After 10 long years of Chit Fund Scam, Partha Chatterjee’s journey to ED custody in the SSC recruitment scam generated more satires than positive expectations in Bengal. However, repeated raids by ED to find hordes of black money and illegal property papers here and there have instilled some life in them. West Bengal now looks forward to witnessing the endgame of TMC.
Trinamool-led Government of West Bengal formed a committee in 2019 over the State’s School Service Commission to supervise SSC recruitment. In reality, it manipulated the recruitment process. Such a committee was stated by the Ranjit Kumar Bag Investigative Committee Report to have no legal validity. Against innumerable complaints of recruitment irregularities and appointment of ineligible candidates against money, Calcutta High Court ordered a CBI probe into the matter on April 7, 2022. Partha Chatterjee as the Minister of Education from 2011 to 2021 looking after the Primary, School & Higher Education Ministry of West Bengal turned the prime accused of corruption and malpractices after ED recovered incriminating materials from his South Kolkata residence on July 22.
The recruitment brokers fixed price slabs for Government jobs of different categories of the Education Department. For recruitment as Group D & Group C staff in schools, they charged each aspirant Rs 10 lakh, each primary teacher Rs 10-12 lakh, teachers of Class IX-X Rs 15-18 lakh each and each teacher of Class XI-XII, Rs. 18-20 lakh. They manipulated examination papers written by the candidates, chalked out a mechanism of increasing marks in published results and distributed offer letters to candidates who paid the due price instead of those eligible candidates who genuinely passed & got their names empanelled by SSC. Passing the names & roll numbers to the respective brokers, candidates were encouraged to submit blank papers for ease of manipulation of their OMR sheets. Minister’s brokers reached every corner of West Bengal, identified job aspirants having the potential to purchase their scheme & engaged with them, replied to all their queries & promised them the required support till they received the letter of appointment. Aspirants could pay the sum in installments while they had to keep their original mark sheets and certificates mortgaged with the brokers till they could pay off the full amount.
Ministers being public representatives are often involved in scams and corruption as Indian law is irrationally lenient towards public representatives. However, public servants, Professors, Teachers & Government employees are not expected to be devoid of accountability. Though Minister’s recommendation is constitutionally binding upon them, they are supposed to work as per the laid down format of law. SSC scam probe revealed Government employees of various stature were integrally participative in the process without which the corruption craft couldn’t have been successful. Partha Chatterjee’s personal assistant Sukanta Aacharya is a WBCS Executive who too has been arrested as a prime accused in the scam. Out of all the 13 different people raided by ED, Manik Bhattacharya is the TMC MLA from Palashipara Assembly Constituency of Nadia district while Paresh Adhikary is a Minister of State in the Government of West Bengal. Apart from these two, P. K. Bandyopadhyay was the Officer on Special Duty to the Ministry of Education who too was an Executive Officer of West Bengal Civil Services. Shanti Prasad Sinha was a Professor of Mathematics in Jogesh Chandra Chowdhury Law College who became the Chairman of the ‘illegal’ Advisory Committee allegedly by the recommendation of TMC MLA Manik Bhattacharya who was the ex-Principal of Jogesh Chandra Chowdhury Law College and turned the President of West Bengal Board of Primary Education immediately after Mamata Bandyopadhyay came to power in 2011 supposedly as he was pretty close to Partha Chatterjee. Kalyanmoy Ganguly, apart from being the son-in-law of Partha Chatterjee, was reportedly a Professor while he joined as the President of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education in August 2016. From August 2012 to July 2016, he worked as the administrator of WBBSE. It is to be noted that the credentials of Kalyanmoy Ganguly as a Professor are not being found in the public domain though apart from being the President WBBSE, Kalyanmoy Ganguly was also a member of the University Council of The Sanskrit College and University established in 2015. Which college he taught in and in which capacity has not been reported clearly. Ganguly had been removed from the post of President, WBBSE only in June 2022. As per CBI FIR, all the illegal appointment letters were issued by the instructions of Kalyanmoy Ganguly, son-in-law of Partha Chatterjee.
Former Chairperson of SSC, Saumitra Sarkar was originally the Principal of Jaypur Panchanan Roy College, Howrah who was appointed as the Chairperson, SSC in January 2019. He reportedly couldn’t keep the Education Ministry (read Partha Chatterjee) happy with his work & hence, was removed from his duties in January 2020 being replaced by Ashok Saha. A Series of cases were filed challenging recruitment in 5th to 8th standard classes against SSC during his tenure & CBI filed an FIR against him in May 2022 alleging that all illegitimate recruitments happened by his malafide recommendation. Before taking his seat as the Chairperson, Saumitra Sarkar was associated with SSC for almost a decade in various capacities. This indicates Saumitra Sarkar functioned as a part of SSC right from the beginning of the Mamata regime. Before Saumitra Sarkar, Sharmila Mitra of Behala College was the Chairperson of SSC who was appointed in 2018. This indicates that none of the Chairpersons of SSC could continue for more than a year’s time. Alok Kumar Sarkar is the Deputy Director of School Education, an employee of the Government of West Bengal.
