Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of the high court on Wednesday directed former education minister Partha Chatterjee to appear before the CBI by 6pm in connection with alleged illegal appointments in government-aided schools and gave the agency the liberty to take him into custody, if needed.
The judge said the chief minister and the governor should remove Chatterjee from the council of ministers.
Justice Gangopadhyay’s order came minutes after a division bench of the high court headed by Justice Subrata Talukdar upheld Justice Gangopadhyay’s earlier orders for CBI investigations into alleged illegal recruitment of teachers for classes IX and X and Group C and D staff in secondary schools.
Chatterjee, who was education minister when the appointments were made in 2019, moved the division bench headed by Justice Harish Tandon of the court appealing against Justice Gangopadhyay’s order.
But around 4.30pm, the division bench declined to hear the petition as it was yet to obtain affirmation by the department concerned of the court.
Justice Tandon, however, said Chatterjee could approach the Chief Justice.
In response to appeals jointly moved by the state and the school service commission, which had selected candidates for the appointments, a division bench had issued an interim stay and appointed a committee headed by retired high court judge R.K. Bag to probe the charges.
Justice Bag’s committee first scanned the appointment of teachers and submitted on April 12 that there were irregularities. The committee indicated that the recruitment committee set up by then education minister Chatterjee’s personal assistant, Sukanta Acharya, was involved in the irregularities.
Justice Gangopadhyay concluded that Acharya had set up the committee after being asked by the minister and issued an order directing Chatterjee to face questioning by CBI that very day (April 12).
The state moved an appeal against the order before the division bench headed by Justice Talukdar, which issued an interim stay as the committee headed by Justice Bag was yet to place its report on the alleged illegal recruitment of Group C and D staff.
On May 13, the Justice Bag committee placed its report on appointment of staff in Group C posts and recommended criminal action against S.P. Sinha, former chairman of the advisory committee of the school service commission, and several others.
The committee also recommended departmental proceedings against some former high-ranking officials of the commission and said the recruitment committee had no legal sanction.
On Wednesday, the division bench headed by Justice Talukdar accepted the report by the Justice Bag committee and said: “There was no error in the order passed by Justice Gangopadhyay and the division bench should not interfere in the said order.”
The division bench also observed that “a large public scam” had taken place in the appointment of teachers and staff by the education department as well as the SSC.
Upholding all the orders, the division bench sent the matters back to Justice Gangopadhyay.
Minutes later, Justice Gangopadhyay directed the former education minister to appear for CBI interrogation at the agency’s Nizam Palace office by 6pm on Wednesday. The six individuals who were members of the recruitment committee when the appointments were made were asked to appear before the CBI by 4pm.
Apart from S.P. Sinha and Sukanta Acharya, four officials of the education department were members of the committee.
The division bench also upheld the order of Justice Gangopadhyay asking the teachers and other staff who were allegedly appointed illegally to return the money they had earned as salaries over the past three years and asked the state to remove them from service with immediate effect.
Justice Gangopadhyay allowed the CBI to lodge FIRs regarding the appointments in the Group C posts (FIRs in cases of recruitment of teachers and staff in Group D posts have already been lodged by the agency) and start proceedings against those who had obtained the jobs on the basis of false recommendation letters.
The judge also directed the superintendent of police of all districts to help the CBI find out the candidates who got the jobs.
“If necessary, the CBI investigators can seek assistance from central forces, too,” the judge said.