Bengal Teachers

Because of your negligence, the State government is facing loss of face. Why should the government suffer for your negligence……

                                                    Mamata Banerjee during the administrative review Committee on 27.04.2022

Ms Banerjee, it is late, very late! The steps that the Chief Minister of West Bengal prescribe on 27/04/2022 to contain corruption are a must know to the administration she was addressing. The only takeaway for the frustrated souls is the tacit admission of extortion, fake appointment, illegal mining and lapses in Hanskhali and Bagtui investigations. The rule-books are lying wasted under thick dust covers. The question is that when the government is aware of the on-going corrupt practices, what is stopping it from taking action?

Corruption in administration is not new and West Bengal is no exception. Though Chief Minister has repeatedly paraphrased state’s zero-tolerance policy to corruption; the general perception is that this rhetoric is for headlines. The fact is very well known to the youth looking for employment in the state like those who were manhandled on 29/04/2022 the selected candidates of WBPSC exam in 2019, still waiting for joining letter.  The fact is best known to the wannabe teachers, who have cleared the First State Level Selection Test (1st SLST) for recruitment of Assistant Teachers in Govt. Aided / Sponsored Secondary/ Higher Secondary Schools and subsequent counselling and are waiting for placement order for last 6 years.

The things which were normal, say 10 years back are myth in present time. There were regular notifications for jobs. Within a year appointment process was completed and then it was time for next notification of proposed vacancies to be filled.

Beginning 28/02/2019, it is for more than 400 days (longer than historic and inspiring Farmer’s protest at Delhi border, in three stages)  that these would be teachers, selected through due process are demonstrating (29 days in February 2019 in front of Press Club; 184 days since 30/01/2021 on the footpath in Salt Lake in front of the office of State Education Minister and now since 08/10/2021 at Gandhi Statue at Mayo Road for their lawful right of recruitment in various Government Aided/ sponsored secondary/ higher secondary schools under the banner of Jubo Chatra Adhikar Manch.

Recruitment of Assistant Teacher

In Sept. 2016, a notice for recruitment of tentatively a thousand teachers each in Work Education and Physical Education, 10,233 teachers for classes IX-X and 6,296 teachers for classes XI-XII was published in Sept 2016, under the heading of First State Level Selection Test (1st SLST) for Recruitment of Assistant Teachers in Govt. Aided/ Sponsored Secondary/ Higher Secondary Schools in The Kolkata Gazette. It is the second recruitment drive for the teachers by the West Bengal government under TMC in last 11 years; the first was in 2012. More than 2 lakh candidates applied for about 20,000 vacancies.

In May 2017, West Bengal Central School Service Commission (WBCSSC) declared final result based on exam, academic and professional qualification and personality test to appoint 1,034 Assistant Teachers for Physical Education, 1,099 for work Education 12,906 for IX-X and 5,711 for classes XI-XII group in March 2018. No panel for prospective Assistant Teachers was drawn; individual candidate could check her/his result on-line, but she/he could not get her/his ranking and individual score along with the breakup. The merit lists with individual scores were not published. The candidates had to seek Calcutta High Court intervention for publication of Merit list. On court’s order WBCSSC published a list that can’t be said merit list as the score against each candidate was not mentioned. Once again the candidates were at the doors of the Calcutta High Court. Despite the Court order, no such list was ever published. Only panels (first and the waiting list) with names of the successful candidates surfaced. Merit Lists kept changing; new names appeared in the subsequent lists[1]. Without filling all the vacant posts on 16/01/2019 Sri Soumitra Sarkar, the 5th Chairperson in the long list of seven chairpersons in 11-years rule of TMC government, of the WBCSSC, only after six days of joining the Commission, informed the press that all the 1,034 vacancies in Physical Education and 1,099 posts in Work Education are being filled. In the same meeting he claimed that out of 5,711 vacancies for Assistant Teacher for classes XI-XII 4, 889 vacancies are filled and no suitable candidate is found for rest of the 822 posts[2]. The candidates whose names appeared in the waiting lists were left with no other option than to protest against this irrational closure. On 28/02/2019 the empaneled candidates went on Hunger Strike in front Press Club. Chief Minister’s surprise visit along with the then Minister-in-Charge of Education Department Sri Partha Chaterjee, followed by a meeting in Education department and formation of a committee with five members from education Department and five representatives of the SSC candidates to review the situation in the first week of June of that year after the Lok Sabha Election was the reason for withdrawal of hunger strike on 29/03/2019.

The apathy of state towards its own children was astonishing. They were not provided with drinking water, even the Press Club authorities did not allow them drinking water or toilet. Irony is the Press which was witnessing the ordeal of these youth remains a mute spectator. Nearly 80 agitators, many of them women, had fallen sick while two would be mothers suffered miscarriage and two more persons got infected by Dengue during the hunger strike.

