Government jobs come with a premium paid in advance, suggests developments in West Bengal

There are very few government jobs and hence either pay or flaunt your connections to get one—is the sad truth in not just West Bengal but elsewhere too

Government jobs come with a premium paid in advance, suggests developments in West Bengal

S.N.M. Abdi

A remark by a veteran Trinamool Congress leader at a public forum has turned the spotlight on joblessness in West Bengal and refocused attention on corrupt practices plaguing government recruitments and appointments.

Sobhandev Chattopadhyay has been a Mamata Banerjee loyalist ever since she left the Congress Party in 1997. In the third Trinamool Congress government, he is Minister for Agriculture. He was Minister for Power – another pivotal portfolio - in the previous government.

Speaking at an educational fair on June 4, the 78-year-old politician said: “This year 12 lakh students sat for the Madhyamik (school-leaving) examination. And 86 percent have passed the examination, but only to join the ranks of educated jobless youth wandering around in our state.”

Hearing the candid remark, two other ministers sharing the dais-- Firhad Hakim and Humayun Kabir – rolled their eyes and bit their tongue. But an unperturbed Chattopadhyay piled it on: “Graduates don’t get jobs. Even if you are a post-graduate, you can’t land a job. I am a people’s representative. And I can tell you from my experience that five out of 10 persons who turn up at my home desperately want jobs.”

The Opposition swooped down on the confession within minutes. Bharatiya Janata Party’s Shamik Bhattacharya said: “Across the world, there are fewer government jobs. But the problem with West Bengal is that it doesn’t attract investors. And that’s the main reason why there are no jobs.” Sujan Chakraborty, member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist’s central committee remarked: “The Trinamool Congress has turned West Bengal into a factory that’s churning out unemployed youth. The administration is keeping a lid on the situation by organising various fairs and sports tournaments for jobless young men and women, while 5.5 lakh government posts are lying vacant.” Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, state Congress Party president, said: “I hope Sobhandev Chattopadhyay’s job is not snatched for speaking the truth. His words prove that what we have been saying is nothing but the truth. Even educated youth can’t earn a livelihood today.”

BJP leader Tatagatha Roy – who is himself jobless after his tenure as Governor ended in 2020 – described Chattopadhyay as “one of the few honest leaders in the Trinamool Congress” whose observation “shows how horrible the unemployment situation is in West Bengal”.

Unemployment and lack of livelihood opportunities for the youth were major election issues in the assembly elections last year despite Chief Minister Banerjee’s repeated announcements that her government had created a whopping 12 million jobs in two terms since 2011. But the opposition, especially the BJP, pointed at the state’s employment exchanges with 3.5 million registered job seekers whose numbers had swelled by over a lakh in 2020 itself. It also highlighted two lakh vacant government posts. But the Trinamool Congress fell back on Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data and milked it to its advantage.

In February 2021, just before the election in the state, unemployment in highly-industrialised, BJP-ruled Haryana stood at a gut-wrenching 26.4 percent! West Bengal stood at 6.2 percent – marginally above the national average of 6.9 percent.

BJP big guns, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, promised ashol poriborton (real change) through a double-engine government – BJP rule at the Centre and in West Bengal. They made one grandiose announcement after another claiming that West Bengal will be flooded with jobs with national and multinational firms scrambling to invest in the changed political climate post regime change turning the state into a paradise of factories.

All in all, the BJP pitched job creation as its priority at par with saving Hindus comprising 70% of the population from Muslims comprising 27%. But election results jolted the BJP out of its stupor as Bengalis did not bite either bait.

The opposition pounced on Chattopadhyay although the unemployment scenario is clearly not as grim as he portrayed it. But it is resonating in the popular imagination because of the recently unearthed corruption in West Bengal government recruitments and appointments. The public has linked Chattopadhyay’s admission of joblessness to greedy politicians and officials caught selling government school jobs – ranging from teachers to clerks and Group D personnel - depriving deserving applicants of employment opportunities.

The CM’s integrity is beyond reproach but dozens of Trinamool Congress ministers and lawmakers were caught, arrested, prosecuted and jailed in the Saradha and Narada scams. And the ongoing investigations by the Calcutta High Court into the West Bengal School Service Commission (known as SSC) recruitment racket has revealed a financial scandal bigger than the 2013 Saradha chit fund scam and the 2016 Narada cash-for-favours scam.

Corruption in SSC recruitment was unearthed after three job aspirants complained to Calcutta High Court about irregularities in appointments and the judge directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate. On May 19, two High Court judges called the SSC racket a “public scam”.

The CBI has repeatedly questioned former Education Minister, Partha Chatterjee, a top Trinamool Congress leader, Paresh Adhikary, the current junior minister in Education department, and several former and present SSC officials. The High Court sacked Minister Adhikary’s daughter, Ankita Adhikary, from her teaching job which she landed illegally and has ordered her to return 41 months of salary by July 7. The CBI has asked Chatterjee to hand over his bank statements.

Chattopadhyay’s admission has acquired a life of its own because of the Calcutta High Court’s relentless pursuit of the SSC corruption scandal and its coverage by the print and electronic media.

An impression has definitely gained around that there are no jobs – as Chattopadhyay has testified – because they are being sold to the highest bidder or going to the likes of the well-connected Ankita Adhikary instead of deserving applicants.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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