The scam was committed by the elites and the eminent of the State. Though West Bengal people primarily want punishment of sharks like Chatterjee by the Court of law, to restrict the general tendency of money laundering crimes in the State, it doesn’t appear sufficient to indict only the Minister. West Bengal has been a seat of money laundering since mid-1980s when it was Left Front at the helm. The Chit Fund industry flourished in West Bengal since then which predisposed people’s minds to a general tendency of money laundering & defalcation of public funds. Hence, along with Minister Partha Chatterjee, Government employees who engaged in the crime also need to face the wrath of law.
For one to guess how big the recruitment scam could be, a tentative estimation can be provided as exact data of the number of teaching and non-teaching staff recruited in 10 years of Partha Chatterjee’s tenure is not available in the public domain. According to an official of the higher education department who didn’t want to be named, every year the Government of West Bengal recruits around 10 – 20 thousand people in the Education Department. Considering 10 thousand people to have been recruited on an average per year, 1,00,000 people can be assumed to have got recruited in Chatterjee’s tenure. If Rs. 10 lakh on average be charged for each such recruitment, around 10 thousand crores could be generated. The scam appears to amount within the range of 10 – 20 thousand crore.
Bangladesh’s Link with the Scam
Media has been high on reporting about a number of properties Partha Chatterjee and her lady aides possess either together or singly. Whatever the number, the value of all such properties of Chatterjee and ladies would be insignificant with respect to the tentative scam amount. Keeping in mind TMC leaders’ antecedents in Chit Fund Scam, Narada Sting Operation and West Bengal’s colossal volume of trafficking, smuggling & other crime transactions, it is likely that the proceeds of SSC scam too got utilised not for a noble cause. A large portion of West Bengal’s crime proceeds appears to fund an Islamic expansionist agenda and West Bengal appears a money bag for them. Under such circumstances, SSC scam proceeds could hardly avoid its usage for a similar cause. Hence, it is more important to track how this astronomical sum is used. As ED is suspicious about international money laundering by Arpita Mukherjee, the agency is supposed to track the end users of the scam fund. If some anti-India organisation’s presence is identified in the end users’ nexus, NIA might require to step into the probe along with ED. SSC scam, in that case, might turn into a case of treason against Partha Chatterjee.
Things turned more intriguing when a particular Indian media which closely reports West Bengal incidents and appear pretty fond of Mamata Banerjee from their reporting style was found to take initiative to deny the Bangladesh link to the SSC scam
ED officials suspect cash was transferred to Bangladesh through hawala & they found transactions between Arpita Mukherjee & some Bangladeshi textile company directors who were in close contact with Partha Chatterjee. Bangladesh’s link of this scam didn’t appear improbable as one of the lady aides of Partha Chatterjee has been found to be pretty close to Bangladesh. Monalisa Das, professor of Kazi Najrul Islam University, Asansol is another close aide of Partha Chatterjee having huge properties in her name and a pretty close link with Bangladesh. ED is also looking deep into the details of the foreign trips of Partha Chatterjee and Arpita Mukherjee and is not ruling out money laundering in foreign countries like Dubai. It is to be noted that ED recovered foreign currencies in Arpita Mukherjee’s Behala Diamond City residence on July 22 while they recovered gold biscuits from her Belgharia residence on July 27. If Partha Chatterjee’s direct involvement for the said purpose is legally substantiated, it would bring about more serious implications for the Minister.
Things turned more intriguing when a particular Indian media which closely reports West Bengal incidents and appear pretty fond of Mamata Banerjee from their reporting style was found to take initiative to deny the Bangladesh link to the SSC scam. While Indian media has widely reported Arpita Mukherjee’s steady transactions with the Bangladesh company, a ground reporter of a particular media house denied such a link on July 26. Such denial came after Mamata Banerjee said in a warning tone from the stage of a public function on July 25 that she did not want to engage in a media trial though she wanted the guilty to be punished. In the said public programme, she threatened the media that if the media trial didn’t stop, she might expose those reporters who have benefit from her Government. A Bengal reporter of a media house tried to cover up the Bangladesh link to the SSC scam thereafter.
It is interesting to note what ED said to the Court while asking to take both Partha Chatterjee & Arpita Mukherjee into their custody. “The seized documents make it clear that the association of Partha Chatterjee and Arpita Mukherjee goes back to at least 2012, and their financial interests have been converging since then… Both are involved in the commission of the offence of money laundering by indulging in a criminal conspiracy for the object of illegally giving jobs for the post of assistant teachers and also in primary teachers, generating huge proceeds of crime and for having knowingly indulged, assisted, involved and being a party in the process…”