The ordeal of successful candidates in the group for class IX-X and XI-XII did not end. No report of the above committee was ever published. And many with lower ranking got appointment. All of the five members representing the SSC candidates got recruitment. Some of their friends who did not appear in the merit list too got posting. Once again the prospective Assistant Teachers were on road, sitting on the footpath in front of Bikas Bhavan the office of Education Department. Starting 30/01/2021 the protest continued for 187 days braving heat, rain and cold after getting assurance from SSC Chairman. The aspiring teachers were brutally lathi-charged on 01/08/2021 while they were demonstrating in front of the house of State Education Minister Bratya Basu.

Once again more than a thousand aspiring Assistant Teachers are sitting at Gandhi Statue at Mayo Road in Kolkata for their lawful right of recruitment since 08/10/2021. The students are protesting against the corruption and irregularities in appointments and are demanding for their lawful right for recruitment. The longest ever protest demonstration, though in three stages, is never mentioned, whereas the year-long protest against the three farm laws draws is talked about all over the country including West Bengal.

In this context the Writ Petition No. 5538 of 2022 Anindita Bera Vs. The State of West Bengal and others is worth mentioning. In this petition the petitioner has shown 27 instances of illegal appointments being made in the post of Assistant Teachers for Class IX & X. The Court was satisfied that illegalities have been made in appointment of Assistant Teachers and accordingly directed the Regional head of CBI to investigate the matter and to interrogate Dr. Santi Prasad Sinha, the advisor of the Committee and the convener of the five-member Committee, specially and other members of the committee while expressing deep shock in the manner Government has continuously submitted false affidavit in the Court of Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay[3].

This is not that for the first time Court has come down heavily on WBCSSC for its failure to make appearance and file representation pursuant of Court orders on 02/07/2021. The Court also ordered physical presence of the Chairman of WBCSSC for the afternoon hearing. In the WP case No. 25681(W) of 2017 Md Sariful Islam & Ors Vs. The State of West Bengal and Ors., where the petitioners reported irregularities in appointment. That in spite of clearing 1st State Level Selection Test, 2016 (1st SLST, 2016) and being listed in the merit list, candidates with lower score are being called for interview. The recruitment process in this particular category is put on hold since 07/06/2018.

Recruitment of Clerks and Group-D Staff

In a parallel move, another notification for the appointment of non-teaching staff namely, 1707 clerks and 3216 Group D-Staff too came up in the Sept. 2016. The penal for the post of Clerk and Group-D expired on 18/05/2019 and 04/05/2019, respectively[4]. In the Writ Petition number WP No. 12266(W) of 2021 Sandip Prasad and Ors Vs. The State of West Bengal and Ors, the petitioners claimed that 25 appointment letters for Group D posts were issued by the West Bengal Board of secondary Education on the basis of recommendation letters of the Central School Service Commission after May4, 2019. In this connection four different petitions were filed before the Court, which were clubbed together. Commission through an affidavit denied of issuance of any such recommendations. On Nov11, 2021 the Court of Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay[5] ordered to stop payment of salary until further order and to make said 25 Group D-staff parties to the case. In the meantime, information regarding 500 more such irregular appointments in state sponsored Secondary and Higher Secondary Schools were collected. Finally, the petitioners could submit details of another 548 instances through a supplementary affidavit. On 09/02/2022 the Court of Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay [6]  ordered to stop payment of salary to 573 (25+548) candidates allegedly been appointed for the post of ‘Group-D’ (non-teaching staff) in various state sponsored secondary and higher secondary schools after the expiry of penal and ordered recovery of salary already paid to the 573 candidates from them by using the relevant civil and criminal laws.

State of West Bengal instead of assisting the Court in unearthing the corruption and coming clean put hurdles in the path of justice. It defaulted in filling affidavits, which were later proved to be contradictory and untrue. Where the Commission denied of issuing any recommendation the West Bengal Board of Secondary education claimed of receiving recommendations in writing. Its officials did not appear for hearings and when the Court of Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay order CBI inquiry on 06/12/2021 and on 22/11/2021, it quickly went to Division Bench of Justice Harish Tandon and Rabindranath Samanta, obtaining interim stay on the order. Also when the Justice Gangopadhyay order to Dr. Santi Prasad Sinha, whom the judge  during hearing termed as the mastermind and kingpin, to provide his asset details, the bench of Justice Tandon permitted him to do the same in sealed cover. Reports that are highly sensitive in nature are usually placed before the courts in sealed covers. Not only does this prevent the media from reporting on the contents, it also means that the report is seen only by the concerned judge and not by the petitioners. Justice Gangopadhyay in his complaint to CJI and Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, wondered ‘what this court will do with a sealed cover in the proceedings when the hands of this appeal court have been tied. I have been prevented from taking any consequential step on going through the said affidavit of assets.’ Incidentally, it was just two weeks ago, a three-judge bench headed by CJI N.V. Ramana criticised sealed cover reports in the Supreme Court while dealing with a criminal appeal filed against the Bihar government. On the same day, while hearing an appeal against Centre’s ban on a Malayalam TV channel, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud echoed the CJI’s sentiments. Justice Gangopadhyay took strong exception to the division bench’s order, decrying ‘double standard’ he put a complaint before the CJI as well as the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court questioning the stays on four of his orders.

