New Delhi: The persistent effort, conviction and dedication of one Calcutta High Court Judge, who fought against all odds, led to the unearthing of the alleged huge recruitment scam that has not only rocked Bengal but also the whole nation.
The Calcutta High Court Judge, Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay, whom many of the lawyers in the High Court claim to be an upright and honest Judge, got the hint of “massive corruption” in the West Bengal education department right from the beginning of the hearing, which began in the mid of 2021.
Sometime between May and August 2021 a bunch of petitions landed at the Calcutta High Court, filed by hundreds of candidates who had appeared for the examination for recruitment into the schools in West Bengal but could not get through. The recruitment for multiple posts, including Group C, Group D (non-teaching staff), Assistant Teachers for Classes IX, X, XI and XII which is under question now, were conducted between 2017 and 2018, while the selection and appointment letter for this recruitment started to roll out from 2019.
It is pertinent to mention here that a panel for recruitment by the SSC was formed in 2017 and this panel handed over the appointment letters in 2019. But the panel was allegedly “illegal” since according to the SSC recruitment rules, the validity of such panel is only for one year.
However, the possibility of a scam was first sensed by several candidates when the SSC did not publish the merit list of all the candidates, as is done in such recruitment processes, but rather asked candidates to check for their specific results by only entering their roll numbers.
This was when candidates, despite getting “good marks” in their written exams, did not see their names featured in the merit list post the personality test or interview. While on the contrary, candidates who had scored poorly in written exams were selected.
The candidates, through RTIs and court orders, got the SSC to make the entire merit list public in the later months of 2019, leading to the opening up of the Pandora’s box. The public merit list showed how many candidates, who had scored lower marks than the petitioners, were selected on the merit list, while their names were omitted.
This revelation led to multiple bunches of petitions being filed at the Calcutta High Court and it was from here in 2021 when Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay started to hear petitions from candidates who claimed “unfair” recruitment and a “scam” in the West Bengal Education Department.
However, the judicial road to the unravelling of this “massive” scam was also not a smooth ride and it had its shares of bumps with Justice Gangopadhyay having to publicly speak against his colleagues who were staying the orders of his Single Bench.
The matter, when it reached Justice Gangopadhyay’s court in the Calcutta High Court in the middle of 2021, asked for a detailed report on the matter from the SSC, and after a couple of hearings and going through the reports and a slew of evidences provided by the lawyers representing the petitioners (SSC candidates) Justice Gangopadhyay in November 2021 asked the CBI to conduct an enquiry into the recruitment.
This said petition and CBI enquiry was ordered for the alleged irregularity in the recruitment of Group C and Group D staff of the SSC. The Group C and D recruitment is done for the non-teaching staff of the West Bengal schools.
However, this appeal was challenged by the State (West Bengal) in a Division Bench headed by Justice Harish Tandon of the Calcutta High Court, who stayed the CBI enquiry into the matter.
Furthermore, this Division Bench was of the opinion that a CBI enquiry into the matter was not necessary at this juncture and it ordered for the constitution of a five-member committee headed by retired Justice Bag to investigate into the alleged scam in the recruitment by SSC.
Meanwhile, a bunch of other petitions started to pile up in front of Justice Gangopadhyay and this time it was with regards to alleged irregularities in the recruitment of teaching staff for Classes IX and X. Justice Gangopadhyay, after examining the evidence in these petitions, had once again ordered a CBI enquiry into this matter now.
During this time, Justice Gangopadhyay had even asked the former education minister of Bengal, Partha Chatterjee to cooperate with the investigating agency.
This order of Justice Gangopadhyay was once again challenged in the Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court and this CBI enquiry was also stayed by the Division Bench.
“When order after order of the Single Bench headed by Justice Gangopadhyay were being stayed by the Division Bench, Justice Gangopadhyay remained true to his verdict,” Advocate Gopa Biswas, representing the SSC candidates, told The Sunday Guardian.
This was between March and April 2022, the Single Bench of the Calcutta High Court had observed that a committee was formed by the West Bengal government’s education department with regards to recruitment had the personal secretary and the officer on special duty of the then education Minister (Partha Chatterjee) as members of the committee and to this, Justice Gangopadhyay had said, “Now in respect of this matter, CBI will register a case and will start interrogating such persons including the then Hon’ble Education Minister Mr Partha Chatterjee who cannot be kept out of the dragnet of CBI. CBI is directed to call Mr Partha Chatterjee in the course of the day.”
The judge further wrote that if Chatterjee did not present himself before the court, the court would be forced to pass “unpleasant” orders; he also gave the CBI the liberty to arrest the minister if he did not cooperate. “This court believes that no officer of the Education Department could act without the direction of the then Education Minister, in matters like this. Only officials under the then Hon’ble Minister of Education would face CBI inquiry and the Head at the helm of the Education Department would not be interrogated, to unearth the whole scam in giving wholly illegal appointments in posts in schools, by CBI cannot be the case here. If CBI thinks that said Mr Chatterjee is not co-operating with CBI and is granted liberty to start interrogating him by taking him in custody,” The Court had said.
However, the state government, within minutes of the said order, challenged it in front of a division bench, which stayed all proceedings involving the State Level Teacher Selection Test (SLST) by the single bench on grounds that hearing of SLST matters couldn’t run simultaneously in two courts.
The staying of this single Bench order by the Division Bench was followed by a huge ruckus in the Calcutta High Court, where some lawyers believed to be associated with the ruling TMC had “gheraoed” Justice Gangopadhyay and started shouting slogans against him. The Justice asked the lawyers to stop doing politics inside his courtroom. He told a TMC leaning lawyer, “I am asking you all not to do any politics here; I am not doing any politics. I wanted to take a stand against corruption.”
Justice Gangopadhyay, who was practising as an advocate before being appointed as High Court judge on 2 May 2018, will retire on 19 August 2024. His name was among the seven recommended for appointment as Judges of the Calcutta High Court on 4 May 2017. Justice Gangopadhyay, whose court room no 17 hears education matters, in his judgement, that was later overturned by the division bench had made stern remarks against the stand taken by the West Bengal government, which had argued against involving Chatterjee in the case.
Post this incident, at least four Division Benches in the Calcutta High Court recused themselves from hearing the SSC recruitment case and later the Division Bench headed by Justice Subrata Talukdar heard the case.
According to advocate Gopa Biswas, representing the petitioners, Justice Talukdar, after hearing and learning through all the evidences presented before him and also after going through the report of the Bag Committee came to the conclusion that the Single Bench of Justice Gangopadhyay was correct and that a fair investigation by specialised agency was needed to unearth if there was any scam in the recruitment of 1000s of candidates through the SSC.
It is pertinent to mention here that at least 3,000 to 4,000 petitions have been filed in the Calcutta High Court with respect to alleged irregularities in the SSC recruitment in West Bengal and presently the CBI along with the Enforcement Directorate is investigating at least four cases—recruitment in Groups C and D, recruitment of teachers for Classes IX and X, and recruitment of teachers for Classes XI and XII.