Kolkata: A Kolkata court on Monday granted 10 days’ Enforcement Directorate (ED) custody of West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee and his alleged associate Arpita Mukherjee, who were arrested in connection with its probe into the school jobs scam.
The ED had prayed for 14 days’ custody of Chatterjee, stating that AIIMS, Bhubaneswar has said in a report after medical examination of the minister that no active intervention is required over his health.
Rejecting a bail prayer of the minister, special ED Court judge Jibon Kumar Sadhu at Bankshall court here extended ED custody of the minister and also of Mukherjee till August 3.
The court directed in its order that the two accused persons, who were arrested on July 23, be produced before it again on August 3. Chatterjee was produced before the court on Saturday and remanded to two-day ED custody, while Mukherjee was produced before the court on Sunday and remanded to one-day custody.
The ED prayed for 14 days’ custody of Chatterjee claiming that he has been in state-run SSKM Hospital allegedly faking illness and thus the agency could not question him during the two-day remand granted by the CMM in-charge court on Saturday. The agency also prayed for Mukherjee’s custody for 13 days.
The Calcutta High court on Sunday directed that Chatterjee be taken to AIIMS, Bhubaneswar, for a medical check-up by specialists of various departments on Monday morning. The judge directed that medical examination be conducted of both the accused every 48 hours of their detention in ED custody.
The court directed the investigating officer not to inflict torture upon the accused persons. The investigating officer was directed not to subject Mukherjee to custodial interrogation between 9 PM and 6 PM.
The high court had on Sunday directed that the minister, who was the education minister when the scam took place, be virtually produced before a special ED court in Kolkata at 4 PM on Monday.
The ED had moved the high court challenging an order by Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (in-charge), Calcutta, sending Chatterjee to SSKM Hospital while rejecting his bail prayer and granting two-day custody to the agency.
Additional solicitor general S V Raju submitted before Judge Sadhu the report of AIIMS, Bhubaneswar, which he said stated that no active intervention is required for chronic illnesses suffered by Chatterjee. It was also stated that his vital parameters like blood pressure and oxygen saturation level were normal and blood sugar was under control.
Opposing the prayer of ED, Chatterjee’s lawyer prayed for his bail. Mukherjee’s counsel prayed that a short custody be given for her and that her security be ensured owing to Sunday’s incident in which a vehicle hit a car of the convoy carrying her from court after production.
Seeking remand of Chatterjee and Mukherjee, the ASG claimed before the court that this is a very serious scam where deserving candidates were deprived of appointment as teachers in schools and undeserving candidates with money were given jobs.
The high court had directed the CBI to inquire into recommendations by the state’s School Service Commission (SSC) vide which alleged illegal appointments were made by the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education in government and aided schools.
In pursuance of the order, the ED filed an FIR to probe the money trail allegedly involved in the case and arrested Chatterjee, who is also the secretary general of ruling Trinamool Congress, and his alleged associate Mukherjee.
Raju submitted before the special court on Monday that Rs 21.9 crore in cash, gold ornaments, several mobile phones and other documents including a joint property deed were recovered during search at Mukherjee’s residence. It was submitted by the ED counsel that during search of Mukherjee’s residence, a conveyance deed in the joint name of Chatterjee and Mukherjee was seized, which he claimed makes it clear that the association goes back to at least 2012.
Claiming that Chatterjee and Mukherjee were involved in money laundering by indulging in criminal conspiracy for illegally giving jobs to undeserving candidates as teachers, Raju submitted that several documents were recovered during search operation on July 22 from the minister’s residence.
Claiming that Chatterjee was uncooperative with the agency’s investigating officers and had also allegedly been initially reluctant to go to Bhubaneswar, the ASG submitted that the minister needs to be examined jointly with Mukherjee, whom he described as the minister’s “close associate”.
Seeking Chatterjee’s custody, Raju submitted that it needs to be probed whether the buck stops here or is in some other place and whether there is more money involved that needs to be traced.
Opposing the ED’s contentions, Chatterjee’s counsel Debasish Roy submitted that search was conducted by the agency’s sleuths at the minister’s residence and he was questioned for around 30 hours without giving him any notice. He claimed that Chatterjee is innocent and has been falsely implicated in the case and no recovery was made from the possession of the minister.
Seeking bail for the minister, the counsel submitted that the offences which are alleged to have been committed attract a maximum term of seven years if found guilty and arrest and custody is not necessary in these. Stating that Chatterjee is not disputing that Mukherjee is an acquaintance, his lawyer submitted that it does not mean that money recovered from her residence has any relation with the minister.
After hearing pleadings in a revision application moved by the ED challenging a lower court order sending Chatterjee to SSKM Hospital after his lawyers claimed he was ill, Justice Bibek Chaudhuri on Sunday directed that the AIIMS, Bhubaneswar authority will medically examine the accused by a team of specialist doctors.
Making scathing remarks against SSKM Hospital, Justice Chaudhuri said that in the recent past, more than one high-ranking political leader belonging to the ruling political party who were arrested or directed to appear before the investigating authority for interrogation successfully avoided it by taking shelter in this hospital.
Justice Chaudhuri on Monday refused to entertain a prayer by Chatterjee’s counsel for deletion of these observations, who claimed that these would hamper adversely the fate of bail application of the accused.
Terming “irregularities” in recommending appointments of teaching and non-teaching staff by SSC as a “public scam”, a division bench of the high court hearing appeals had said that a single bench of Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay was not wrong in ordering a probe into the alleged money trail involved.
Holding that a five-member committee appointed to oversee the appointment process for a 2016 panel for recruitment of teachers for classes 9 and 10 and group C and D staff in West Bengal government and aided schools was illegal, the single bench had ordered the then state education minister to appear before the CBI.
At least eight orders were passed by the single bench directing the CBI to enquire into the alleged irregularities in the appointments of teaching and non-teaching staff from a panel of candidates formed in 2016.