However, the Bench of Justice Tandon and Samanta acted carefully. While staying the CBI enquiry for three weeks, it appointed a 5-member committee under the retired Justice Ranjit Bag, to investigate the case. The other members of the Committee were Ashutosh Ghosh (member WBCSSC), Parmita Roy (deputy secretary secondary education) and High Court lawyer Arunabh Bandopadhyay.

The Committee headed by Justice Bag submitted a 69-page report on April 11, 2021 stating that appointment of 609 candidates is illegal. The report mentions that the SSC published a doctored merit list, only after the order of High Court, arbitrarily adding names of the candidates. In the same year digital signature was introduced. Normally, the five regional offices recommend the candidates which are then endorsed by the board. In this case too recommendations have come through the regional offices but the names of fake candidates were added, depriving the deserving ones, under the forged signatures of the Chairpersons of the Regional Offices. The Committee also found discrepancies in the documents submitted. The OMR sheets were not available, the data in computers too were erased. In the report names of the then Education Minister Partha Chatterjee and Kalyanmoy Gangopadhyay, the then President of West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE) too has surfaced.

The committee also recommended filing of FIRs under the section of cheating, forgery and criminal act with common intent against WBBSE President Kalayanmoy Gangopadhyay, former SSC advisor and convenor of the state penal Dr Shanti Prasad Sinha and other members of the penal. The report also said that SSC Program Officer Samarjit Acharya prepared the fake recommendation letters in collaboration with the penal members.

Report was submitted to the HC division bench of Justices Subrata Talukdar and Ananda Kumar Mukherjee who have taken over the case after the recusal from the case by division bench of Justice Tandon and Justice Samanta and subsequent recusal by three more benches after the scathing remarks of Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay on the division bench’s order to Dr Sinha to submit affidavit of assets in Sealed Cover. The bench on the one hand directed the Bag Committee to submit its report by May13, when the matter will come up for hearing and on the other it granted stay on an order of Justice Gangopadhyay that asked Partha Chatterjee to appear before the CBI by 12/04/2022 evening and that the stay will continue for four weeks from 13/04/2022. The division bench also requested Justice Bag Committee to complete investigation in Group-C appointments.

The fact that even the Justice Bag report, appointed by the bench of Justice Tandon and Justice Samanta, endorsed observations of Justice Gangopadhyay, illustrates that the judge was justified in his judgment. As for a stay, it is not an acquittal but a temporary reprieve in which the present government is busy in searching a window for escape.

A Promise to Keep

With the date for next hearing and tabling of Justice Ranjit Bag Committee coming closer, the uneasiness in TMC Government is apparent. It is not a coincidence that on the way back after attending the Eid Namaz at Red Road on May3, 2022 Mamata Banerjee notices the protesting SSC aspiring teachers as well as the presence of DC South, Akash Magharia near the protestants. The Chief Minister through DC South mobile phone spoke to their representative, requesting them to call off the protest. Ms Banerjee though turned down their request to talk to them directly but told them to have faith in her (‘আমি নিজে দেখছি’). Within 10 to 15 minutes of the telephonic conversation two officers from education department surfaced and heard the protestors for nearly two hours on a holiday of Eid.

The diligence of Education Department is astonishing. Within two days Education Minister Bratya Basu, on the first anniversary of the third TMC government, addressing the press said that to accommodate candidates from the old SSC merit list 5,261 teaching posts are created as desired by the CM. On the same day SSC issued a statement that the recruitment notification for the post of head teachers[7] and assistant teachers at junior, secondary and high secondary levels[8] would be issued soon. Minister also said that the duration of 2016 penal for recruitment of clerk and Group-D staff which expired in May 2018, is also extended till December end to accommodate waiting list candidates. The minister also assured that the future recruitments will be done with complete administrative transparency following the rulebooks and legal consultation.

