‘Every transfer, posting, and recruitment had a price tag’.
New Delhi: The arrest of former West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the teachers’ recruitment scam has brought many skeletons of the deep-rooted corruption in the West Bengal education department tumbling out of the closet. The over Rs 50 crore in cash, and gold worth Rs 10 crore recovered from at least two apartments belonging to Arpita Mukherjee, a close aide or a “close friend” of Chatterjee, are just the tip of the iceberg, claim many associates of the former education minister.
Baisakhi Banerjee, former general secretary of the West Bengal College and University Professors’ Association (WBCUPA), a close associate of Partha Chatterjee and a very close friend of TMC leader and former Mayor of Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Sovan Chatterjee, told The Sunday Guardian that what happened in the education sector of West Bengal during the time of Partha Chatterjee was not just corruption, but a “plunder”, where an entire generation of students was destroyed, where merit took a back seat and money was the prime factor when it came to recruitment in the education sector. “Bengal’s education system has been pushed into a catastrophe and all with the blessings of Partha Chatterjee. Corruption in the education department has been institutionalized; every officer, the minister and almost 95% of all the staff are corrupt. Every transfer, posting, and recruitment has a price tag fixed. Even postings, and transfers within the non-teaching staff have a rate card,” claimed Baisakhi Banerjee.
The rate card for transfer and postings for school teachers was alleged to be ranging between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 7 lakh. The rate for recruitment of teachers through the School Service Commission was, however, a little higher, and ranged between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 15 lakh. The rate card for college professors was much higher at more than Rs 20 lakh, while for vice-chancellors in the state universities, they went up to Rs 25-30 lakh, along with other favours, which included cars, gold chains, foreign trips, etc. “95% of the officers in the education department are corrupt and corruption was happening very systematically. Not only monetary favours, the officers were also asking for sexual favours from candidates who were vulnerable and needed the job. The department had become that filthy,” Baisakhi Banerjee alleged.
Further explaining the situation, Baisakhi Banerjee said “corruption begets corruption” and that the teachers recruited through monetary payments and not merit were there in the school education system to earn back their money and in order to do this, students were asked to pay money to get more marks; weak students were even asked to pay money for promotions.
Commenting on Arpita Mukherjee’s statement on Friday that she was not aware of this corruption and that she was being framed, Baisakhi said, “It is very hard to believe this woman. I have myself always seen her with Partha Chatterjee; whenever I went to Partha Chatterjee’s house, she used to be there always. I either saw her sitting with Partha or near him. Initially, I did not know who she was. I found out later that she was Partha Chatterjee’s closest friend. Later on, I would hear stories about their night sojourns, long drives, fun trips, etc. Partha used to go across Kolkata in his Scorpio and then shift to Arpita’s car or his other cars for their pleasure trips.”
Baisakhi further added, “Arpita is not a kid not to know what was happening. She was present everywhere Partha Chatterjee was and to say she knows nothing about the money and flats that are in her name, is something only a fool would believe.”
Asked since when was she seeing Arpita Mukherjee with Partha Chatterjee, Baisakhi claimed, “Oh, the very day when Partha Chatterjee’s wife passed away and we went to pay our condolences. That was the first time I saw her. Let me tell you, Arpita is not the only one in Partha’s life, he has many more. I have seen so many undeserving women being given posts in the education department, just because they are close to Partha and God knows what. Several incidents have happened in front of my eyes.”
“The mask of an honest, diligent politician that Partha Chatterjee was wearing all these years has fallen off and his real face has been exposed to the whole of Bengal and India,” Baisakhi said.
However, when this correspondent asked how, when Partha’s close associates and party members knew about this corruption, how is it that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was unaware of all this, Baisakhi claimed that Partha Chatterjee was an arrogant man, who would often claim that he was the number two in the party and that decisions in his department and ministry would not run with orders from Kalighat (the residence of Mamata Banerjee), but from Naktala (residence of Partha Chatterjee). “Parthada himself told me this many times that he was not scared of Mamata Banerjee and he completely controlled the education department. He had this arrogance in him for whatever reasons. Even letters from the Chief Minister’s Office were not dealt with properly and he used to say, ‘What can the CM do? The officers are mine, the department is mine. I am the last word here’,” Baisakhi told this correspondent.
Baisakhi, however, also expressed her concern over the monumental task of “cleaning up” the education department. She said, “I don’t know how the present education minister, Bratya Basu, plans to clean up this system, since the evil is deeply ingrained in the system. An impartial academic audit of all the recruitments, transfers and postings should be conducted immediately and the problems rectified at the earliest.”