Explainer: How Teacher Recruitment Scam in West Bengal Unfolded
West Bengal Minister Partha Chatterjee after being discharged from AIIMS Bhubaneswar, arrives at the airport, in Kolkata on Monday. He was earlier shifted to AIIMS Bhubaneswar from SSKM hospital as per order of Calcutta High court. Chatterjee was arrested by ED in connection with the alleged West Bengal School Service Commission and West Bengal Primary Education Board recruitment scam. (ANI Photo)
Kolkata: The School Selection Commission (SSC) scam in West Bengal came to national limelight after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) unearthed Rs 21 crore 90 lakh in hard cash from Arpita Mukherjee’s residence. Arpita Mukherjee is believed to be a close confidante of Partha Chatterjee,a trusted lieutenant of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, a former state education minister and the current minister of commerce and industries. He is under arrest, as is Mukherjee. The matter is being probed by ED as well as the Central Bureau Of Investigation (CBI).
After the formation of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in the state in 2011, a serious breach in protocol was noticed in the Regional Level Selection Test (RLST) of 2012 -- a teacher recruitment process, when ranks, according to the combined merit panel, were jumped and lower ranked candidates were recruited as teachers. Many candidates who were at the receiving end of the selection board's “irregularity” knocked on the doors of the court. As of now, related litigations are still pending in Supreme Court.
In the State Level Selection Test (SLST) of 2016 -- which recruits teachers for classes 9, 10, 11, and 12, similar irregularities were noticed after Minister Paresh Adikary’s daughter, Ankita Adhikary, managed to get appointed as a government teacher in Cooch Behar. She was later convicted by a court and her job was terminated. She was also told to return the entire salary that she received in the 41 months that she was on job.
In the upper primary section, during the start of the recruitment process, many cases were filed alleging that non-trained candidates got a preference for jobs and many out-of-turn candidates were given appointments. On December 11, 2019, the Calcutta High Court, in view of the malpractices, ordered cancellation of the merit list and a halt to the recruitment process.
However, after the recruitment process restarted in 2016, things did not change as various lowly placed candidates were placed on the merit list and were recruited anyway.
The non-teaching staff recruitment panel started the process of filling up forms from August 10 to 31, 2016. On May 4, 2019, the SSC intimated the candidates that the recruitment process was over. Interestingly, after this announcement was made, hundreds of off-panel candidates were hired. At first 25, then 542 people’s salaries were terminated by the Calcutta HC after it found large-scale irregularities in the recruitment process.
The last SSC teachers’ recruitment -- SLST for classes 9 and 10 -- was held on November 27, 2016 and the SLST for classes 11 and 12, was held on December 4, 2016. The Upper Primary Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) exam was last held on August 16, 2015. However, since then, the teacher recruitment process for upper primary school has been stopped in the state.
It was alleged that during the entire recruitment process, a section of the would-be teachers used to pay hefty sums to the TMC leadership, which used to be channelised to Partha Chatterjee, the then Education Minister.
Prior to 2011, during the Left Front regime, the recruitment process was a decentralised one with five regional authorities giving recruitment approval. However, later under TMC rule, a Bill was introduced in the Assembly whereby the decentralised process was written off, and the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, with Prof Kalyanmoy Ganguly as its head, allegedly went into “unofficial understanding” with the Education Minister.
The Calcutta High Court constituted a Committee that got wide evidence of irregularities and ordered removal of both Ganguly and Manik Bhattacharya from the post of the Chairman of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education and the West Bengal Primary Teaching Council, respectively.
It is alleged that during the pandemic-induced lockdown, when everything came to a standstill, several candidates gave ‘cut money’, which was channelised to then education minister Partha Chatterjee, and they were recruited illegally.
After the change in the recruitment process in 2014, the first merit list published by the SSC invited allegations of widespread irregularities due to which the merit list of the upper primary level was cancelled by the High Court. In the second list, too, there were irregularities due to which not a single appointment has been made since 2014. These irregularities were noticed by the High Court following which it constituted a committee.
In many cases, the academic scores of the undeserving candidates allegedly in lieu of money were hiked by the SSC authority. At the same time, many deserving candidates, who got more than the cut-off marks, were rejected ostensibly because the online submission of their documents was rejected.
In 1998, to get some clarity in the teachers' recruitment process, the then Left Front government had constituted the SSC, which was divided into five regions. Each region was empowered to recruit teachers according to vacancies published earlier. In the same manner, the state government gave power to the district primary teaching council to appoint teachers.
After TMC came to power in the state, the primary teachers' recruitment process was marred by “nepotism” and Chatterjee, after becoming education minister in 2013, is took this opportunity to centralise the whole process. A Bill was passed in the Assembly that effectively centralised power. It wrested power with the Primary Teaching Council for the recruitment of primary teachers and the power to recruit upper primary teachers was given to the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, at whose helm was the minister himself.
On May 20 this year, Chatterjee had also appeared for CBI interrogation for certain irregularities during his tenure. Interestingly, the lawyers aligned to TMC created an uproar in the HC to pressure judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay.
Despite that, Chatterjee didn't get a favourable verdict from the judge and appealed to the division bench, which upheld the original judgement. The CBI interrogated Chatterjee for five hours, with the High Court putting aside constitutional safeguards needed before arresting a minister.
However, Paresh Adhikary's scenario doesn't seem as bad as Chaterjee's. As per sources, he told the CBI team that he wasn't a minister when his daughter was given an arbitrary entry into the SSC merit list.
Adhikary's statement has increased Chatterjee's problems. CBI has registered at least two FIRs in the case. Along with Chatterjee, SSC advisor Shanti Prasad Sinha has also been named.
During the interrogation, CBI probed Chatterjee over the constitution of the Appointment Vigil Committee. Chatterjee told the investigative agency that only those who were appointed as teachers could tell how they were selected. Following Chatterjee's interrogation, CBI may question other TMC leaders and ministers who have allegedly been instrumental in giving jobs bypassing the official appointment route.
As per reports, it has been alleged that the modus operandi of the whole process revolved around Sinha, who used to send false recommendation papers to SSC chairperson Kalyanmoy Ganguly, who was tasked with preparing false appointment letters to be sent to SSC head offices and then handed over to the candidates. Another person whose role has been highlighted is Samarjeet Acharya, tasked with scanning the false appointment letters.
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.