Two apparently disconnected incidents point to the depths of hopelessness that a demographically young West Bengal has been forced to plumb faced with nearly four decades of ruinous rule. One, a decision by the Calcutta High Court on Thursday to issue an interim stay on recruitment of civic police volunteers across the state. Two, the collapse of the Vivekananda Road flyover in Kolkata on 31 March.
Why did HC term govt's job scheme a 'scam'?
Dealing a body blow to Trinamool Congress government's quick fire job solution, that too flush in the middle of Assembly polls, Justice Sanjib Banerjee of the Calcutta High Court on Thursday issued an interim stay order on the recruitment of civic police volunteers, calling the move "a great scam".
Civic police volunteers are youth who have been inducted into the state's police force to aid the cops and administration. The scheme, which was launched almost as soon as Mamata Banerjee took over the reins of the state in 2011, has been instrumental in recruiting well over a lakh of youth. It is one of the most popular projects in a state where jobs are as scarce as water in Marathwada.
Trouble is, most of the recruitment was done in an ad-hoc manner. There have been long-standing allegations that party members or sympathisers are preferred over more eligible candidates. In a petition filed last month in the Calcutta High Court, 10 youth from Bankura (one of the seven districts in the state's Burdwan division) alleged irregularities in the appointment and submitted that they have been discriminated against despite being eligible for the job.
On being directed by the court, the state government filed an affidavit on Thursday admitting that instead of proper procedures, appointments were made only on the basis of oral interviews conducted by a five-member committee set up by the district SPs comprising additional SP, deputy SP and three cops from the local police station. Incidentally, recruitment in the police force involves mandatory clearance of physical and written tests.
The court observed that hiring youths who would serve in police stations on the basis of just an interview was a scam. It directed the state to file a detailed report by 9 May.
"The process adopted by the government during the recruitment of civic police volunteers was not only illegal, it seems to be a scam. The government had adopted pick-and-choose policy… I want to know the details about the criteria for recruitment and the actual process adopted by the state.
"The government is directed not to recruit any civic police volunteer in the state until further orders," a report carried by The Telegraph quotes Justice Banerjee, as saying.
The green-clad volunteers, about 1.3 lakh of whom were appointed on a contract basis between 2011 and 2013, drew a salary of just over Rs 2,000 per month. It was subsequently revised to Rs 5,000 last year. There have been allegations that the criteria for these jobs were party connection, not competence and that these were handed out as doles to TMC workers.
TMC took cash for jobs, says CPIM
Calling the high court decision the latest "in a series of slaps" on the face of Mamata Banerjee government, CPIM MP and politburo member Mohammad Salim said the ruling party is cavorting with the future of Bengal and its youth force.
"Mamata Banerjee has said people should slap her if she has committed mistakes. The high court has delivered a series of slaps. This is the latest," Md Salim told Firstpost on Friday.
"But the TMC regime is shameless and has failed to draw a lesson. In its magnitude and deviousness this is right up there with the Vyapam scam. Instead of taking exams while recruiting the civic police volunteers, the TMC distributed quotas among its leaders and raised money through it. Jobs were handed out in exchange for cash.
"The government is playing around with the future of the state's youth. We will see to it that action is taken against those who paid up to get appointed," the CPM leader said in a telephonic conversation on Friday.
Truth behind the collapsed flyover
According to a report carried in Times of India on Friday, the steel used in the collapsed Vivekananda road flyover was of inferior quality, different from the type mentioned in the tender.
A police investigation into the incident, which happened on 31 March and caused the death of 28 and injured 67 others, reveals steel frames of 28mm thickness were used instead of 32mm.
Reports had emerged earlier how the flyover construction was being carried out by unskilled labourers supplied by TMC's feared 'syndicates' who had been charging for trained personnel.
Shuttering and binding — construction of the scaffoldings on which concrete slabs are laid, which according to engineers are a specialised job, were being carried out by untrained workers, according to a recent report by The Telegraph.
What these two developments tell us
At the heart of the two seemingly disparate incidents lies a common theme — lack of jobs.
Mamata Banerjee was forced to recruit lakhs of untrained youths in state's police force via a perfunctory interview because she needed a quick solution to the debilitating joblessness plaguing the state. Over three decades, the Left front slowly but surely destroyed the state's educational institutions, filling them with party apparatchiks, celebrating mediocrity and putting indoctrination over merit. Mamata inherited these and made it worse.
Every year lakhs of youth are injected into the system, mostly untrained and crippled by a rotten paradigm. In absence of even a single big-ticket industry, there are no jobs and consequently, it is this aimless workforce which then forms an easy platform for the 'syndicate raj' to thrive.
Bidhannagar mayor Sabyasachi Dutta, who was caught in a Times Now sting owning up to his links with TMC-controlled syndicates, later brazenly admitted his links. He defended his stance, saying that he will always stand by unemployed youths.
The statement is also a staggering admission of the state's failure to secure the future of its youth. The 'job scam' and collapsed flyover are its inevitable side effects.