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In a very daring, determined and dignified judgment titled Priyanka Naskar & Ors vs The Union of India & Ors. in WPA 21187 of 2022 in the exercise of its Constitutional writ jurisdiction on appellate side that was pronounced as recently as on May 12, 2023, the Calcutta High Court cancelled the appointment of 36,000 "untrained" primary school teachers who were recruited by the West Bengal Board of Primary Education in 2016. This extreme step was taken by the Calcutta High Court because there was extreme corruption where jobs were sold like a commodity as noted by the Court itself which cannot be just glossed over. There has to be zero tolerance for corruption and this is exactly what the Calcutta High Court has demonstrated in this learned judgment.

At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay sets the ball rolling by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, "This writ application has been filed by 140 writ petitioners who were qualified in Teacher Eligibility Test 2014 (TET 2014 in short) and participated in 2016 recruitment process, but did not get appointment. The recruitment process was held by the West Bengal Board of Primary Education which was to be held in accordance with West Bengal Board of Primary School Teachers Recruitment Rules 2016 (said Rules, in short) which came in to effect from 2nd March, 2016."

As we see, the Bench then observes in para 4 that, "When the petitioners filed the petition they wanted the authorities to file a report disclosing name, numbers, rank, category etc. of the non-trained candidates who have been recruited by the Board from TET 2014 including the date of recruitments and to treat the petitioners equally with the non trained candidates etc."

To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 5 that, "During the course of hearing the petitioners disclosed various particulars collected from the publication made by the Board in its website showing that there were serious illegalities in preparation of panel of 2016 recruitment process when viewed in respect of untrained candidates at the time of recruitment and while disclosing such particulars, they made it clear that all their allegations of illegalities in recruitment are in respect of untrained candidates at the time of recruitment who were given appointment against 2016 Recruitment process and at the same time it was made clear that they do not have any grievance in respect of the trained candidates who were (trained at the time of recruitment) and were given appointment in the 2016 Recruitment Process. Therefore, the candidates who were trained at the time of recruitment are outside the scope of this matter. The petitioners prayed for filing supplementary affidavit which was granted and from the supplementary affidavit to the writ application it became evident that all the petitioners had qualified TET 2014 and participated in the 2016 recruitment process and they were called in the interview but did not get the job."

As things stand, the Bench states in para 6 that, "This court directed the Board to file one report as to the petitioners breakup of total score sheet of TET-2014 along with the breakup score of the last empanelled candidates in their respective medium category and district, who participated in the recruitment process of 2016."

Truth be told, the Bench then mentions in para 7 that, "From the said breakup, the petitioners found and alleged that the particulars given therein are absolutely false as because the lowest number of empanelled candidates was shown in the report as 14.191 whereas throughout West Bengal 824 candidates who scored below 13 were appointed and the petitioners prepared a tabular sheet to that effect and enclosed it as annexure B to their exception to the report filed by the Board dated 11.01.2023. Such exception was filed in the form of an affidavit affirmed on 24th January, 2023. It was also stated in the said exception that list of last empanelled candidates of different categories namely General /SC/ST/OBC-A/OBC-B were not given. I have found that there was no reply of the Board in respect of the allegations as aforesaid in their affidavit in opposition filed dealing with all pleadings of the petitioners."

Without mincing any words, the Bench then states unequivocally in para 8 that, "From the pleadings of the petitioners it is found that they wanted marks of last empanelled candidates of different categories like SC, ST, OBC etc. But no such particulars were supplied and produced by the Board despite direction given by this court. In the affidavit in opposition of the Board, Board maintained silence in this regard. This is nothing but suppression of facts from petitioners as well as from the court."

Briefly stated, the Bench observes in para 9 that, "In respect of in holding of aptitude test the chairman of Board in his report said that aptitude tests were taken but from the evidence adduced by the interviewers and the candidates it has been proved before this court that no aptitude test was taken.

No question asked by the appearing parties to the above interviewers. The evidence recorded are kept on record.

