It is eight in the evening. Prashant Pandey, one of the whistler-blowers of the Vyapam case, is sitting in his lawyer’s office. The door is shut. Periodically, an office boy goes in with a tray and comes out. In the recent months since the body count for the Vyapam scam has increased, Pandey’s days are spent locked up in a basement with his attorney firefighting for him.
Hunted, hounded and even arrested, Pandey, a digital forensic scientist who worked with the Special Task Force set up by the Madhya Pradesh Police to uncover the scam, is fighting an uphill battle against the system. “The death toll is much higher in the Vyapam case,” he says. “The media has only touched the tip of the iceberg.”
Cases have been filed against him. “None of them have been proved,’’ says Pandey. “My friends in the police advise me: 'They are out to get you. Take care of yourself.’ If this isn’t intimidation, what is?”
Pandey has had a few close shaves. In May, he was driving back from Mhow to Indore at night with his family in two cars. The road was deserted. Pandey was driving one car, then he switched to the other. A truck came out of nowhere to first overtake his car and then push over the car his wife was driving. The car was dragged for 40 metres before it turned turtle.
This was not the first time an attempt was made to eliminate Pandey. In 2014, he was arrested by the STF―the same people he was working with. He was interrogated for two days before being produced in court to get bail. He had just got home when he was picked up again by the Madhya Pradesh Police. “This was unofficial. They asked me to come with them and I did,” he says. “I was driven to a safe house in Bhopal where I was interrogated for two days again. I was terrified I would not come out alive.’’
The police tried to coerce him to give “crucial evidence’’ in the case. An officer threatened to shoot him in the head. “Goli idhar se jayegi aur udhar se nikhal jayegi. Sara Vyapam nikal jayega [The bullet will pierce your brain and everything about Vyapam will come out],” the officer said. Pandey cannot get the voice out of his head. “I fear for my life,” he says. But I don’t want any security from the police. I know they will never keep me safe. They will spy on me.’’
In July, Pandey’s wife, Meghna, was intercepted by the Indore crime branch on a tipoff that she was carrying hawala money. The officers seized Rs.9.96 lakh from her. Pandey is convinced that his wife was being spied on by the police. “Hawala money is in crores. Why would anyone change less than ten lakhs?” he asks. “We want to buy a house in Delhi. The money was for the builder.”
For the moment, Pandey is on the run. He is in hiding in Delhi while his family lives in Indore. “I have no job,’’ he says. “My life is a mess. But I am determined to tell the truth.”