-Baishali Mukherjee (Kolkata)
Fifteen long-pending writ petitions dating back to 2016 challenging the process of recruiting 10,000 teachers for West Bengal’s 92,000 government schools are experiencing some traction. On April 7, Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of the Calcutta high court ordered a CBI enquiry into the allegedly fraudulent teacher recruitment process.
This order was challenged by the state’s Trinamool Congress government before a division bench. In light of the serious allegations of irregularities and fraud in the recruitment process, the division bench appointed a four-member committee chaired by Justice (Retd.) R.K. Bag to report if a CBI investigation is warranted. On May 13, the Bag Committee submitted its report confirming lack of transparency in the conduct of TET (Teacher Eligibility Test) 2016.
According to advocate Arunava Bandyopadhyay, a member of the Bag Committee, “Among the 381 teachers recruited, the names of 221 had never figured in the list of those who passed TET”. Among those recruited was Ankita, daughter of school education minister Paresh Chandra Adhikari, whose name had been substituted for Babita Sarkar, who had cleared the test and was ranked #20. Incidentally, Paresh Adhikari joined the ruling TMC in 2018 following which Ankita was appointed political science teacher at Indira Girls School, Coochbehar on November 24, 2018.
On May 18, seven orders were passed by the division bench of the high court directing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to continue its enquiry into the alleged irregularities in TET 2016 and appointment of teachers.
On May 21, CBI filed an FIR (first information report) against five members of an advisory panel of the School Service Commission (SSC) under s.120-B (criminal conspiracy), s.465 (forgery), s.417 (cheating) and s.468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Recruitment of teachers for government schools is an emotive issue in West Bengal because teachers are relatively well-remunerated in a state where unemployment is pervasive, and small and medium scale industry salary scales are low. During 34 years of uninterrupted rule of the CPM (Communist Party of India-Marxist)-led Left Front government (1977-2011) when labour militancy and violence was officially encouraged, there was a continuous flight of capital and industry from the state. As a result, overt and disguised unemployment is rife and government — including teaching jobs are highly prized.
In support of unemployed teachers, members of the All India Democratic Youth Organisation (AIDYO) and All India Democratic Students’ Organisation (AIDSO) have been staging continuous protests in College Street, a prime location in central Kolkata. Opposition parties have also seized the opportunity to excoriate the TMC government. “The recruitment process has been tainted and sullied by gross nepotism, favouritism and corruption with massive involvement of TMC government ministers. It has opened a can of worms and needs thorough probe,” says Subhendu Adhikary, leader of the BJP in the legislative assembly.
Unsurprisingly, academics in Bengal are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the TMC government and chief minister Mamata Banerjee, serving her third successive term in office. There is deep disappointment within academia that recruitment of teachers for government schools has been stymied since 2012 because of a series of scams in TET and pending court cases which have torpedoed employment prospects of thousands of youth aspiring to become government school teachers. Moreover with teacher recruitment at a standstill, the average teacher-pupil ratio in government schools has risen to 1:59, against 1:35 prescribed by the RTE Act, 2009, exacerbating poor learning outcomes of government schools.
According to Prof. Pabitra Sarkar, a former vice chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University and former vice chairman of the West Bengal State Council of Higher Education, “given the enormity of learning loss during the world’s most prolonged pandemic lockdown of 99 weeks in the state,” Banerjee’s inability to make headway in solving the state’s teacher recruitment issue will severely impact efforts to address the learning loss of 23 million children enrolled in government schools — especially in early childhood and primary education — in West Bengal.
With Banerjee’s conspicuous failure to fulfil her promise of initiating poriborton (“positive change”) in the state’s languishing education system ruined by steady infiltration of the academy by half-baked Marxist intellectuals, the chief minister is fast losing the support of Kolkata’s influential bhadralok (cultured middle class). It could signal beginning of the end.