The irregularities in appointments by the West Bengal School Service Commission (WBSSC) is turning out to be an embarrassment for the Trinamool Congress government. Along with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is probing the scam as per the instructions of the Calcutta High Court, the Enforcement Directorate has also started looking into money laundering allegations in the case. There are protests in Kolkata almost on a daily basis.
For the past several weeks, the police are having a difficult time warding off protests near the offices of State Education Department in Salt Lake. On Friday, members of the student and youth wings of the Left parties, under the leadership of DYFI State president Meenakshi Mukherjee, tried to gather in front of Acharya Bhawan – the headquarters of the WBSSC – protesting against the alleged irregularities in recruitment of teachers and non-teaching staff in State-run schools. Several student and youth activists were taken in custody by the police.
Two Ministers of West Bengal – Minister of State for Education Paresh Adhikary and Industry and Commerce Minister Partha Chatterjee – have been questioned by the CBI over the past one week. On Wednesday, Mr. Chatterjee, also secretary-general of the Trinamool Congress, was questioned for almost eight hours. The Central agency has registered four FIRs – two in April and two in May – on the instructions of the Calcutta High Court. Officials of the WBSSC and members of an advisory committee set up by Mr. Chatterjee have been named in the FIRs.
An examination of the FIRs points to cheating and criminal conspiracy to appoint candidates who were not selected on the basis of merit. For instance, an FIR on May 20 by the CBI states the accused “collected the vacancies of Group C in an unauthorised manner after the expiry of the recruitment paneI on 18.05.2019 in violation of provisions of School Service Commission Rules, 2009, and then issued recommendations of unsuccessful candidates to those vacancies by issuing fictitious memos of the regional commissions and by using scanned signatures of the chairpersons of the regional commissions in the absence of their knowledge”.
Santi Prasad Sinha, a senior WBSSC official, handed over fake recommendation letters to another official Kalyanmoy Ganguly after the expiry of the panel, according to the FIR. Kalyanmoy Ganguly, in turn, gave instructions to Rajesh Layek, the technical officer of the Board, for preparation of appointment letters on the basis of fake recommendation letters, “bypassing the normal chain of hierarchy and without sending those recommendation letters to the appointment section of the Board of Secondary Education, West Bengal”, the document added.
Earlier, as per instructions of the Calcutta High Court, a committee headed by retired Judge R.K. Bag had carried out an investigation into the appointment of Group C and Group D staff in State-run schools.
In the FIR pertaining to Paresh Chandra Adhikary, the agency stated that the merit list prepared for appointment of assistant teachers (political science) in classes Xl-Xll on the basis of an advertisement published in the year 2016 “was altered to accommodate and appoint Ankita Adhikary, daughter of Paresh Chandra Adhikary, West Bengal Minister, demoting other candidates in the list”.
What is surprising that the Trinamool Congress leadership, which has been vocal against any probe by Central agencies, has not come forward to defend Ministers whose name surfaced in the scam. The only reference Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made was alleging irregularities in the WBSSC appointments during the Left regime and threatening to open a probe. Since the irregularities are so evident, the ruling party is not trying to stand with the accused. Even former officials of the WBSSC have come out in the open alleging political interference in the irregularities. The issue has given a handle to both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Left parties to not only target the State government but also stage protests.
Over the past few weeks, the irregularities in recruitments by WBSSC has had a cascading effect on other job seekers. Protests have been organised by nursing students, job aspirants who have appeared for the West Bengal Public Service Commission examination and job seekers in colleges alleging irregularities in appointments.