The alleged scam of illegal recruitment and money laundering dates back to 2016, during its progression over the years, Calcutta High Court has witnessed an increase in the numbers of such illegal appointments. It is now under investigation of CBI and ED. It once again received spotlight with the arrest of TMC’s minister Partha Chatterjee by ED after seizing huge amounts of cash from the residence of his assistant Arpita Mukherjee.
- The Bengal SSC scam has become the largest scam in the history of TMC.
- It involved illegal recruitment of candidates who didn’t qualify for the standard test to become eligible for recruitment.
- Recently, Partha Chatterjee was arrested after ED seized huge amounts of cash from his aide Arpita related to the scam.
What went wrong in the SSC CGL-2017 exams
Staff Selection Commission or SSC is an autonomous body under the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), established in 1975. SSC constitutes of one chairperson, one secretary cum controller of examinations and two other members. It was assigned to conduct examinations for Group B and Group C. It includes non-teaching staff, non-gazetted staff and positions at central government ministries, departments and sub-ordinate offices. Aspirants appear for the posts of lower division clerks, stenographers, income tax inspectors, central excise inspector, sub-inspectors at CBI and central police investigations. The Combined Graduate Level (CGL) Examination by SSC attracts a wide number of applicants.
Around 1,89,843 candidates appeared for the SSC CGL 2017 Tier II exams which were held during 17 February,2018 and 22 February,2018 to fill a vacancy of 9372. The exams took place in 206 centres, in a staggered manner and the difficulty standard of the paper varies for each shift, which mitigates the chance of getting equally selected. It meant luck favored more than merit. When students approached Central Administrative Tribunal to suspend all SSC exams until normalization, purely on grounds of merit, it was dismissed.
SSC cancelled the second shift exam in Animate Infotech, Delhi on 17 February and again on 21 February after screenshots of the question paper were found to be circulated in social media. Answer keys were released prior to the examination. The online exams had stringent security to deny candidates or invigilators bringing any mobile phones or smart watches into the exam hall and despite that the photos were being circulated. While SSC proposed for re-exam on 9 March, 2018, candidates alleged “mass cheating” and demanded for a CBI probe.
Numerous students started to protest before SSC headquarters at Delhi, demanding a CBI enquiry into the leak of the exam papers and corruption within SSC. Student groups like AISA and NSUI also joined in the protests. Arvind Kejriwal and Shashi Tharoor also favored the demand for CBI enquiry. Questions arose as to why Prime Minister Modi was silent on the issue.
Ashim Khurana, then SSC Chairman asked for production of evidence and if satisfied, with prior permission from DoPT, the issue will be enquired by an independent investigating agency. He also said that the protests are being simmered by coaching institutes with “vested interest”. The students called it to be a diversion. They claimed a CBI enquiry into the matter and not a special investigation team as suggested by the Chairman. They say that the corruption has been persistent in SSC recruitments and in the same year, chairman of Bihar Staff Selection Commission was also arrested for paper leak in Tier three clerical recruitments.
The students posed an ultimatum to the Centre to order a CBI enquiry into the matter before March 31 else the country youth will assemble at Delhi on the same date for Yuva Halla Bol (Fair job opportunities for youth).
Due to political pressure and persistent protests, the Central government allowed a CBI probe on 5 March, 2018 and the Supreme Court agreed for a hearing on 12 March, 2018. Then Home Minister, Rajnath Singh requested for the protests to stop as their demands have been met.
In May 2018, CBI registered cases against candidates, officials of a tech company and SSC for criminal conspiracy, misconduct, cheating by personation using computer with respect to the exams. Charges were made under sections120-B (criminal conspiracy), 420 (cheating) of the IPC, section 13(2) read with 13(1) (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and section 66D of the Information Technology Act. FIR was also filed against employees of Sify Technologies Pvt Ltd which alleged that Sant Prasad Gupta, head of content team prepared and had custody of the exam paper. SSC was in agreement with a Noida based company for outsourcing. CBI also found that some candidates have accessed help from unknown persons which was to be prevented by the Noida Company.
During CBI searches in June 2019, incriminating evidences were found. CBI arrested Akshay Kumar Malik who got the SSC CGL-2017 paper and two others Sandeep Mathur and Dharmendra who found gullible candidates, lured them into buying the paper. Since CBI failed to file a charge sheet against main accused Akshay, the CBI session court granted bail to all three.
Bengal SSC recruitment scam
West Bengal School Service Commission scam or commonly known as the Bengal SSC scam is an alleged swindle against the illegal recruitment of teachers and other employees at public schools in Bengal. The scam gained spotlight when candidates protested against the unfair assessment and anomaly in the exams.
In 2014, West Bengal SSC issued notification for appointment of teachers at state government schools. The government of West Bengal conducts State Level Selection Test to recruit teachers for schools run by the state. The recruitment process began in 2016 and then Minister for Higher Education and School Education Department in West Bengal was Partha Chatterjee. Several petitions were filed in the Calcutta High Court alleging irregularities in the recruitment process.
The selections and wait-lists were released in 2017 but the rank list was not displayed and one could only check their individual scores. Demanding transparency in the recruitment process, some of the candidates approached the High Court to release the list along with the scores. Though the court granted permission for the same, SSC failed to comply. Later, following a contempt petition, SSC released the list to the public in 2019. It was found that the list released was tampered and fabricated. Upon a series of petitions and RTI’s in the Calcutta High Court, it was discovered with candidates who scored low marks were ranked high in the merit list and some names which were not even present in the merit list had received appointment letters.
