Calcutta High Court verdict on SSC scam jolts Trinamool Congress in election season

Annulment of the 2016 recruitment panel and termination of 25,753 teachers and staff deals a blow to TMC whose leaders were involved in the scandal.

Published : Apr 25, 2024 18:17 IST - 7 MINS READ

Job aspirants protesting against the SSC recruitment scam.

Job aspirants protesting against the SSC recruitment scam. | Photo Credit: DEBASISH BHADURI

The Calcutta High Court ruling, which cancelled the 2016 recruitment panel set up by the West Bengal School Service Commission (SSC), and dismissed 25,753 teachers and non-teaching staff of Classes IX-XII, in connection with the SSC recruitment scam, could not have come at a worse time for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress. The High Court ruling on April 22, came just four days before the second phase of the Lok Sabha election, and once again brought to the fore widespread corruption in the State under the Trinamool government and the rot in the education system.

A division bench of judges Debangshu Basak and Shabbar Rashidi, also directed those who were recruited even though they had submitted blank OMR sheets; those who were selected from outside the SSC panel; and those who were recruited after the expiry of the panel, to return their salaries and benefits they had earned since the time of their joining service, with 12 per cent interest within four weeks. However, not all who were thrown out of work, with the High Court order, had got their jobs through illegal means. The court observed that the entire selection process “is shrouded in such mystery and in such layers that it is difficult to fathom the quantum of illegalities performed.” On top of this, according to the court, “the non-cooperative stand of SSC, State and Board had added to the burden.”

Explaining its decision to scrap the entire panel, the Court order said, “We have given anxious consideration to the passionate plea that persons who had obtained the appointments legally would be prejudiced if we cancel the entire selection process... we have hardly been left with a choice. We would rather have persons of integrity appointed as teachers through an untainted selection process... than expose students to elements securing appointments through an unscrupulous selection process. Retaining appointees selected through such a dubious process would be contrary to public interest. By dint of the tenure of service of such appointees, successive generations of students would be exposed to these elements.”

Also Read | SSC recruitment scam in West Bengal strikes at the core of Bengali society

Directing the CBI to continue with its investigation, the order said, “CBI will interrogate all persons who had received appointments beyond the panel, after expiry of the panel and after submitting blank OMR sheets. If necessary, CBI shall undertake custodial interrogation in respect of each of them. CBI will undertake further investigations with regard to the persons involved, in the State government approving the creation of supernumerary posts to accommodate illegal appointments. If necessary, CBI will undertake custodial interrogation of such person[s] involved.”

Regarding the cabinet decision to create conditional supernumerary posts to accommodate the teachers whose appointments were allegedly irregular, the Court said, “Investigation by CBI, with regard to the creation of supernumerary posts is imperative to bring to light, the nature and extent of the scam and persons that are involved therein. It is shocking that, at the level of the Cabinet of the State government, [a] decision is taken to protect employment obtained fraudulently in a selection process conducted by SSC for State Funded Schools, knowing fully well that, such appointments were obtained beyond the panel and after expiry of the panel, at the bare minimum. The enormity of such wrongdoing is accentuated by the fact that illegal appointments are sought to be confirmed in educational institutions. Persons involved in such decision-making process’ have, therefore, exposed children to persons who obtained their employment through fraudulent means.”

Striking at the core of society

The State government immediately reacted by announcing that it would move the Supreme Court. SSC chairperson Siddhartha Majumder said, “The court has directed the cancellation of the entire appointment from the 2016 selection process in class 9-10, 11-12, group C and group D. We are not satisfied with this order as the CBI, after a thorough investigation, had found that around 5,000 candidates were recruited illegally. The remaining candidates are supposedly not tainted…” On April 24, the State government moved the Supreme Court against the High Court ruling.

Trinamool leader and former chairperson of West Bengal Board of Primary Education Manik Bhattacharya being produced at court by ED officials in SSC recruitment scam in 2022.

