Baishali Mukherjee (Kolkata)
A single judge bench of justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of Calcutta High Court currently hearing the multi-crore school jobs scam in West Bengal, which exposed dire irregularities in appointment of teachers in 82,748 government primary schools, and uncovered evidence of administrative malfeasance, on May 12, ordered cancellation of appointment of 32,000 candidates recruited as teachers on the basis of Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) 2014 results. According to the court, there was evidence of massive corruption in the interview process and in many cases, the mandatory aptitude test wasn’t conducted.
While ordering cancellation of 32,000 appointments, Justice Gangopadhyay directed the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE) to immediately arrange for recruitment of eligible candidates — from TET 2014 panel as well as from the 150,000 fresh candidates who qualified in TET 2022, held on December 11 after a gap of five years — within three months. He also ruled that the 32,000 illegally appointed teachers can continue to work for the next four months, but will receive the salary of para teachers.
Since May 18, 2022, after Justice Gangopadhyay ordered a CBI investigation into the TET scam, in which aspiring primary school teachers paid an estimated Rs.10-20 lakh to middlemen, began unfolding, threads of corruption started leading to top state government ministers. In the past one year, the Enforcement Directorate, a financial frauds investigation unit of the Central government, and CBI have arrested former education minister Partha Chatterjee; former president of WBBSE, Kalyanmoy Ganguly, Shanti Prasad Sinha, former adviser to West Bengal School Service Commission (WBSSC) among others including Subiresh Bhattacharya, a youth wing leader of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). Moreover, a web of companies through which the cash flow was managed came under the scanner of the Central investigative agencies following which ED sleuths provisionally attached properties of the accused valued at Rs.103.10 crore.
It is pertinent to note that in West Bengal where overt and disguised unemployment is rife with 7.6 million registered unemployed youth, and small and medium-scale industry salaries are rock-bottom, teaching jobs in government schools which pay Rs.33,000 per month-plus are highly prized. Families desperate for sons and daughters to be employed as teachers in government-run schools often sell property and/or take loans to pay upto Rs.20 lakh as bribes to government officials to land these jobs. With appointees having lost their jobs after paying hefty amounts as bribes to ruling party leaders, the high court judgement is bad news for TMC and chief minister Mamata Banerjee, now serving her third term in office.
According to informed academics, the declining learning standards of primary children has a direct link with the TMC government’s ill-advised utshoshree (‘origin’) teacher transfer policy launched by chief minister Mamata Banerjee on August 2, 2021. This populist policy entertains teachers’ request for return to cities where they were first recruited, emptying out rural schools. Because of this policy, many rural schools are unable to admit students in higher secondary (classes XI and XII), as there are no teachers left to teach important subjects such as life science, physics, chemistry and mathematics.
According to Byomkesh Das, Purulia district secretary of the All Bengal Teachers Association, Hura Girls High School in his district, which has a student enrolment of 600, has only seven teachers. Similarly, Jhaldah Girls Higher Secondary, with student strength of 2,600, has 12 teachers, and Ichag High School with 1,286 students, is left with only nine teachers. Because a large number of teachers have opted to return to their urban home towns.
Moreover, student attendance in government schools in some remote areas of the state has plunged so low that in April, the state government shut down 6,845 primary and 1,362 higher primary schools in the backward districts of Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum, Jhargram, Murshidabad and West Midnapore after an education ministry report revealed that they have less than 30 students on their rolls.
Meanwhile in a state where education is highly prized, the chaos evident in the school education system doesn’t seem to bother chief minister Mamata Banerjee. She is busy cobbling up a multi-party coalition to take on the BJP juggernaut in General Election 2024.