The protestors are not satisfied. Twice they have called off the protest on assurance of Chief Minister and Education Minister, respectively.  At this juncture where the litigation on irregularities in appointment is taking a decisive course, and the corruption in recruitment is well established, the candidates who have waited for due appointment letter for last 4 years are not ready to give up their struggle without a positive final conclusion. The hard work in filling RTIs, searching for irregular appointments and collecting the papers for litigation was not an easy task. Single mindedly they have knocked all the doors, explored all the connections with many failures and few successes must be recognized.

In last 11 years of TMC rule so far it is only twice (2012 & 2016) that the government has attempted to fill the vacant post of teachers in various government aided secondary and high secondary schools. Both the recruitment drive is marred with controversy. The vacancies of teachers in all level that must be filled every year, if the process takes more than six years, no prize to guess the standard of education being imparted in government aided secondary and high secondary schools which is the backbone of a healthy society. Destruction of all the democratic institutions is the agenda of new liberal economic policy and a plain look all around tells the story of intentional unemployment. No government job is filled within a year except the top most (IAS type). Be it in education department, rail, road or police all the institution that provide job to middle class students all are filled with controversy. The protest by thousands of candidates aspiring for 35,281 posts in the Non-Technical Popular Categories (NTPC) in Railways in January is a glaring example of mismanagement and corruption. The NTPC posts were notified in 2019, level 1 exam was conducted from December 2020 to July 2021. Level 2 exam was to be conducted in February this year, but the glaring discrepancies in level1 and adamancy on the part of the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) resulted in protest that turned violent and postponement of exam till the discrepancies are removed.

There is a systematic attempt to close down the government and its aided educational institutions in the name of dropout in enrollment as the Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma said last month[9]. Six years back the group of government secretaries recommended the consolidation (merger) of schools with low enrollment which was supported by Niti Aayog as rationalization a year after and is also included in New Education Policy (NEP) 2020. Where the Right to Education Act, 2002 mandate free and compulsory education to all children upto class VII, the NEP – 2020 focuses on commercialization of education. NEP encourages privatisation of education. In a report of ministry of education[10] where the number of government schools in the country fell by 4.8% in last three years the number of private school jumped by 3.6% ( 2018-19 to 2020-21). Only two attempts of recruiting teacher in 11 years, that too taking years together to complete can be seen in this light, a trend towards privatization that the governments are too glad to see. The Student Credit Card Scheme launched on June30, 2021 where a student from West Bengal can take loan upto Rs 10 lakh to go for higher studies in school/ college / Institute within state, other state or abroad at the low interest rate of 4% per annum with loan repayment time is 15 years after getting the job. With uncertainty in getting regular jobs the beneficiaries are the private educational institutions and the students like their counterpart in USA will be in perpetual debt that is why Education sectors is one of the highest investment sector along with Health.

Educated middle class youth knows it very well that any kind of stability that they aspire in life comes with education and a stable income. With gradual shrinking of job space, shrinking opportunities and reduced wages in private sector, a permanent government job is aspiration of youth for which they work hard under extreme financial constraints.

With B.Ed becoming essential for teachers in all categories, the poor families have taken loans,  mortgaged land or dwelling to fulfill the dream of their wards. And where it takes years to join after succeeding in competition, the frustration and bitterness towards the system is understandable. They are not calling off their protest nor the cases. Officers responsible for the suffering must be identified and administrative action must be taken. Who will pay for the years lost by the aspiring teachers? One just hope that the assurance of Ms Mamata Banerjee is the last and sincere one and that the protesting aspiring youth, whose actual place is in class-room are in class-rooms than on roads in summer, rain and winter.

[1] https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/former-left-front-leader-daughters-name-figures-in-ssc-merit-list-days-after-he-joins-tmc/article24804821.ece

[2] http://bartamanpatrika.com/detailNews.php?cID=13&nID=146149&P=1&nPID=20190116

[3] https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/anindita-bera-v-the-state-of-west-bengal-ors-414221.pdf

[4] http://www.westbengalssc.com/sscorg/wbssc/download/notice/Notice_Panel_expiration_groupd-groupc-02.09.2019.pdf

[5] https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/sandeep-prasad-ors-v-state-of-wb-404240.pdf

[6] https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/sandeep-prasad-v-state-of-west-bengal-409377.pdf

[7] http://www.westbengalssc.com/sscorg/wbssc/download/notice/The_WBCSSC_HM_recruitment_information.pdf

[8] http://www.westbengalssc.com/sscorg/wbssc/download/notice/WBCSSC_AT_information.pdf

[9] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/if-the-current-drop-in-enrollment-continues-government-schools-will-soon-be-empty-says-assam-cm/articleshow/90873751.cms?from=mdr

[10] https://www.education.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/statistics-new/UDISE%2B2020_21_Booklet.pdf

Nisha Biswas is an activist


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