Trinamool leader and former chairperson of West Bengal Board of Primary Education Manik Bhattacharya being produced at court by ED officials in SSC recruitment scam in 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

The SSC scam, in which former State Education Minister and party heavyweight Partha Chatterjee and influential Trinamool MLA Manik Bhattacharya were arrested, has been a major source of embarrassment for the ruling party, which has been reeling under various allegations of corruption and misrule. The scam struck at the core of society, as it had a direct impact on the education, the future and moral upbringing of the young school-going generation. The bench had also recognised this and had written in its order, “Since time immemorial, every civilization has placed teachers at a pedestal of reverence. They are role models which every student by reason of they being of impressionable age have always tried to emulate.”

Also Read | Trinamool Minister and general secretary Partha Chatterjee arrested by ED

The High Court order has hit Trinamool hard and left it vulnerable to attacks from opposition parties, who have already made corruption one of the major issues in the Lok Sabha election. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while campaigning for the second phase of the election in Raiganj, said, “The court scrapped the jobs because the recruits had to pay bribes to the tune of Rs.10-15 lakh. Poor people don’t have money to pay bribes and get jobs… This cut money culture in Bengal has to stop.” Politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and secretary of the West Bengal unit of the party, Md Salim said, “The plan for the recruitment was done at Nabanna (the State administrative headquarters), and I blame Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for allowing it to happen.”

Md Salim, candidate for Murshidabad,

Md Salim, candidate for Murshidabad, | Photo Credit: DEBASISH BHADURI

Trinamool, in order to get out of the uncomfortable corner it has found itself in, has tried to give a twist to the politics surrounding the verdict. Calling the judgment “illegal,” and the court a mahatirtha (pilgrimage destination) for the BJP, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said at an election rally in Bardhaman on April 24, “They cannot give jobs but they have taken away 26,000 jobs. The BJP had moved the court demanding these teachers’ jobs be taken away. A BJP PIL is accepted the moment it is filed, but the court’s doors are shut for others.” According to her, the cancelling of so many jobs will impact one and a half lakh people. “They are saying that whatever they have earned in eight years of service, will have to be returned within four weeks. How is that possible?” asked Banerjee. At another election rally in Bolpur, she accused the BJP of “celebrating” the loss of jobs for nearly 26,000 people.

Deserving candidates as ‘shields’

The BJP, in turn, has offered to provide legal assistance to those deserving recruits who have lost their jobs due to the court order. BJP State president Sukanta Majumdar, clearly referring to the court’s observation about the lack of cooperation from the State that “effectively ruled out an exercise of shifting the grains from the chaff,” said, “Many of those who lost their jobs are deserving recruits. Around 5,000 were illegally recruited. We are standing by those deserving recruits, whereas Mamata Banerjee is claiming to stand by everyone, including those who paid bribes to get their jobs. She is using the deserving candidates as a shield to protect the illegal recruits.”

Also Read | Blow for Trinamool Congress in West Bengal as Minister arrested in Rs.10,000 crore PDS scam

In July 2022, Chatterjee, one of the tallest Trinamool leaders, was arrested after the ED retrieved Rs.21.2 crore in cash, jewellery worth Rs.79 lakh, and Rs.54 lakh in foreign currency, from the house of actress Arpita Mukherjee, known to be a close associate of Chatterjee’s. On the heels of his arrest, several top officials involved in the SSC recruitment process between 2014 and 2021, including  Shanti Prasad Sinha, former Adviser to the West Bengal School Service Commission (WBSSC), Ashok Kumar Saha, former Secretary of the WBSSC, Kalyanmoy Ganguly, former Chairperson of West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE), Subiresh Bhattacharya, former WBSSC Chairperson and Vice Chancellor of North Bengal University, and Prasanna Roy, a middleman known to be close to Partha Chatterjee, were put behind bars. Manik Bhattacharya, the other Trinamool leader and MLA, who was arrested, was the president of the West Bengal Board of Primary Education (WBBPE) from 2011 till June 2022.

The various irregularities in the recruitment process included:

Appointments higher than the declared vacancies had been given; appointments had been given to persons who were not even in the panel; appointments had been given to persons who submitted blank OMR sheets; appointments had been given to persons after the expiry of the panel; and persons placed lower in rank in the merit list had been given an appointment in preference to those placed higher. Though the High Court ruling has rocked the State and sparked public outrage, it remains to be seen whether it will ultimately have any impact on the ongoing Lok Sabha election.

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