NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's top court on Thursday ordered a federal investigation into a cash for jobs scandal after a spate of recent deaths fuelled claims of a mass cover-up by a state government.
The Supreme Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate the so-called Vyapam scam in which thousands of people are alleged to have bribed officials and politicians in Madhya Pradesh in return for jobs on the state payroll or places in training institutes.
"The Attorney General on instruction states that Madhya Pradesh has no objection whatsoever for transferring the investigation of criminal cases relating to Vyapam scam to the CBI and the cases related to deaths of those allegedly connected with the scam for free and fair probe," the court ruled in a judgement, a copy of which has been seen by AFP.
The court also issued notices to the federal and state governments seeking their response to calls by petitioners for the sacking of Madhaya Pradesh governor Ramnaresh Yadav over his alleged involvement.
The court was hearing a batch of petitions filed by activists and opposition leaders asking for it to intervene and order a free and fair probe in the Vyapam scam which dates back to 2013.
The CBI, India's top federal investigation agency, will take over the investigations from the Madhaya Pradesh state police who have arrested around 2,000 people since the scandal came to light.
Allegations of a cover-up have gained momentum since the weekend when a television reporter on assignment in Madhaya Pradesh suffered a fatal heart attack.
Akshay Singh, 38, fell ill while interviewing the parents of Namrita Damor, a 19-year-old medical student who was one of the beneficiaries of the scam and whose body was found on a railway track two years ago.
While police say the teenager committed suicide, her parents insist she was strangled.
Madhya Pradesh's embattled Chief Cinister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who had earlier asked for a CBI probe to clear the air, visited Singh's family on Thursday to offer condolences.
Reports and the opposition Congress party claim more than 40 people associated with the scam - including suspects and witnesses - have died in the last two years.
No one has so far been convicted in India's notoriously slow legal system but around 1,930 people have been arrested including several top bureaucrats and hundreds of students.
While there is little hard evidence to link him to the deaths, Congress has accused Chauhan - a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - of involvement dating back to his time as state education minister.
The scandal was exposed after police arrested dozens of people who had been paid to impersonate applicants in tests. Paying for government jobs is widespread in India while it is also common for candidates to pay for fake qualifications or get someone to sit tests on their behalf.