It is to be noted that:

a) There was no formal engagement letters for acting as an interviewer. All of the interviewers were called over phone to take interview.

b) There was no guideline for awarding marks for aptitude tests. A large number of interviewers were not intimated by the Board/DPSC’s that there is one aptitude test a different test altogether, also beside interview.

c) One interviewer (Md. Maruf Alam) said that he took aptitude test but when asked what was an aptitude test his reply was, aptitude test mean confidence and body language of a candidate."

As a corollary, the Bench then holds in para 10 that, "Therefore the marks given to the candidates against aptitude test is a wholly illegal and false exercise to hoodwink all concerned including the court."

More intriguingly, the Bench then laments in para 11 that, "The Board has not given any reply in respect of awarding 9.5/10 marks to a large number of candidates, which is absurd and an impossibility, specially to those whose academic score and TET score were very low. The table given below substantiate this allegation apart from the 121 pages booklet (spiral binding) which is on record."

Do note, the Bench notes in para 12 that, "In support of their allegations as to corruption in awarding marks in the interview the petitioners has filed a booklet (Spiral Binding) of 121 pages on the basis of which it has been alleged that candidates whose marks were very poor in Secondary, in Higher Secondary and in TET, have been given 9.50 and 10 marks i.e. full marks out of the full marks 10 (i.e. the perfect ten) in the interview and aptitude test (no aptitude test was taken at all) and the allegation that there was no aptitude test which have been proved before me from evidence of the candidates and from the interviewers which are kept on record. Here to elicit the truth I had to exercise my power under Section 165 of the Evidence Act."

Further, the Bench points out in para 13 that, "For example, some particulars as has been given in the said 121 pages booklet (Spiral Binding) which has been prepared from the particulars published in the web portal of the Board, by the Board some candidate’s marks are reproduced hereinbelow which shows that the marks awarded to such candidates whose results are very poor in Secondary and in Higher Secondary examinations and also in TET are wholly absurd assessment in interview and unless some extraneous factors (which includes corruption) as has been alleged by the petitioners and now has come to light from the investigation by CBI & ED, such absurd marking could not have been made by the Interview Boards in different districts. While looking to the following particulars it has been noted by me that in academic assessment and TET:

(i) The maximum marks that could be given against Secondary Examination score of a candidate was 5.

(ii) The maximum marks that could be given to a candidate against Higher Secondary Examination score of a candidate was 10.

(iii) The maximum marks that could be given to a candidate against TET was 5.

Therefore, the maximum marks that a candidates can get against the above three heads is (5+10+5) =20."

To put briefly, the Bench then lays bare in para 14 that, "Now I give example of a candidate before giving a table prepared from the document on record i.e. the 121 page booklet. This candidate has got 2.866 in TET (out of 5) 1.462 in Secondary (out of 5) and 3.050 in Higher Secondary (out of 10) totalling to 7.378 but has been awarded 9.50 marks in interview and aptitude test (Aptitude Test was not taken) out of 10. Whose total score became 16.878 and thus he became eligible for appointment as a Primary School Teacher. Huge number of such absurd awarding of marks has come to light though the said booklet prepared from particulars published by the Board."

More damningly, the Bench minces no words to hold in para 15 that, "The Board has not given any reply in respect of the allegation of the petitioners in the pleadings as to non empanelment of reserved category candidates in the panel for general category candidates of those reserved category candidates who got better marks than the general category candidates in open competition. Thus the Board has violated the law declared by the Supreme Court and has committed extreme illegality."

Most damningly, the Bench also points out in para 16 that, "Though the relevant Rule 7 of recruitment rules of 2016 mandates constitution of selection committee, no selection committee was constituted for the purpose of selection of eligible candidates and preparation of panel of such candidates for appointment of teachers. It was done by one outside agency, a third party which was not at all a part of the Board and this third party was named as ‘confidential section’ of the Board. This is clear violation of Recruitment Rules. The Board has maintained total silence in this regard."

Most significantly, what forms the cornerstone of this notable judgment is then encapsulated in para 17 wherein it is postulated that, "From the gross illegality in the selection procedure in the recruitment exercise of 2016 conducted by the Board it is clear that the Board and its officials including its former President (who is now in custody after arrest by Enforcement Directorate for transaction of huge money in the recruitment procedure) conducted the whole affair like affair of a local club and now it is gradually coming to light by investigation of Enforcement Directorate that jobs for primary school teachers were actually sold to some candidates who had the money to purchase the employment. A corruption of this magnitude was never known in the State of West Bengal. The former Education Minister, the former President of the Board and a number of middleman through whom the jobs were sold like a commodity are now behind the bars and the CBI and ED investigation is being continued now in full swing."

