Updated: July 4, 2022 10:54:26 am
The son of a Trinamool Congress (TMC) panchayat samiti member, the wife of a CPI(M) leader, a TMC youth leader, two brothers, and the wife and two close relatives of a secretary at a private teachers’ training institute are among 273 primary teachers in state-run schools whose services were terminated by an order of the Calcutta High Court last month because of alleged irregularities and corruption in the recruitment process. Most of these teachers are from schools in semi-urban or rural areas.
A single-judge Bench of Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay on June 13 not only ordered the sacking of these teachers, who were hired through the Teachers’ Eligibility Test (TET) in 2014, but also ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe. A week later, the court ordered the removal of West Bengal Board of Primary Education chairperson Manik Bhattacharya.
Last November, the single-judge Bench ordered a CBI probe into the hiring of Group C and Group D staff by the state School Service Commission (SSC). The order was upheld by a Division Bench in May.
The Indian Express visited the homes of 12 of the 273 teachers in the districts of Hooghly, Howrah, and Purba Bardhaman. Most of them were not available. Their family members spoke of fear and public shame. Though some of them acknowledged there might have been irregularities in the recruitment process, they were evasive about the alleged role of their kin.
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Several teachers and headmasters of primary schools in these districts welcomed the court order. But they said it had also damaged the image of everyone in the teaching profession. A principal in Purba Bardhaman, one of whose teachers’ names is in the list, pointed out the additional pressure on his understaffed school.
Standing near a home under construction in Chiliara village in the Shyampur police station area, 55-year-old Ramprasad Mondol said his son Tanumoy, 30, was not home. Tanumoy was a teacher at the Naoda Board primary school in the district.
“We have never heard that one can be removed from a government job after five years,” said Ramprasad, who has been a member of the TMC-controlled panchayat samiti in Shyampur since 2003. “We are shocked by the court’s order. After becoming a teacher my son took out a loan and started building his house. Work stopped the day when the court order came. Maybe there is some corruption, but my son is not involved.”
About 6 km away, in the village of Moula, is the two-storey house of Debraj Mondol (30), who was a teacher at the Nyaychakra Joargori primary school. He too was not at home, according to his family. Debraj’s father Nando Mondol, a retired state government employee, said, “He is not at home. My wife and I are here and we do not know anything about it (the court order). But my son is among those who appealed to the Division Bench against the single-judge Bench ruling.”
The Indian Express caught up with Debraj’s friend, also a primary schoolteacher, about a kilometre away in Marshan Kalibari. The friend, who did not wish to be named, said the scam was way bigger.
“The termination of the services of 273 primary teachers is just the beginning,” he said. “It is the tip of the iceberg. If the court and the CBI do their duty, thousands of teachers, not only in primary but in secondary schools, will lose their jobs. This is apart from the alleged irregularities in the hiring of Group C and Group D staff. Some, through their parents’ sources, some through money, got jobs in government schools. None will accept it, but that is the truth. A section of SSC officials, primary and secondary board officials and higher-ups created a process so that illegal recruitment could be carried out.”
In Dihiberia, about 5 km from there, live brothers Anupam and Krishanu Mondol. Both of them feature in the court’s list. An elderly woman named Kanaklata Manna who claimed to be their grandmother said no one was at home and asked The Indian Express team to leave.
A neighbour said, “We had heard that they got the job in not a proper or transparent way. After the High Court order, this was confirmed. Their father is a former military man and their mother is a nurse. Both the brothers are married. After the court order, we seldom see them in public.”
Prabir Majumdar was a teacher in a school in the district’s Pandua area. He is also a local leader of the TMC Primary Teachers’ Association and was not present when The Indian Express visited his house.
His father Sadananda Majumder (63), who owns a furniture shop, said, “In 2014, my son took TET and became a teacher in a primary school in 2017. I am not aware of the process and he did not tell me anything. I’d prefer my son to roam as a beggar than adopt illegal ways to become a teacher. But I am not saying he did. As I learnt from news reports, there is some corruption in recruitment. The guilty should be punished and genuine candidates should not be deprived of a job.”
Prabir, according to his father, is married and has a child. “Now, suddenly his family’s entire financial burden will be on me. I accept that. What I cannot accept is public shame. Everyone in this area and my neighbours are talking about it. They all think that my son paid a bribe to get the job. This social shame is unbearable. My family’s reputation is tarnished.”
