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Mamata in a spot

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Trinamool MP Kalyan Banerjee during the 25th anniversary celebrations of Titagarh Wagons in Hooghly district on July 27, 2022.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Trinamool MP Kalyan Banerjee during the 25th anniversary celebrations of Titagarh Wagons in Hooghly district on July 27, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Enforcement Directorate (ED)’s arrest of West Bengal Industry and Commerce Minister Partha Chatterjee in the alleged School Service Commission (SSC) recruitment scam has put the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in a tight spot. More than the embarrassment of the recovery of cash and jewellery worth ₹21 crore from the house of Arpita Mukherjee, an associate of the Minister, the allegations of the money being taken for appointments in State-run schools have posed difficult questions for the TMC leadership.

This is not the first time that the ruling party has had to defend allegations of corruption. But unlike earlier occasions, the TMC has distanced itself from the Minister. West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chairperson Mamata Banerjee has kept herself away from the controversy by saying that she had no idea about the scam and that the Minister should be sent to life imprisonment if found guilty. Her remarks were also a way of absolving the party and the government of the deed. This marks a departure from the Narada sting videos and Saradha and other chit fund scams where the party alleged a conspiracy, and defended its leadership.

Allegations of irregularities in the recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff in State-run schools have been flying thick and fast for the past few years. Job seekers have staged protests for days and months on end in Kolkata. However, the State government turned a blind eye to such allegations and protests.

It was only at the intervention of the Calcutta High Court that an investigation into the alleged irregularities was launched. Between September 2021 and July 2022, Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of the Calcutta High Court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe irregularities in appointments in at least eight cases. The FIR and action by the ED including the Minister’s arrest follow the CBI registering complaints at the instruction of the High Court. It took the recovery of a huge hoard of cash and the arrest of Mr. Chatterjee to shake things up.

Despite the outrage over the arrest and seizure, the TMC has not acted against the Minister. Mr. Chatterjee continues to remain a Cabinet Minister and key TMC functionary. Another Minister, Paresh Chandra Adhikary, against whom the High Court directed registering of a case following allegations that his daughter was appointed as teacher in a State-run school while examinees getting higher marks were denied the job, continues to hold office.

Unemployment continues to remain one of the biggest issues in the State. Before the 2021 Assembly election, West Bengal witnessed protests over corruption in delivery of welfare schemes at the gram panchayat level. Any normalisation of corruption in government jobs, which are very few, cannot be allowed in a State with a nearly 10 crore population. Clearly, Ms. Banerjee needs to do more on the issue of corruption. For the BJP and the Left, which has failed to organise a movement on the issue of corruption, the arrest has provided ammunition to target the government.

The experience of the people of the State with central investigation agencies has also not been satisfactory. Despite a decade of investigation into the Saradha and other chit fund scams, the investigations are yet to be completed and duped investigators are awaiting their money. In the Narada sting case, the central agencies have gone after only those who are with the TMC and spared those who have joined the BJP. In the alleged SSC recruitment scam, with the fate of thousands of job seekers at stake, it is imperative for central agencies to do a better job so that these young men and women, some of whom have even passed the recruitment age, get justice.

shivsahay.s@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jul 28, 2022 1:29:29 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/mamata-in-a-spot/article65689708.ece