Kolkata: Veteran politician Partha Chatterjee was on Thursday sacked from West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee ministry and all party posts, besides being suspended from the Trinamool Congress, six days after his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the alleged School Service Commission (SSC) recruitment scam.
The once all-powerful minister and Trinamool leader lost all his government and party posts, hours after the ED – probing the money trail in the alleged scam – claimed to have recovered nearly Rs 28 crore and a huge quantity of gold running into Rs four crore from the flat of model-actress Arpita Mukherjee at Belgharia in the city’s northern suburb, taking the total haul from her residences to close to Rs 50 crore since last week.
Last Friday, the ED had recovered Rs 21.90 crore, as also a large quantity of jewelry and foreign currency from Mukherjee’s flat in South Kolkata’s Tollygunge.
The ED has already arrested Mukherjee, claiming she was Chatterjee’s “close associate” and suspecting that the money was the “proceeds from the School Service Commission (SSC) recruitment scam”. Chatterjee was the state education minister (2014-2021) when the alleged
irregularities in the recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff of government-aided primary and secondary schools happened.
Chatterjee, who was virtual number two in Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet, held a slew of portfolios including commerce and industries and parliamentary affairs, public enterprises and industrial
reconstruction. He also was the in-charge of the information technology and electronics departments.
“Partha Chatterjee…. is hereby relieved of his duties as minister-in-charge of the aforesaid departments with effect from 28th day of July 2022,” the state government said in a notification by order of the governor on Thursday.
The notification was signed by the chief secretary.
Soon after the government notification, the chief minister announced, “I have relieved Partha from the Ministry. We are a strict and strong party.”
A couple of hours later, Chatterjee was removed from all party positions by the Trinamool Congress following a meeting of its disciplinary committee, which was ironically chaired by the now disgraced leader till the other day.
Party National General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee, who convened the meeting of the panel, announced that Chatterjee has been suspended from the party with immediate effect.
“He has also been stripped of his post as party Secretary General, editor of party mouthpiece Jago Bangla, national vice-president and member of the national working committee with immediate effect. The suspension will continue till he is cleared of all charges in the alleged SSC scam. If it is proved he is innocent, then the doors of the party are open,” said Banerjee.
Chatterjee has also been sacked from the disciplinary committee.
Iterating that Trinamool has “zero tolerance” for any wrongdoing, Banerjee said strict measures are being taken so that similar situations do not happen in future.
Banerjee said the ED must find the sources of “black money” which was recovered from two flats of Arpita Mukherjee. “The source of so much money and assets have to be investigated, no matter what status that person has in the party”.
To a query about Mukherjee, the Diamond Harbour MP said “The owner of the flats from where the cash was found is not connected with the party.”.
He also demanded that BJP leaders, who shifted from TMC, against whom there are graft allegations, should also be probed and measures taken against them as well.
“We are not at all against any probe into irregularities, but probe all and within a fixed timeframe…There cannot be two separate laws or rules,” he said.
Asked about viral photos and videos of party supremo Mamata Banerjee with Mukherjee, Abhishek Banerjee said if anyone comes in the photo frame of Mamata Banerjee, she cannot be held responsible for that.
On Why Chatterjee was suspended before being proven guilty, Banerjee quipped, “the benefit of doubt is with the people, not the leader(s).”
To a query if the developments would tarnish the image of the party, he said, the accusations are against only one member, not all the leaders.
“If there is a by-election, the people will show where their faith lies”, he added.
The double blow to Chatterjee was preceded by dramatic developments within the Trinamool. In the morning, party spokesperson Kunal Ghosh demanded Chatterjee’s removal from the cabinet and expulsion from the party.
“Partha Chatterjee should be removed from ministry and all party posts immediately. He should be expelled. If this statement is considered wrong, the party has every right to remove me from all posts,” tweeted Ghosh.
However, he deleted the tweet sometime later as Abhishek Banerjee convened the party disciplinary committee meeting.
The Calcutta High Court in a slew of writ petitions had in April directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to carry out an investigation into the recruitment scam of Group ‘C’ & ‘D’ staff, assistant teachers of classes IX-XII and primary school teachers.
While the CBI is looking into the criminality involved in the alleged scam, the ED is investigating cases under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.