About 15 km away, in Balagarh, Piyali Das’ husband Santanu Samaddar, a businessman, refused to let Express talk to his wife. Piyali was a teacher at the Somrabajar Prathamik Vidyalaya. “My wife cannot meet you. She is in shock. She has done her master’s degree in Sanskrit and then she gave TET. The court should have called all the teachers and listened to them before terminating their services. I have nothing to say. Please go,” said Santanu, standing at the door of their two-storey house.
The Indian Express team caught up with Rahul Deb Ghosh, a 31-year-old TMC youth leader, in Inchury village. Ghosh too has lost his job. “I do not want to say anything about party politics or my position. It is my personal matter. All I can say is that I took a personal loan after getting the teacher’s job. I do not know how I will repay it. I do not want to say anything else,” he said.
The local TMC MLA from Balagarh, Manoranjan Byapari, said over the phone, “This is a sub judice matter. Those who lost their jobs have approached courts too. I will appeal to the education department to fill up posts that have been rendered vacant due to the termination of primary teachers. We will have to see that children and students should not suffer.”
Asked about the names of party leaders figuring in the alleged recruitment scam, Byapari added, “I have heard some names. People are talking about them. But I have not investigated on my own. I do not have that right.”
The Indian Express talked to the family members of six primary teachers in the district’s Kalna area. Among them was Baisakhi Basu Mullick, the wife of CPI(M) leader Subhashish Sarkar who was the party’s candidate in the 2015 municipal polls. Baishakhi, whose father Biren Basu Mullick is a known CPI(M) leader in the district, lost her job at the Dhapaspara primary school after the court order. Neither she nor her husband was at their home in Kalna’s Baramitrapara area when Express visited. Later, Subhashish said over the phone, “My wife was a meritorious student. She has a master’s degree too. I cannot say anything about the court’s decision. It is obvious that we are feeling bad.”
The court list also includes the names of the wife, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law of Kalna Primary Teachers’ Training Institute secretary Jyotirmoy Bandopadhyay. His wife Mithu Roy (Kalna Mahismardini primary school), sister-in-law Papiya Roy (Jogipara primary school), and brother-in-law Sudip Palit (Papiya’s husband and a teacher at Kalna free primary school) have lost their jobs.
“I have just returned from Bangalore,” Bandopadhyay said. “I went there for my wife’s treatment. She is ill and therefore cannot speak to you. We have approached the Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court against the single-judge order. That is all I can say. We are not involved in any foul play.”
Bandopadhyay claimed he knows Manik Bhattacharya. “I know Manik babu but I am not close to him. I only participated in some meetings that the Board holds with institutes like ours. Every year 50 students graduate from this institute and many of them get jobs as teachers. But we do not keep track of them.”
The son of a Group D employee of the institute is also among those named in the court list. Neither Mahadeb Ghosh nor his son Subhashish was at home in Khorsadanga village. “My son got his diploma in elementary education from the institute where my husband works. Then he got the job. Now I hear through court order he has lost the job. I do not know anything else,” said Subhashish’s mother Krishna Ghosh.
Pointing to a house under construction, Subhashish’s uncle Bablu Ghosh said, “He became a primary teacher in 2017. About a year back, he took a loan and started construction of this house. But since the court order, work has stopped.”
The Indian Express also met with the family members of Prabir Biswas, who used to teach at the Bandebaj Gandhi Smarak Primary School. His father Sukumar, sitting in their home in Medgachia-Nathpara, claimed Prabir does not live there and that he was unaware of his son’s whereabouts. “I do not where he is. I have heard that he lost his job. I cannot say anything else,” said Sukumar.
Sukumar’s family runs a customer service centre of a nationalised bank in the village. Locals said Prabir used to live in the village but moved out in the days after the court order.
The headmaster of Prabir’s school, Pranab Biswas, said over the phone, “I have been the headmaster of the school for 12 years. After the termination of Prabir, the teachers’ strength came down to six. If there is corruption, then the court took the right decision. Many deserving youths are there who are deprived. It is also natural that the removal of one teacher will affect the school too. There is no fresh recruitment. How will we fill the position?”
He added, “Local people are talking about this and the image of teachers is being hurt. I have to hear negative things about teachers. What to do? We told students that one teacher will not come. We did not tell them the reason because if we do, they will doubt us all.”
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