By Ashis Biswas
Recent revelations of massive corruption in West Bengal Government’s Education department, along with shocking accounts of major criminal activity in Birbhum and neighbouring districts, have shattered the state’s administrative morale. The situation has deteriorated to a point where the Government stands publicly accused of spreading ‘fake news’ about Gujarat-based private sector companies!
A couple of recent official functions, aiming to highlight the state’s success in providing jobs for lakhs of educated unemployed youths, attended by the Chief Minister, the Chief secretary and the usual galaxy of Ministers/officials, have ended in highly embarrassing fiascos in Kolkata and Kharagpur. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had personally distributed what were purported to be letters of appointment to hundreds of job seekers who had been invited to attend the ceremonies. Many of these turned out to be ‘fake’, according to later reports, causing public resentment not restricted only among students!
One odd feature of these programmes was that the promised jobs, as state officials claimed, had been offered by private sector units in West Bengal and elsewhere in India, even abroad. However, neither at Netaji Indoor Stadium Kolkata nor at Kharagpur, there was a single representative of the private sector recruiting companies.
Questions arose in their absence as to how the state Government on its own could announce new jobs in the private sector without any visible endorsement/role for the companies involved. There was no explanation from the state Government. Apparently, around 110 out of some 1100 ‘letters’ distributed in the Kolkata function had turned out to be ‘fake’ but with complaints still pouring in, the final figure is expected to be much higher.
Incidentally, many of the so-called ‘jobs’ especially those within the state, involved delivery of goods, security and related activities, and other work allotted on a temporary basis, according to reports.
The blunder came to light after a student who had received an appointment letter urging upon him to join duties somewhere in Gujarat, phoned concerned company officials to seek further details. Surprised officials told him that they had issued no letters to anyone in West Bengal.
However, they had recruited and provided for training /upskilling schedules for students in other states. If students from West Bengal were interested, the company could consider their requests to join their projects.
The company promptly wrote to the State Government authorities about the matter in detail and suggested that the Government immediately issue necessary clarifications, preceded by a probe as to how such ‘fake’ document could be released at an official function!
To date there has been no official comment at any level from any state official, Minister or the Chief Minister (CM).
Surprisingly, the CM still attended another similar function at Kharagpur, immediately following the botch-up at Kolkata. Ms Banerjee was annoyed at the Kolkata function to hear that the letters of appointment had not yet been sent off to the recipients despite an official announcement to the contrary. Her irritation and frantic instructions to Minister Indranil Sen and the Chief Secretary caused mirth among some students.
Reports of similar mismanagement were received from the Kharagpur function as well, suggesting that state officials were yet to put their act together.
As things stand, the Chief Minister still remains determined to announce ‘at least 30,000 new jobs before the pujas begin’ in the state.
The move is important in several respects. It will be the first piece of positive news about the present situation in West Bengal and also a major boost for the ruling Trinamool Congress with only some months to go for the Panchayat elections. It will help divert public attention that remains stubbornly focused on the recent series of Bengal scams within the Education department and state administration in Birbhum and adjacent areas, involving the district TMC leadership.
Massive heaps of high currency notes amounting to Rs 50 crore and Rs 18 crore on two separate occasions have been seized by official investigating agencies like the Enforcement Directorate and the Central bureau of Investigation. In these activities the involvement of state government officials, Ministers and their followers has been established. A senior Minister and a major District leader have already been arrested along with a clutch of high departmental officers.
A Calcutta High court –ordered probe continues into these and other areas of corruption involving cattle smuggling, illegal sand mining, coal smuggling, human trafficking and other heinous crimes in West Bengal. Apart from heavyweight TMC leaders, senior IPS officials, BSF officials and others have been rounded up in Bengal and elsewhere for their involvement in organised crime during the TMC’s tenure beginning in May 2011.
To return to the fake letters of appointment, Chief Minister Banerjee has reportedly pulled up senior officials for the embarrassing turn of events. Some senior officials of the Vocational Training department involved in handling the Kolkata and Kharagpur functions have been sent to Coventry , even as a probe is on to find out where things went wrong.
According to official sources two more similar programmes are scheduled to be held at Asansol and Siliguri, where the CM would be present. However, having burnt her fingers already, Ms Banerjee has decided to adopt the virtual mode of participation.
Observers feel that the ruling TMC leaders including the CM are yet to devise an effective strategy to counter the increasing and relentless opposition campaign. It targets her family, government and the TMC party she heads, over the major issues of corruption, leading to colossal loses of public money. In part the rapidly changing political situation, where fresh arrests of TMC leaders/supporters occur regularly, makes it difficult for the TMC to fight back effectively.
The political leadership ruling the state is obviously caught on the backfoot. And with the leading light, the Chief Minister herself under attack, the entire party faces an unprecedented situation. Even as Chief Minister Banerjee and TMC General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee struggle to push back hard against the strong challenge from the Left as well as the BJP, it is an existential challenge they face at the moment.
No wonder the state administration is also caught off balance. (IPA Service)