30 March 2022 4:04 PM GMT
Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of the Calcutta High Court on Wednesday passed a scathing order against the observations made by a Division Bench in a case pertaining to the alleged irregularities in the appointment of 'Group-D' (non-teaching staff) in sponsored Secondary and Higher Secondary schools under the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE) on the purported recommendation by...
Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of the Calcutta High Court on Wednesday passed a scathing order against the observations made by a Division Bench in a case pertaining to the alleged irregularities in the appointment of 'Group-D' (non-teaching staff) in sponsored Secondary and Higher Secondary schools under the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE) on the purported recommendation by the West Bengal School Service Commission (WBSSC).
Justice Gangopadhyay in an order dated March 25 had directed S.P. Sinha, former Advisor of the School Service Commission and the Convenor of the Five-Member Committee constituted by the Education Department to disclose in an affidavit details about his assets after suspecting corruption during the recruitment of staff in different schools by the SSC in recent years.
Against this order, an appeal had been filed before a Division Bench comprising Justice Harish Tandon and Justice Rabindranath Samanta seeking a stay. Although the Division Bench had declined to issue a stay on the impugned order and had directed Sinha to file the required affidavit, it had underscored that such an affidavit of assets should be filed before the Court in a sealed cover and should not be divulged or circulated to the litigating parties or their counsels.
Recording serious displeasure against such an order by the Division Bench, Justice Gangopadhyay observed,
"I do not know what this court will do with a sealed cover in this proceeding when the hand of this appeal court has been tied by the above observation. I have been prevented from taking any consequential step on going through the said affidavit of assets."
Opining that the 'highest degree of double standard' has been expressed by the Division Bench and that his hands have been tied from properly adjudicating the case, Justice Gangopadhyay further remarked,
"In a sense the hands of the Single Bench has been tied though it has been stated by the appeal court that it does not find any element warranting interference with the said order at that stage. This is - I am sorry to say - a highest degree of double standard expressed by the appeal court for the reasons best known to it. But to maintain judicial discipline I have to accept such order."
The Judge further observed that he is unable to comprehend how the affidavit submitted in the sealed cover would be dealt with at the time of final decision and that there is 'absolutely no reason' why he has been prevented in such a manner by the Division Bench's order.
"It is also not understood by me that how at the time of final decision the sealed cover would be appropriately dealt with as for dealing with the said sealed cover supposedly containing the affidavit of assets other steps were required to be taken for adjudication by this Single Bench but I have been prevented by the Division Bench‟s order. I find that the Division Bench has fixed a course of action to be followed by this simple judge. There is absolutely no reason why I have been prevented in such a manner", the Court opined further.
Expressing serious reservations at how his hands have been tied up in light of the finding that serious illegalities have been committed during the recruitment of staff in different schools by the SSC, Justice Gangopadhyay further observed,
"I also do not understand who would be benefited by tieing up the hands of the Single Judge when it has been made clear in the order dated 25.03.2022 that „this court has found that there are serious illegalities in giving recommendations to ineligible candidates and the tip of the corruption–iceberg in issuing illegal recommendations is seen which is getting gradually bigger‟.
The following observations were also recorded by the Judge pursuant to the perusal of the order of the Division Bench,
"(i) My observations made in the order dated 25.03.2022 has been declared by the said appeal bench as tentative. How this declaration is made and why, is not known. There is no reason. Thus, this court‟s observation has been diluted.
(ii) Regarding my finding as to illegal appointments it is held by the said Division Bench - I do not know why - that it was a "perceived notion‟, when the illegal appointments are hard facts that have come before me why such diluting word "notion‟ has been used I do not know.
(iii) The said appeal court has also taken into account the "thought process‟ behind the direction passed upon the appellant to file affidavit of assets. I do not know how the "thought process‟ of this Judge can be known? Is this a comment on adjudication or something else, I do not know.
(iv) The appeal court held that, we do not find any element warranting interference at this stage but after holding that there is "no element warranting interference", the appeal court interfered in the order and held:
The affidavit of assets shall remain in a sealed cover and shall not be divulged or circulated to the litigating parties or their counsel. That shall be appropriately dealt with at the time of final decision to be taken on the issues involved therein."
Accordingly, the Judge adjourned the matter till April 5 after noting that he is unable to understand what a court of law will do with a sealed envelope containing therein some papers which could be affidavit of assets.
The Court was also apprised that the affidavit containing information about the assets of S.P Sinha, former Advisor of the School Service Commission would be filed before the Court on April 5, 2022.
Supreme Court's aversion to placing reliance on "sealed covers" to adjudicate cases
It may be noted that the Chief Justice of India recently disapproved the practice of submission of documents before the Court in sealed covers without sharing copies to the other side, and the Court relying on those documents to render decisions. On March 21, the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana had refused to accept documents submitted before the Supreme Court in a sealed covered by the lawyer appearing on behalf of the Patna High Court.
Furthermore, a Bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath recently in the MediaOne channel ban case has expressed its intention to examine the issue relating to the validity of relying on "sealed covers" to adjudicate issues. A bench led by Justice Chandrachud observed during the hearing in the case that the bench was "averse to sealed covers".
Justice Gangopadhyay's orders set aside/stayed by Division Bench in the past
This development comes after a series of orders issued by Justice Gangopadhyay have been stayed or quashed by the Division Bench pertaining to the alleged recruitment scam. The Division Bench had earlier quashed Justice Gangopadhyay's order which had directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to conduct a probe into the alleged recruitment scam.
Subsequently, the Division Bench had again imposed a stay for 2 weeks on Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay's order wherein a similar CBI probe had been ordered into the alleged recruitment scam. Thereafter, the Division Bench had extended the interim order granting stay for a period of 4 weeks after noting that the record reflects a 'shocking state of affairs' pertaining to the alleged illegal recruitments.
In 2016, the State government had recommended the appointment of about 13,000 non-teaching staff in different government aided schools and accordingly the WBSSC had conducted examinations and interviews periodically and thereafter a panel had been constituted. The term of the panel had ended in 2019. However, subsequently, there were widespread allegations that the Commission had made several irregular recruitments close to almost 500 even after the expiry of the panel.
The Division Bench had also up an inquiry committee headed by Justice Ranjit Kumar Bagh, former judge of the Calcutta High Court to probe into the recruitment scam. The other members of the committee includes Asutosh Ghosh, Member of West Bengal School Service Commission, Paromita Roy, Deputy Secretary (Administration), West Bengal Board of Secondary Education and advocate Arunava Banerjee, a practicing lawyer of the High Court.
Case Title: Md. Abdul Gani Ansari v. State of West Bengal & Ors.
Case Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Cal) 99
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