Most forthrightly, the Bench then minces absolutely no words to hold in para 18 that, "It is a matter to be noted that board in its affidavit in opposition while dealing with all pleadings of the petitioners instead of addressing the allegation of corruption and illegalities in the recruitment process raised some niceties of law and some principles of law but however nice or however laudable those principles may be this court as a court of justice will fail to deliver justice, knowing fully well that sense of justice is much above sense of law, if the writ application is thrown out on such niceties of law as this will mean that in the name of preserving the law the corruption would be protected which a constitutional court can never do keeping in mind the soul of our constitution and the constitutional conscience, I must say that in this recruitment scam stinking rats are being smelt."

While continuing in the same vein, the Bench then hastens to add in para 19 holding that, "The board placed some judgment before me in support of the niceties of legal principles which I do not find have any applicability in the face of the magnitude of stinking corruption in the recruitment exercise of 2016 conducted by the Board. Those judgments are not required to be mentioned at all in the factual situation of the case as those are bright stars of the space much much above the ground realities in which the unemployed youths live with tears in their eyes because this recruitment scam is a crime against the society and also a fraud where the Board and its former Chairman was well aware of the rules of recruitment but cared a fig and started a play to hoodwink all concerned. I will only say that fraud unravels everything."

Furthermore, the Bench mentions in para 20 that, "The affidavit in opposition of the board was filed when all pleadings of petitioners including the particulars placed in the court and were served and kept on record and Board did not deal with those allegations and those material facts and necessary particulars."

Quite ostensibly, the Bench then holds in para 21 that, "In such circumstances I allow the writ petition. The appointment of all 36,000 (thirty six thousand) (more or less) candidates who were untrained at the time of recruitment in 2016 recruitment process conducted by the Board in the post of primary teachers are cancelled for various reasons as have been elaborated above."

What’s more, the Bench directs in para 22 that, "The Board shall immediately arrange for a recruitment exercise for candidates who were untrained at the time of recruitment (including candidates who have obtained training qualification in the meantime) within a period of 3 (three) months from date only for the candidates who participated in 2016 recruitment process where both interview and aptitude test of all examinees shall be taken and the whole interview process has to be videographed carefully and preserved. It will be a recruitment process under the same Rules and legal procedures under which 2016 recruitment process was conducted. No new or any other candidate shall be allowed to take part in such recruitment test."

Still more, the Bench also directs in para 23 that, "The primary teachers who are employed now in Primary Schools against the recommendation of the Board in respect of 2016 selection process shall be allowed to work in the respective primary schools where they are working now for a period of 4 (four) months from date at the remuneration equal to a Para Teacher of Primary School and if any of such teachers are recommended again by the Board after the selection process as has been directed above, those candidates shall work in the Schools where they are working now and they shall get notional benefit of their seniority with no monetary benefit at all but the salary of primary teachers for the coming 4 (four) months shall not be given to them if they are employed again. The present employed candidates who will not succeed in the above mentioned selection process, their services shall be terminated."

Adding more to it, the Bench directs in para 24 that, "If any candidate who appeared in 2016 recruitment process has crossed the age bar in the mean time or will cross the age bar within 3 (three) months from date they shall be allowed to take part in the recruitment exercise. Crossing the age bar now will not create any impediment for them to participate and get selected in the recruitment process."

Finally, the Bench concludes by holding in para 25 that, "This whole imbroglio including corruption involved in the matter has taken place due to the former President of the Board who knew the Rules of recruitment but violated the rules and therefore, if the Government thinks the entire expense for holding the new recruitment exercise can be realised from the estate of the former President of the Board. No costs."

In sum, we thus see that the Calcutta High Court has taken the bull by the horns for which it must be commended and has rightly pointed out that jobs were sold like a commodity in West Bengal. It has rightly cancelled the appointment of 36,000 untrained primary school teachers recruited in 2016. No denying it!

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