TMC minister Partha Chatterjee questioned by CBI for second time in SSC scam
West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee was questioned for the second time by sleuths of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Wednesday in connection with the alleged irregularities in the recruitment of teachers and non-teaching staff in various government schools in West Bengal, officials said.
Chatterjee, who was the education minister when the alleged irregularities were made, was asked to submit documents related to his income tax return and bank statements, said a senior CBI official.
He was questioned for the first time on May 18 after the single bench of justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay ordered the federal agency to question him and also gave CBI the liberty to take him into custody. The division bench had refused to give any protection to Chatterjee, who is the commerce and industries minister in the incumbent government and the state secretary general of the ruling Trinamool Congress.
This came as a major embarrassment for the state’s ruling party as the state’s incumbent junior education minister Paresh Adhikary has been questioned in another case related to alleged irregularities in the recruitment of his daughter as a school teacher.
Even though CBI hasn’t named Chatterjee as an accused in its FIR filed on May 20, his name has been dragged into the scam for approving the formation of a five-member supervisory committee.
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The Calcutta high court had earlier prima facie noticed and recorded that it was this high-powered supervisory committee, approved by Chatterjee, which was the ‘root’ of the alleged scam.
“The constitution of the supervisory committee was approved by (the then) minister-in-charge of school education department (Partha Chatterjee) notified in the form of an order of the joint secretary on November 1, 2019 to supervise, monitor and guide the CentraI Commission in connection with pending recruitment process. The constitution of this committee was violation of the School Service Commission Act, 1997,” said CBI’s FIR.
His name had also cropped up in the findings of the enquiry committee headed by retired Justice Ranjit Kumar Bag, which was set up by the high court after the allegations of the illegal recruitment surfaced.
Even though the calls and messages to Chatterjee went unanswered, a CBI official said that Chatterjee had reportedly told the agency during questioning that he was not aware of the day-to-day functioning of the committee.
The CBI has booked four former SSC officials and an official of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education including SP Sinha, former convenor of the committee and SSC advisor, Samarjit Acharya, former programmer, Saumitra Sarkar, ex-SSC chairman, Ashok Saha, former SSC secretary, and Kalyanmoy Ganguly, president of WBBSE.
“Sinha played pivotal rule in recommendation and appointment of Group D posts after expiry of the SSC’s recruitment panel on May 4, 2019 without having any authority either under the SSC Act, 1997 or under the SSC Rules, 2009,” the Bag committee has said in its report.
The findings suggest Acharya prepared recommendation letters by using fictitious memo numbers and scanned signatures of chairpersons of the regional commissions in favour of the candidates whose names were supplied by Sinha. Sarkar, while violating the SSC Rules 2009, collected the number of vacancies available in various which were to be filled up using fake letters.
“These fake recommendation letters were used to issue fake appointment letters. More than 1,000 candidates were recruited in groups C and D in government schools through such fake letters. A few hundred teachers were also recruited in class IX and X using the same modus operandi,” said Arunava Banerjee, a member of the Bag committee.
RTI applications filed by unsuccessful candidates were used as a grab to increase the marks and upgrade ranks to justify the illegal appointments. This procedure was approved by Sinha, Saha and Sarkar who approved this method.
“The persons collected the vacancies in an unauthorized manner and then issued recommendations of unsuccessful candidates to those vacancies by issuing fictitious memos and scanned signatures,” says the CBI’s FIR.
The Bag committee also found that Sinha handed over numerous hard copies of fake recommendation letters to Ganguly in his chamber. Ganguly gave instruction to the technical officer to prepare the fake appointment letters bypassing the normal chain of hierarchy. No entries of these recommendation letters were made in the Receiving Register maintained by Ganguly’s PA.
While Sinha and Saha could not be contacted, Ganguly said: “We don’t have powers to issue recommendation letters. We received the recommendation letters and acted upon it.”
“Prima facie materials are available against Sinha, Sarkar, Saha, Ganguly, president of the Board for making them liable for criminal conspiracy punishable under Section 120B of Indian Penal Code,” the high court mandated enquiry committee had said in its report. The report was accepted by the court.
CBI has charged the five persons, including Acharya, with section 120b, 417, 465, 468 and 34 of the IPC and other sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act. The sections relate to criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery for the purpose of cheating out of common intention and offences relating to public servants being bribed.
Several other names had come under the scanner of the Bag committee. CBI is also probing all angles now as the report has been handed over to the federal agency.
“Unknown officials of the SSC and WBBSE and other unknown persons have been named as accused six and seven in the FIR. The investigation is still going on,” said the CBI official.