police again started hounding him following the Congress leaders’ press conference, he told the newspaper.

Until July last year, however, Pandey was considered a great friend of the special task force and the state police. He was then helping investigators retrieve the data from the hard drives of the exam board officials’ computers.

Then on July 21, Congress leader KK Mishra from Indore, who is from Prashant’s hometown, made public details of calls that the chief minister’s wife, Shadhna Singh, and his staffers allegedly made to exam board officials. The police concluded that Pandey had selectively leaked some of the retrieved data to KK Mishra. The whistle-blower immediately came under police surveillance.

“It is misleading to say that I leaked documents related to the PEB,” Pandey told journalists, the Hindi newspaper reported. “I am helping Digvijay Singh only in technical matters. Whatever documents I have, I will produce before the Delhi High Court in the next hearing.”

Meanwhile, the state government’s public relations department has circulated a note to journalists alleging that Pandey is a fraud and a blackmailer.

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Anand Rai, another whistle-blower, said the police were denying him security, accusing him of being a criminal. Rai was provided one guard on the directive of the state high court last year.

“When I moved the high court, the government opposed my plea at every stage, saying I was a habitual criminal, although I am a government doctor. They eventually agreed to provide me one guard,” he said to the Hindustan Times last week. Rai alleged that the police and STF were hostile to the whistle-blowers because the chief minister was directly involved in the scam.

Four years ago, Rai came into the limelight for exposing unethical drug trials involving doctors in medical colleges and hospitals in Bhopal and Indore. His crusade led to the government of India tightening norms for conducting drug trials. Some of the doctors were fined, others were suspended, and still others face inquiries by their departments.

In July, Rai, who was suspended from a government medial college in Indore following his campaign against drug trials, tipped off the police about the presence of a large number of exam impersonators in different hotels in Indore. The city crime branch conducted raids and arrested four of them. Later, when the police questioned them, they revealed that they were working for Jagdish Sagar, a doctor who is the kingpin of the racket.

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Ashish Chaturvedi, the third whistle-blower, who lives in Gwalior, has already suffered two attacks and an abduction bid even as the lone policeman who was supposed to guard him looked the other way.

Chaturvedi told journalists on February 24 in Bhopal that security men had roughed him up in January when he had gone to the exam board office in connection with RTI applications that he had filed regarding the scam. Chaturvedi immediately lodged a complaint with the local police.

"Everyone knows that my life is in danger after I blew the lid off the scam,” he said. “With this kind of a guard, I do not know what will happen if someone attacks me again," he said.

The Bhopal police denied Chaturvedi’s claim that he had been roughed up. "He was stopped at the gate [of the exam board office] and the security personnel asked him for his address and name for  the visitors' book,” inspector Brajesh Bhargav of the Nagar Town police station said in a press release. “But this angered him so much that he started abusing the security personnel.”

Chaturvedi told journalists that exam board officials were hostile to him because he files RTI applications. "Whenever I visit the office to file an application, officials object. They accept my application every time as they do not have an option. But they tell me that they are not happy with me for filing RTI applications regularly."

According to Chaturvedi, two attempts on his life have been made in Gwalior ever since he lodged an FIR in July against Gulab Singh Kirar, who is allegedly involved in the scam. Chaturvedi was also assaulted by two youngsters in Gwalior on January 1. The youths alleged that he was teasing girls in a local market and started beating him. His guard remained a mute spectator, Chaturvedi claimed.

He wrote to the police saying there was a threat to his life from 30 people, and the police had booked these people, he said. He has written to the state human rights commission and requested the special investigation team monitoring the probe by the special task force to deploy central security forces to guard him.