Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court on Sunday directed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to take West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee, arrested in connection with the school jobs scam, to AIIMS Bhubaneswar early on Monday by air ambulance.
The court directed that the minister, who held the education portfolio during the time of the appointment scam in which teaching jobs in state government-sponsored and aided schools were allegedly offered in lieu of money, be produced before a special ED court in Kolkata through virtual mode at 4 PM on Monday.
“The investigating agency is directed to take the accused by air ambulance to AIIMS, Bhubaneswar in the early morning on 25th July, 2022,” Justice Bibek Chaudhuri directed.
After hearing pleadings in a revision application moved by the ED challenging a lower court order sending Chatterjee to state-run SSKM Hospital after his lawyers claimed he was ill, Justice Chaudhuri directed that the AIIMS, Bhubaneswar authority will medically examine the accused by a team of specialist doctors of cardiology, nephrology, respiratory medicines and endocrinology.
The high court directed AIIMS, Bhubaneswar to prepare a report and hand over the copies to the investigating officer and the medical officer of SSKM Hospital, who would accompany Chatterjee in the air ambulance, and his advocate by 3 PM on Monday.
The report will be produced before the special judge in Kolkata, who will take up the matter at 4 PM in which Chatterjee will be produced through the virtual mode, Justice Chaudhuri directed, disposing of the petition by the ED.
Holding that the special judge will have to depend on the medical report of the accused at the time of consideration of ED’s prayer for custody, Justice Chaudhuri said that to facilitate the trial judge to take a proper decision on the issue, the order to have Chatterjee physically examined at AIIMS, Bhubaneswar was passed. Chatterjee was remanded to ED custody till Monday by the lower court.
Observing that the experience of the common man with regard to the role of the doctors attached to SSKM Hospital is not happy, Justice Chaudhuri said that in the recent past, more than one high-ranking political leader belonging to the ruling party either arrested or directed to appear before the investigating authority for interrogation successfully avoided it by taking shelter in this hospital.
The court said that when they found that there was no possibility for the investigating agency to interrogate the suspects having strong political background under the umbrella of the ruling political party, they were discharged from SSKM Hospital. They avoided even production before the court on the strength of medical report issued by the said hospital authority.
“Considering the fact that the accused is the senior-most cabinet minister in West Bengal having immense power and position, it would not be impossible for the accused with the aide of other political executives to take shelter under the garb of serious illness and medical treatment to evade interrogation,” Justice Chaudhuri observed.
“If this happens, the Lady Justice will be cursed by the tears of hundreds and thousands of deserving candidates whose future was sacrificed in lieu of money,” the court said.
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 given by the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education in government and aided schools.
The ED is probing the money trail allegedly involved in the case and arrested Chatterjee and his alleged close associate Arpita Mukherjee.
The ED claimed before the high court on Sunday that a huge sum of money amounting to more than Rs 21 crore, gold ornaments and foreign currency were recovered and seized from the possession of Mukherjee. The agency further claimed that ample evidence was collected against Chatterjee regarding Mukherjee being his close associate.
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 inquire into the alleged irregularities in the appointments of teaching and non-teaching staff from a panel of candidates formed in 2016.
The ED moved the high court challenging an order by Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (in charge), Calcutta, sending Chatterjee to state-run SSKM Hospital while rejecting his bail prayer and granting two-day custody to the agency. It moved the revision petition before the high court and sought a hearing on a Sunday claiming urgency.
Appearing for the ED, Additional Solicitor General S V Raju submitted that Chatterjee was examined at the ESI Hospital at Joka here on Saturday following his arrest and the medical officer found him fit.
Assailing the lower court order directing that Chatterjee be examined and given treatment at SSKM Hospital, the ASG submitted that it can direct adequate treatment of a person but cannot specify a particular medical facility.
Chatterjee’s lawyer claimed that he is suffering from serious ailments and is aged about 70 years. He submitted that considering the age and nature of ailment, the magistrate directed his medical examination at SSKM Hospital.