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Probe: RTI used as weapon to fudge answer sheets in Bengal SSC scam

A Division Bench of Justices Harish Tandon and Rabindranath Samanta set up the Committee on February 22 to look into the alleged irregularities in the recruitment process.

Written by Atri Mitra , Ravik Bhattacharya , Sweety Kumari | Kolkata |
Updated: May 21, 2022 2:22:38 pm
Right to Information Act, OMR (answer) sheets, Partha Chatterjee, Paresh Adhikary, West Bengal government, West Bengal, Kolkata, West Bengal news, Kolkata news, India news, Indian Express News Service, Express News Service, Express News, Indian Express NewsBengal Minister Partha Chatterjee. (File Photo)

A supervisory committee without basis in law, the use of the Right to Information Act (RTI) as a “weapon” to procure answer sheets and then increase the marks of candidates to manipulate ranks, issuing fake recommendation and appointment letters carrying forged signatures, and physical destruction of OMR (answer) sheets. These reportedly lie behind an alleged recruitment scam in the West Bengal School Service Commission (WBSSC), according to a probe committee headed by Justice (retired) Ranjit Bag Committee that submitted its report to the Calcutta High Court on May 12.

A Division Bench of Justices Harish Tandon and Rabindranath Samanta set up the Committee on February 22 to look into the alleged irregularities in the recruitment process. Based on its report, a Division Bench of Justices Subrata Talukdar and Justice Ananda Kumar Mukherjee on Wednesday upheld High Court judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay’s directive for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into alleged irregularities in appointments in Group C and Group D posts in the School Education Department — the entire recruitment process started in 2016. While Group C includes all clerical posts, with a starting salary of Rs 22,700 per month, attendants are hired as Group D staff for a monthly salary of Rs 17,000. The rules were allegedly bent to favour 381 candidates in the Group C category, of whom almost 250 were not on the merit list at all,  while 609 unsuccessful Group D candidates allegedly received recommendation letters.

Following the Division Bench’s orders, the road was paved for the CBI questioning of current Industries minister Partha Chatterjee, who held the education portfolio at the time of the alleged irregularities, and current Minister of State for Education Paresh Adhikary, whose daughter Ankita allegedly benefited from the scam. On Friday, the High Court ordered Ankita’s dismissal as an assistant teacher in a government-aided school and asked her to return the entire salary since the date of her joining. The court also turned down Chatterjee’s plea for immunity from arrest by the CBI. The central agency had questioned him on Wednesday. It has also quizzed several WBSSC officers.

Paresh Chandra Adhikari. (Twitter/@PareshAOfficial)

The Committee report is learnt to have said that the officers behind the alleged scam allowed select candidates to file RTI applications seeking their OMR answer sheets and apply for re-evaluation “in violation of the provisions of School Service Commission Rules, 2009 by which the Central Commission is governed”. The officers then allegedly manipulated the OMR sheets by increasing the marks of some candidates to give them a higher rank. They also allegedly forged marks to bring unsuccessful candidates into the appointment list. After the marks were changed, the OMR sheets were allegedly destroyed.

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The Committee document reportedly mentions that the upshot of its findings was that recommendation letters were given to “undeserving and unsuccessful candidates in Group C posts “in the garb of reevaluation of OMR sheet or rechecking or review of typing or proficiency test in computer of the candidates for Group C posts for increase of marks and upgradation of ranks in the panel on basis of filing of application under RTI Act”.

Committee member and HC advocate Arunava Banerjee said, “Basically, RTI was used as a weapon to increase the scores of some candidates, and after it was done, they destroyed the OMR sheets.” The Commission, according to him, does not have the authority to either re-evaluate, review, or recheck the OMR sheets or answer scripts to increase marks and upgrade ranks of candidates “on the basis of consideration under the RTI Act for bringing unsuccessful candidates within the zone of consideration either during the period of validity of the panel or after the expiry of the panel”.

The report is learnt have said that recommendation letters were forged by “using the data from the server of the central commission and by generating the memo number of the regional commission by using the serial order of the previous memo number of the concerned regional commission and by using scanned signatures of the chairpersons of the regional commissions…”

As questions started to be raised about the delay in the recruitment process, Partha Chatterjee constituted a supervisory committee on November 1, 2019, to “supervise, monitor and guide” the WBSCC. Former WBSSC advisor Santi Prasad Sinha, the minister’s officers on special duty (OSDs) Prabir Kumar Bandyopadhyay and Sukanta Acharya, Deputy Director of School Education Directorate Alok Kumar Sarkar, and the School Education Department’s senior Law Officer Tapas Kumar Panja made up this panel.

But, the Bag Committee reportedly said the supervisory panel was not legally valid and it was evident that the panel’s every decision had the “approval of the MIC (minister in charge) Partha Chatterjee”.

The Committee’s other members were SSC Board member Ashutosh Ghosh and West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE) Deputy Secretary Paromita Roy.

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The Bag Committee also reviewed the opinion of seven candidates, of whom only two appeared on the waiting list for ‘Group C’ posts. The names of the others were missing. “Some of the candidates have consistently stated that they were not aware of the marks obtained by them but they submitted an application for the increase of their marks in the written test by way of re-evaluation off OMR sheets and for the upgradation of their rank in the panel by filing RTI application on the basis of the advice of the officials of the Central Commission,” said Banerjee.

The lawyer added, “The central school service commission did not maintain transparency at the time of publication of the panel of Group C posts on December 20, 2017, as the candidates could not access the panel to know his or her rank vis-a-vis the rank of other candidates in the panel and the copy of the panel was not circulated among the regional school service commissions and offices of DM of the concerned districts…”

The WBSSC also changed the rank of candidates in the existing panel before uploading it on its website on June 20, 2019, despite the High Court’s direction to upload the existing panel already published on November 6, 2017.

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