Ignored summons and an unprecedented four recusals from Division Benches of Calcutta High Court to hear an appeal against a single bench order later, a former top office-bearer of a high-powered government committee finally came face to face with the Central Bureau of Investigation which is probing the alleged West Bengal Central School Service Commission recruitment irregularities.
The alleged “scam" has brought under legal scanner recruitments of over 35,000 Group-D and Group-C staff as well as teachers in classes 9 and 10 in state-sponsored secondary and higher secondary schools of West Bengal between 2018 -2020.
The Division Bench of Justice Subrata Talukdar and Justice Krishna Rao on Tuesday directed former advisor to Bengal Central SSC recruitment monitoring committee and convenor, Dr SP Sinha, and former deputy director in the directorate of the school education department and committee member, Alok Kr Sarkar, to appear before CBI and face agency questioning.
The five-member committee, formed in November 2019 to oversee and monitor recruitments, has come under a judicial lens for their purported recommendations to the state school education department after several such recruitments were challenged in court.
While Sinha appeared before the agency within an hour of the court order, trying to hide his face behind a leather folio bag he carried to presumably avoid TV camera glare and was still facing questions from the investigators at CBI regional headquarters at Nizam Palace in central Kolkata at the time this report was filed, Sarkar was not seen at the agency premises till reports last received.
Toning down the Single Bench direction of Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay passed earlier in the day to the agency to conduct custodial interrogation of Sinha and Sarkar if necessary, the Division Bench offered relief to the duo and other members of the committee by granting them immunity against arrest.
During the course of the hearing before the Single Bench, Justice Gangopadhyay made scathing observations against Dr Sinha and called him the “mastermind” and “kingpin” of the alleged recruitment scam.
The Court also took on record the status report filed by the CBI containing the responses of the recruitment panel members to the questions posed by the CBI and directed the agency to further question Sarkar after taking into account that he was the officer who was responsible for overseeing the vacancies in the recruitment process.
Interestingly though, four Division Benches either recused or declined to hear appeals against Justice Gangopadhyay’s order for a CBI probe into the alleged scam in the last couple of days until Justice Talukdar’s Bench passed its order where, despite granting arrest immunity to the monitoring committee members, it granted free hand to the CBI to take appropriate legal steps against the committee members if they were found not cooperating with the investigation.
Throwing his hat into the ring about judges recusing from the appeal case, BJP state president Sukanto Majumdar said: “Things are so bad in this state that even judges are trying to step away from matters which would put the government in a fix.”
Trinamool Congress leader and cabinet minister, Tapas Roy, responded: “People having no idea about court matters keep commenting on the judiciary. They don’t have the right to say these things.”
Fact, however, remains that the state’s high judiciary has, in the recent past, passed on investigation responsibilities to central agencies in high-profile criminal cases. These include cases of post-poll violence, Rampurhat violence, Congress councilor murder in Purulia’s Jhalda, Coal scam, and cattle smuggling cases, besides the recruitment scam and have left the Mamata Banerjee administration red-faced.