The Supreme Court has refused to stay the Calcutta High Court’s order allowing central agencies to interrogate the Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Abhishek Banerjee in connection to the School Jobs for Cash Scam; however, the court has stayed the order imposing a Rs 25 lakhs cost against him. The court has also issued notices on the TMC leader’s plea challenging the Calcutta High Court’s order.
Abhishek Banerjee’s counsel Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi submitted before the Supreme Court that after the top court reassigned the case from the bench of Justice Abhijeet Gangopadhyay to another bench, the new bench of Justice Amrita Sinha was supposed to examine the matter afresh, which was not done. He further argued that Abhishek Banerjee had nothing to do with the recruitment scam.
The Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) counsel Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju contended that the impugned order merely gave liberty to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and ED to interrogate him. He argued, “The order only said that investigate if you want. Independently of that order, ED has power of investigation. That power is unfettered, it cannot be usurped.”
Calcutta High Court Notes Attempt to Delay Investigation
The Calcutta High Court had imposed a cost of Rs 25 lakh against the TMC leader vide an order dated May 18. The court noted, “If the trend to delay the main investigation and intimidate the investigating officers is not dealt with appropriately at the very first stage, then the same will develop as a style and very many investigations in future may be held up for the same reasons.”
“Such a move must be stubbed with an iron hand and upon imposition of exemplary costs so that the same has a deterring effect and similar offenders will be compelled to think a multiple time before adopting such a stand,” Calcutta High Court said in its order dated May 18.
The Calcutta High Court said, “The conduct of the applicants in resisting investigation casts a cloud on the bona fide of the applicants in filing the present application. AB (Abhishek Banerjee) being in the top rung of the ruling political party ought not to shy away from the investigation process. On the contrary, the applicants and particularly AB (Abhishek Banerjee) is trying tooth and nail to oppose such investigation. The proper approach would be to put oneself to the test and come out clean instead of avoiding or running away from the entire process.”
Calcutta High Court’s Orders on Cancellation of Teachers’ Appointments
On May 19, the Calcutta High Court’s Division Bench granted an interim stay on the single judge’s order dated May 12 cancelling the appointment of about 36,000 ‘untrained’ primary school teachers who were recruited by the West Bengal Board of Primary Education in 2016. The court said that the termination of jobs without giving the affected parties a meaningful right to defend prima facie required judicial intervention.
The Calcutta High Court’s order dated May 12 observed that there was “gross illegality” in the selection procedure showing that the Board conducted the entire 2016 recruitment process “like affair of a local club.” The court had further noted that the scam is now coming to light with Enforcement Directorate’s investigation that “jobs for primary school teachers were actually sold to some candidates who had the money to purchase the employment.”
The court had said that “corruption of this magnitude was never known in the State of West Bengal.” Furthermore, the court noted, “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 seeing.”
Calcutta High Court Directs Abhishek Banerjee to Cooperate
Earlier on May 8, the Calcutta High Court pulled up Abhishek Banerjee for opposing the court’s earlier order directing a probe into his involvement in the scam. The court asked the TMC leader what was troubling him and why he can’t cooperate with the probe, as ordered.
“If suppose there is an investigation, why can’t you co-operate? What is troubling you? The court has merely ordered for a probe and no one is above an investigation. Let me know what is troubling you? What is the difficulty?” the court asked Abhishek Banerjee’s counsel.
The court further remarked, “You are not above law, stop being extra-apprehensive.” The court’s remark came after Banerjee’s counsel requested an audience from the bench in the proceedings wherein the petitioner sought for the implementation of the court’s April 13 order, passed by Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay, directing a CBI and ED probe into the TMC leader’s involvement in the scan.
The court rejected Banerjee’s counsel’s submission that since the order affects his client, then he should be given an opportunity to be heard.
The court said, “In the midst of an investigation, several names might crop up. But that doesn’t mean that each and every person will have to be given notice prior to the probe. All that the person has to do is co-operate with the probe. Please understand, no body is above the law and not even you. So stop giving too much importance.”
Thereafter, Banerjee’s counsel submitted that his client apprehends an adverse action. The court said, “Stop being extra apprehensive. I see nothing against you at least at this stage. Only probe is ordered against a speech. Let them proceed. You have no right to be heard at this stage.”
Furthermore, the counsel contended that if a crime has taken place in the state, then it is a question of law and order then only the state can conduct the probe. “The investigation could be transferred to the CBI or even ED, only in rarest of rare instances and the instant case, as per me, isn’t a rarest of rare case. In fact, the concerned department wasn’t available before the court. Due to government holiday, all public offices were shut that day,” the counsel said.