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regular-article-logo Thursday, 13 June 2024

Bengal minister appears before CBI in School Service Commission case

Paresh Chandra Adhikary arrived at Nizam Palace hours after the central investigating agency had drawn up an FIR against him and his daughter

Monalisa Chaudhuri, Tapas Ghosh Calcutta Published 20.05.22, 02:32 AM
The CBI sealed the database room of the SSC’s Salt Lake office following a Calcutta High Court order on Thursday.

The CBI sealed the database room of the SSC’s Salt Lake office following a Calcutta High Court order on Thursday. File photo

Bengal minister Paresh Chandra Adhikary, who had flouted a high court order to appear before the CBI on Wednesday and disappeared, flew down to Calcutta on Thursday evening and presented himself at the central investigating agency’s office.

The minister of state for school education arrived at Nizam Palace hours after the CBI had drawn up an FIR against him and his daughter Ankita Adhikary. Both are subjects of the agency’s probe into hundreds of allegedly illegal recruitments made to government-aided schools on the recommendations of the School Service Commission (SSC).

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Adhikary, Ankita and “other unknown public servants of the West Bengal Central School Service Commission and other related departments of the Government of West Bengal and private persons” have been charged under penal sections relating to cheating and criminal conspiracy as well as under the Prevention of Corruption Act for allegedly demanding and accepting bribes, CBI officers said.

Conviction can bring a maximum punishment of five years in jail.

On Tuesday night, Adhikary had boarded a Sealdah-bound train from Cooch Behar but never reached Calcutta. Footage from CCTV at Burdwan railway station showed a person resembling him leaving in a car.

Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of Calcutta High Court, whose orders for CBI appearance the minister had violated, passed a fresh order on Thursday asking Adhikary to face the CBI by 3pm.

Justice Gangopadhyay, however, relaxed the deadline after being told that the minister was in north Bengal. He ordered the Bidhannagar police commissioner to ensure that Adhikary was escorted straight to the CBI office from Calcutta airport once he reached the city.

Although the central agency’s FIR names Ankita too, the court asked only the minister to appear before the CBI on Thursday.

A police team from the Bidhannagar commissionerate was stationed in front of Gates 1A and 1B at Calcutta airport. Adhikary’s SpiceJet flight from Bagdogra landed around 5.55pm but it was another 40 minutes before he stepped out of the airport, guarded and escorted by police. It was 7.29pm when the convoy arrived at Nizam Palace.

Adhikary stepped out around 10.30pm. Asked whether he might be summoned again, a CBI officer said he would be “if necessary”.

Sources said Adhikary was primarily asked whether he had “knowledge” of the alleged irregularities in his daughter’s recruitment through the SSC and whether he had tried to “influence” the recruitment process.

The minister, face covered with a surgical mask, had earlier walked into the building amid huge police presence under the supervision of a deputy commissioner of Calcutta police. He took the elevator to the anti-corruption bureau office on the 15th floor.

Agency officers said the minister faces serious allegations over the recruitment of his daughter through the SSC, which the court has ordered the CBI to probe.

One of the officers quoted from the FIR: “...High Court, Calcutta passed an order... on 17.05.2022 directing CBI to register a case. As per the said order, it is alleged that the merit list for appointment of assistant teachers in Class XI-XII in the subject of political science on the basis of advertisement published in the year 2016 by Government of West Bengal school education department was altered to accommodate one Ms Ankita Adhikary, daughter of Shri Paresh Chandra Adhikary....

“It has been further alleged that the total marks secured by Ms Ankita Adhikary in the First SLST (State-Level Selection Test), 2016, was 61 and there is no marks against the personality test while other candidates who had secured more marks and who had appeared in personality test also were not appointed to the said posts of assistant teacher....

“It is further alleged that some powerful invisible hands definitely were working to manipulate the merit list for appointment, otherwise Ms Ankita Adhikary, daughter of Sh. Paresh Chandra Adhikary, could not have been included in the wait list at SI No. 01....”

Earlier, around 11am, Justice Gangopadhyay had set the 3pm deadline after being told that Adhikary had flouted the order to appear before the CBI on Wednesday evening.

“If he fails to comply (again), the court will issue a contempt rule against him,” he said.

Adhikary moved an appeal before the high court chief justice, Justice Prakash Srivastava, seeking a stay on Justice Gangopadhay’s order.

Justice Srivastava assigned the matter to the division bench of Justice Subrata Talukdar and Justice Ananda Mukherjee, but the bench scheduled the hearing for Friday.

Around 2pm, Adhikary wrote an email to the CBI seeking additional time, officials said.

At 3pm, a lawyer for Adhikary informed Justice Gangopadhyay that Adhikary was scheduled to take a flight from Bagdogra in the evening, and was expected to reach Calcutta by 6.30pm. Justice Gangopadhyay then directed the police to escort him from the airport.

Partha moves SC

Senior minister Partha Chatterjee approached the Supreme Court on Thursday seeking a stay on the high court order asking him to appear before the CBI, his counsel said on Thursday.

Chatterjee had been questioned by the CBI on Wednesday. A stay would spare him further questioning.

Earlier, a similar appeal by Chatterjee to a division bench of the high court had been reassigned to another division bench as the senior judge on the first bench refused to hear the matter on Thursday.

Eventually, like the Supreme Court hearing, this hearing too was scheduled for Friday, Chatterjee’s counsel said.

On Wednesday, Justice Gangopadhyay had asked Chatterjee to appear before the CBI by 6pm and asked the agency to take the minister into custody, if necessary. Chatterjee left the CBI office around 9.30pm on Wednesday.

SSC room sealed

The CBI sealed the database room of the SSC’s Salt Lake office following a Calcutta High Court order on Thursday. The room contains documents related to appointments by the SSC.

Justice Gangopadhyay, while passing the order, allowed only a few SSC officials to access the commission’s Salt Lake office and said CRPF personnel would be posted there at least till Friday.

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