Another important point to note here is that, the selection list of non-teaching staff or the panels expired in 2019. SSC still approved of their appointment irrespective of the rules explicitly prohibiting such acts. Calcutta High Court passed an order prohibiting the District Inspectors of Schools to refrain from paying salary to Group D (non-teaching staff) illegally appointed under the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education.
Similar cases were filed alleging illegal recruitment of teachers at Bengal Primary Education Board. It was found that teachers who had not cleared the mandatory “Teacher Eligibility Test” (TET) were selected for the employment. Even candidates who were ineligible or failed TET 2014 got appointment in government run and aided schools as assistant teachers.
In late 2019, state education department of Bengal constituted a five member committee to supervise SSC in pending recruitment but this committee was also declared as illegal by the court. The court questioned the need of a special committee when SSC was tasked with the very same job.
SSC is the biggest corruption case than the Narada tape leak or Sarada scam, for TMC’s (Trinamool Congress) history in its 11 years of ruling. The case was heard by Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay at Calcutta High Court who ordered for a CBI probe. As the enquiry proceeded to 2021, the number of illegal appointments also were raising. The court terminated thousands of illegally recruited employees in state government run, aided and sponsored schools. These employees were ordered to return their entire salary received during the course period and explain their appointments to CBI. Ankita Adhikari, daughter of Minister Paresh Adhikari was also one of them and she was to return 41months of salary in 60days.
CBI enquired former and serving officials of SSC while the court appointment committee instigated criminal proceedings and disciplinary actions against many of them. Division Bench of Calcutta constituting Justice Harish Tandon and Justice Rabindranath Samanta, formed a committee to investigate upon the scam Justice Ranjit Kumar Bagh Committee inquired the recruitment scam for Group C and Group D in Bengal, and recommended action against several former and current officials for criminal conspiracy. CBI also filed a FIR based on the same in 2022. The committee’s report to the High Court stated proceedings against WBSSC chairpersons Professor Saumitra Sarkar and Ashok Kumar Saha; the organisation’s former advisor, Dr Santi Prasad Sinha; programme officer Samarjit Acharya; and West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE) president Dr Kalyanmoy Ganguly. It also found that more than thousand candidates were allegedly appointed illegally.
Sarkar, Saha and Sinha had allegedly recommended names of unsuccessful candidates for Group C vacancies. When other candidates seek re-evaluation or made application under RTI, they destroyed or manipulated answer sheets. They have also forced Acharya and other officers to fabricate the WBSSC not sheets, violating provisions of School Service Commission Rules, 2019. Acharya has admitted tampering with recommendation letters and admitting unsuccessful candidates by manipulating signatures of officials under instructions of Sinha. Appointment letters were made on fake recommendations. Ganguly had generated the illegal appointment letters and neither did he notify the list of selected candidates on website but he denies stating that Board has authority to make recommendation letters.
CBI filed a case against Sinha, Saha, Sarkar and Ganguly under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy). It has also invoked IPC Sections 465 (forgery), 417 (cheating), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of IPC.
Recent turn of events in the case
Calcutta High Court ordered eight CBI investigations between 22 November, 2021 and 20 May, 2022. Justice Gangopadhyay wrote to Chief Justice of India when some orders passed by him to initiate CBI enquiries were stayed by the High Court’s Division Benches. TMC lawyers also boycotted the court for three weeks and wrote to the Chief Justice of India ensuing the CBI probe ordered in the SSC case. Later Division Bench allowed Justice Gangopadhyay to order for necessary investigations only to find an increase in number of such fraudulent appointments in the SSC case.
Partha Chatterjee, Bengal industries and commerce Minister in Mamata Banerjee’s government was involved in the scam when he held position in the education related sector. He served as the education Minister from 2014 to 2021. In his period, several irregularities arose as to bribery in recruitment for government school teaching jobs. Justice Gangopadhyay has directed him to appear for the CBI enquiry. The case is being jointly investigated by CBI with respect to the criminal proceedings and ED (Enforcement Directorate) for the money embezzlement.
TMC leader, Partha was interrogated by CBI and was directed to submit details of his assets by the court. CBI conducted raids in office of WBSSE for alleged scam.
Recently, in July 2022 ED seized around 50 crore rupees in cash, foreign currencies worth 58lakhs and gold worth 50 lakhs from the residence of Arpita Mukherjee, assistant of Partha Chatterjee. When Partha refused to give satisfactory answers about Arpita when they found her document properties in his house, they went on to raid her house. Both Arpita and Partha were found to have possession of admit cards of candidates in their residence during the raids.
ED has arrested Arpita and Partha for the alleged recruitment scam, while the latter was sent to two days custody after appearance in court. Following his arrest, he was deprived of all posts in TMC and relieved of ministerial duties. Mamata Banerjee called Partha “Partha Da” when he was once a confidante of her. She stated that anyone who commits wrong should be punished. TMC has distanced itself since Partha’s alleged involvement in scam. Involvement of more than 14 shell companies were also discovered in the money laundering case. These companies have apparently helped in turning the black money into white.
The Bengal SSC scandal has deprived the employment of potential candidates and of their fair opportunity. Such scams continue to prevail in all states and it is important for the government to take stringent actions against them.