SSC scam: High Court sends Partha Chatterjee to CBI
Partha Chatterjee, the perceived No. 2 in Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet, was interrogated by the CBI for nearly four hours on Wednesday evening in connection with a school recruitment controversy.
Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of Calcutta High Court had asked Chatterjee to appear before the central agency by 6pm in connection with the probe into hundreds of allegedly illegal recruitments to government-aided schools on the recommendations of the School Service Commission (SSC).
The eligibility tests were conducted in 2016 and the recruitments were made in 2019 during the second term of the Trinamul government.
Minister of state for school education Paresh Chandra Adhikary, who too had been ordered by the court to appear before the CBI in connection with the same investigation, had not reached the agency’s Nizam Palace office till 9pm.
Adhikary, who had boarded a Sealdah-bound train from Cooch Behar on Tuesday evening, apparently to face CBI sleuths, got off at Burdwan station and could not be traced thereafter. Footage from CCTV has emerged showing a man resembling Adhikary get off the Padatik Express at Burdwan station around 4.56am on Wednesday.
Late on Wednesday, candidates seeking jobs in state-aided schools made an online prayer before Chief Justice Prakash Srivastava of Calcutta High Court for deployment of CRPF personnel around the SSC office.
The petitioners contended that there was a possibility of documents being destroyed or damaged. The chief justice assigned Justice Gangopadhyay to hear the plea.
Justice Gangopadhyay ordered CRPF deployment around the SSC office and asked the commission to produce, by noon on Thursday, footage showing the premises from the time when the SSC chairman resigned on Wednesday afternoon.
Chatterjee, now the minister for industry, commerce and parliamentary affairs, was education minister when the allegedly fraudulent recruitments were made.
Chatterjee arrived at the CBI office around 5.40pm and stepped out at 9.30pm.
Chatterjee had moved a division bench, headed by Justice Harish Tandon, against Justice Gangopadhyay’s order. But around 4.30pm the division bench declined to hear the petition. Chatterjee then set off for the CBI office.
Agency officers said the minister was asked about the formation of the recruitment committee through which the suspect appointments were made.
“Several anomalies have emerged according to the report submitted by the Justice Bag committee (formed following an earlier high court order). As head of the department under which these recruitments were made, we expect certain answers from him,” a CBI officer had told reporters while the questioning was on.
Another officer had said the agency would try to find out from Chatterjee whether he had “knowledge” of the “workings, meetings and decisions” of that committee.
Adhikary had last been seen outside Burdwan railway station in the morning, climbing into a four-wheeler with a woman resembling his daughter and speeding away, a CBI officer said. Agency sources said the duo’s phones were switched off.
Adhikary’s daughter is an alleged beneficiary of the illegal recruitments.
After being directed by the court to appear before the CBI, Adhikary had tried to move an appeal before a division bench headed by Justice Tandon. But the judge declined to hear his appeal on personal grounds.
Earlier, a division bench headed by Justice Subrata Talukdar had upheld an order by Justice Gangopadhyay directing the CBI to separately probe the allegedly illegal recruitments of Class IX and X teachers and Group C and Group D staff of secondary schools.
The division bench said “a large public scam” had taken place in the appointment of teachers and staff by the education department as well as the SSC. It sent the case files back to Justice Gangopadhyay for further adjudication.
Justice Gangopadhyay has also directed the superintendents of police of all the districts to assist the CBI in identifying the candidates who had secured their jobs illegally. “If necessary, the CBI investigators can seek assistance from central forces also,” the judge said.