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After The Verdict

School Recruitment Scam in West Bengal

Nityananda Ghosh

The Supreme Court in a significant move stayed the Calcutta High Court’s May 7 order nixing 25,753 school appointments in West Bengal. The 2016 recruitment panel of West Bengal School Service Commission [WBSSC] was full of irregularities. WBSSC is solely responsible for illegal appointments of both teaching and non-teaching staff. Having failed to identify illegally recruited staff from those who were selected on the basis of merit the High Court declared the entire 2016 panel invalid, albeit all of them served different schools for eight years. All this happened due to some 5000 candidates who were not in the original merit list. Then plight of those eligible candidates who should have been in the original panel defies description because they were denied job to accommodate those 5000 unpanelist candidates. They are still agitating on the streets but their condition is more precarious than before, particularly after the High Court verdict. Because of this school recruitment scam many of the ruling party leaders, including ministers are in jail.

CPM RajyaSabha MP and noted lawyer Bikashranjan Bhattacharya along with his junior associates SudiptaDasgupta, BikramBandyopadhyay and FirdousShamim first took up the school recruitment scam on behalf of some aggrieved candidates who were deprived of their legitimate claim as per the merit list and they filed the case in Calcutta High Court on October 9, 2021. The case continued for a few years without any concrete results. Then finally the division bench of AbhijitGanguly in the Calcutta High Court ordered a CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) inquiry into the school recruitment process and irregularities associated with it. Later Justice Ganguly in an order cancelled 36,000 primary school appointments because of corrupt practices the West Bengal Primary Education Commission indulged in though the order was stayed by another bench.

Meanwhile, justice Ganguly retired from his post three months before his normal retirement time. Then he lost no time to join the BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) and BJP in turn fielded him as their candidate in the Tamluk parliamentary constituency. This raises many unanswered questions whether he adjudicated contentious issues from the alleged partisan point of view. What is at stake is judicial system’s impartiality. Justice RanjanGogoi of Supreme Court who gave verdict in favour of building Ram Temple at Ayodhya was nominated as BJP RajyaSabha member after his retirement. Many see in it an unholy nexus between a section of judges and the ruling dispensation. Erosion of impartiality of judiciary poses a great threat to India’s fragile democracy.

Now the fate of 25,753 secondary teachers who qualified for the job through the arduous recruitment process of School Service Commission hangs in the balance. Those who have been agitating by way of organising sit-ins and demonstrations demanding justice suddenly find themselves in a new web of uncertainty. SaumyabrataSaha, one of the agitationists is sceptical about the Supreme Court judgement. Anwar Ali, a primary school teacher, hailing from Hooghly, thinks he may lose job because their case is yet to be resolved.

The hearing on school recruitment scam case was completed on March 20, 2024 in the division bench of Justice DebangshuBasak and justice MdShabbarRashidi but the verdict was pending till 22nd April. The finally the order cancelling 25,753 appointments came on the same day. The WBSSC, the H S Council of WB and some victims went to the apex court challenging the order. The SC bench headed by chief justice D Y Chandrachud along with justice J B Padriwala and justice Manoj Mishra stayed Calcutta High Court order that cancelled the entire 2016 panel. The SC order put some restrictions on the investigative agencies like CBI and ED while posting the matter for further hearing on 16th July 2024.

While delivering the order, the SC bench concluded, “Bearing in mind the present state of proceedings, an expedited hearing is called for and we accordingly list the matter on July 16. In the meantime, we are inclined to continue the ad hoc interim protection given earlier given by this court in the Order of November 9, 2023, subject to the express stipulation that any person found to have been appointed illegally and continuing as a consequence of the present order shall refund the salaries that would come to the four categories of individuals….”However, CJI Chandrachud said the cancellation of the entire process should be the last “last resort”. He further observed, “This court cannot be unmindful of the teachers appointed in large numbers and the consequence of upholding the impugned judgement (of the high court)”. In continuation CJI said,” public job is scarce and nothing remains, if the faith of the public goes. This is a systematic fraud. What remains in the system if their appointments are also maligned? People will lose faith”.

The apex court, on April 29, stayed the high court order directing a probe into the role of W B government officials in creating super numerary posts to fill some vacancies. The Supreme Court refrained from staying the entire high court order quashing the recruitment process and fixed a date for further hearing.

The victims must get justice. In West Bengal education system is in general in decline. There are large number of vacancies in schools and colleges. The present government in its 13 years’ tenure has failed miserably to rationalise and modernise the education system. The WBSSC held its teacher recruitment examination only twice during the last 13 years--once in 2011 and second time in 2016. There are also gross irregularities in TET [primary and upper primary level].

The rate of drop-outs in schools is alarming. The number of examinees both at secondary and higher levels has dropped significantly. Then 8,207 schools are likely to be closed due to shortage of students. For one thing the mushrooming of private schools having affiliation to Delhi boards is one reason for the crisis the state government schools have been in. Given the prevailing situation in the education sector, if 5,753 teaching and non-teaching employees lose their job because of manipulated recruitment many schools will suffer, making the entire education scenario more bizarre.

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Frontier
Vol 56, No. 50, Jun 9 - 15, 2024