"People Will Lose Faith": Chief Justice's Big Remark In Bengal Jobs Case

Chief Justice DY Chandrachud asked Bengal government why it created supernumerary posts and hired waitlisted candidates when the selection process itself had been challenged in court.

'People Will Lose Faith': Chief Justice's Big Remark In Bengal Jobs Case

A Chief Justice-led bench is hearing the Bengal government's challenge to the high court judgment

New Delhi:

A Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud put tough questions to the West Bengal government today while hearing its appeal against a Calcutta High Court order to cancel about 25,000 appointments by the state school service commission.

At the outset, the Chief Justice asked the Bengal government why it created supernumerary posts and hired waitlisted candidates when the selection process itself had been challenged in court.

Taking the court through the high court order, the Bengal government's counsel, Senior Advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul asked if such an order can be sustained. "It is not even CBI's case that 25,000 appointments are all illegal. Everything, teacher-child ratio is gone for a toss," he said.

Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta, appearing for the school service commission, argued that the high court bench did not have the jurisdiction to cancel the jobs and its orders were in conflict with Supreme Court judgments in the matter. When the Chief Justice asked if OMR sheets and scanned copies of answer sheets had been destroyed, he replied in the affirmative. The Chief Justice then asked why a tender was not issued for "such a sensitive matter".

The Chief Justice then asked it was the commission's duty to keep digital copies of these sheets. When Mr Gupta responded that it is with the agency that the work was outsourced to, the Chief Justice asked, "Where? CBI did not find it. It is outsourced, not with you. Can there be a greater breach of security protocols? They were only hired for scanning, but you let them have the entire data. You cannot say they took it away, you are responsible for maintaining people's data."

The Chief Justice then asked if the commission had wrongly told RTI applicants that it had the data. "There is no data (with you) at all." Mr Gupta replied, "That may be." When he asked if the high court's directions were fair, the Chief Justice replied, "But this is systemic fraud. Public jobs are extremely scarce today and are looked at for social mobility. What remains in the system if their appointments are also maligned? People will lose faith, how do you countenance this?"

Also appearing for the commission, Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde said there is nothing in the high court judgment about irregularities on the part of the commission. "If we lose a whole chunk or generation in between, we will lose senior headmasters and examiners for the future. Lordships may bear in mind that many of them did not get any notice. When there is a headache, you do not cut off your entire head," he said. 

The counsels also pointed out some candidates are completely untainted and their OMR sheets are seen as correct. A segregation between tainted and untainted candidates, they contended, was placed before the high court.

When the Chief Justice asked what was the basis on which a chart segregating tainted and untainted candidates was prepared, the Centre's counsel, Senior Advocate Madhavi Divan, said the segregation is being created for the commission to save face.

Advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, who has been representing aggrieved job aspirants said, "OMR sheets were filed without any markings, shown as securing more marks. Discrepancy between digital and ssc data. Huge manipulation."

"The point we wanted to identify is that was the ground to hold the process so tainted as to cancel all appointments?" the Chief Justice asked.

When Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for some of the affected teachers, raised the rulings by former high court judge and now BJP leader Abhijit Gangopadhyay, the Chief Justice responded, "Mr Dave we are not here to scrutinise the conduct of Mr Gangopadhyay. We have been here all morning listening to nitty gritties. Please show some decorum. Okay, no stay for now, we will issue notice and keep in July. We are finding it difficult to have an orderly hearing and now there is a slinging match going on. No stay or anything. How sensitive or politically fraught the matter is, we are lawyers at the end of the day. Levelling allegations at the HC judges will not help."

The court listed the matter for July 16. It noted that based on the material, the tainted appointments can be segregated. "So it would be unwise to set aside the appointments in entirety. The court cannot be unmindful of the teachers appointed in large number and the consequence of upholding the impugned judgment. The modalities would then need to be developed for the same," it said.

The Supreme Court had last week paused the high court order asking the CBI to investigate Bengal government officials in connection with the teacher recruitment scam. It had refused to stay the cancellation of the appointment of over 25,000 teaching and non-teaching staff.

The court had also asked if it was possible to segregate the valid and invalid appointments on the basis of the material available.

The state government has argued that the high court has cancelled the appointments "arbitrarily".

"The high court failed to appreciate the ramification of cancelling the entire selection process, leading to straightaway termination of teaching and non-teaching staff from service with immediate effect, without giving sufficient time to the petitioner state to deal with such an exigency, rendering the education system at a standstill," the petition says.

The high court has said in its April 22 order that the appointments are violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. The court had observed that it had given "anxious consideration to the passionate plea" that persons who obtained the appointments legally would be prejudiced if the entire selection process was cancelled, but added that it hardly had any choice left.

In its 282-page judgment, the court had said retaining appointees selected through "such a dubious process" would be contrary to public interest.