Kolkata court remands ex-minister Partha Chatterjee in CBI custody till Sept 21
Former president of Bengal’s education board Kalyanmoy Gangopadhyay told the court that he did not physically sign any appointment letter recruiting teachers and that his scanned signature was used in all documents.
A Kolkata court on Friday remanded West Bengal’s former education minister Partha Chatterjee and former president of the state’s education board Kalyanmoy Gangopadhyay in custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with alleged irregularities in the recruitment of teachers.
Chatterjee was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) along with his aide Arpita Mukherjee on July 23 on charges of money laundering in connection with the teachers’ recruitment case.
Also remanded in CBI custody was former president of West Bengal Board of Secondary Education Kalyanmoy Gangopadhyay, who was arrested on Thursday after being grilled for six hours. Gangopadhyay served as president of the secondary education board for 10 years before retiring around two months ago. Gangopadhyay filed a request to release him on bail; it was rejected.
Partha Chatterjee, who was brought from Presidency correctional home where he has been lodged since early August, was produced before Kolkata’s Alipore court in the presence of heavy deployment of central armed police personnel on Friday. Many people shouted at Chatterjee, calling him a “thief,” when he was being taken from the court to CBI office at Nizam Palace in south Kolkata.
Both were remanded in CBI custody till September 21.
In May, Calcutta high court judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay ordered the CBI to probe the illegal appointment of non-teaching staff (Group C and D) and teaching staff by the West Bengal Central School Service Commission (WBSSC) and West Bengal Board of Secondary Education.
The recruitments took place in phases during Chatterjee’s tenure as minister from 2014 to 2021.
Partha Chatterjee earlier claimed that he left the recruitment process to a high-powered advisory committee which is now under scanner. The committee’s chief adviser, Shanti Prasad Sinha, has already been arrested by CBI along with Ashok Saha, a senior WBSSC officer.
A CBI official said on condition of anonymity that the agency plans to bring the four accused - Partha Chatterjee, Kalyanmoy Gangopadhyay, Shanti Prasad Sinha and Ashok Saha - face to face with each other during their interrogation.
A visibly upset Chatterjee told the judge on Friday that he is sick and has to take more than 28 medicines every day, said lawyers who were present during the hearing.
Pleading for release, Chatterjee said he was a former student of a Ramakrishna Mission school, holds a degree in business management and is also a doctorate.
“I come from a family of educated people. I held a senior position in a big company before joining politics. I will cooperate with the CBI. Please release me,” Chatterjee was quoted to have told the judge in Bengali.
Lawyer Salim Rehman, who represented Chatterjee, challenged CBI’s claim that the former minister monitored the illegal appointments.
“We told the court that being a minister he was in charge of several autonomous bodies. One of them was the WBSSC. He did not monitor its day-to-day activities. ED arrested Chatterjee two months ago. CBI is trying to keep him locked up because he may get bail from judicial custody in the near future,” said Rehman.
Before ordering CBI probe, the high court entrusted retired judge Ranjit Kumar Bag with an inquiry since a few hundred job seekers alleged in their petitions that they were not recruited despite passing the qualifying examinations while ineligible people got through by paying bribes.
The Ranjit Kumar Bag inquiry committee held 11 senior government officials responsible for the irregularities and recommended a criminal investigation against six people, including Gangopadhyay and Sinha.
The inquiry report said that numerous recruits neither passed the written examination nor appear for the personality test. Among such recruits was the daughter of minister Paresh Adhikari. The court cancelled her appointment.
The inquiry report also said that Sinha gave letters, recommending the appointment of disqualified candidates, to Gangopadhyay, who sent these to various schools.
Gangopadhyay’s lawyers claimed before the court on Friday that he never physically signed any appointment letter and his scanned signature was used in all documents. They also said he had been cooperating with CBI officers all along and hence should be granted bail.