India Today Expose: Skill India initiative weaves more scams than success stories
A flustered Tara Chandra is at his wit's end about becoming a 'certified tailor' without ever enrolling for a training centre for sewing under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's much-hyped Skill India programme that was launched on July 15, 2015.
According to the Textiles Ministry's Integrated Skill Development Scheme (ISDS) records, Chandra was trained in sewing at the Sonipat-based Modern Education Society and was issued certificate number 17210867803 on September 23, 2017.
"I never underwent any sewing or embroidery training. I did attend a masonry workshop for seven days, but had never been to the Banda training centre. I don't know tailoring," he said.
An India Today TV investigation showed that Chandra is not the only one who has been conned by middlemen using the Centre's flagship programme. Two other natives of Chaukin Purava village in Banda, Uttar Pradesh were also taken for a ride by conmen in the name of Skill India, which aims to train around 40 crore people in different skills by 2022.
Rakesh, who slogs as a daily-wage labourer, is a 'certified' tailor on paper. After enrolling as candidate number 1507398 at the same Modern Education Society, he was employed on February 5 earning a monthly wage of Rs 6,500, says the ISDS website. "I work as a labourer for my livelihood. Someone else is making money by using my name," he said.
Another ghost beneficiary of Skill India is Anita Devi. She too is clueless about her training at the same centre and the certificate number 17210867810 which was issued on September 23, 2017. "They took all our details but nobody informed us where and when the training was being held. I have a family. I could have also worked and made some money."
Skill India roped in ministries, NGOs and private stakeholders to realise the goal of overcoming the skill shortages of Indians by providing vocational training to them under the public-private partnership model.
Partner agencies are entitled to 75 per cent of government subsidy on the sanctioned cost of Rs10,000 per candidate.
However, middlemen are using details like Aadhaar numbers of unsuspecting people to project them as beneficiaries of Skill India. A similar picture presents itself in Banda's Atarra tehsil.
"Chhedilal (a middleman) took my Aadhaar card saying he would get me a job after traning. I came to find out three months later that the training had already been held and my name was used," said Ramanuj, who is officially certified as a tailor under the ISDS.
His certificate number 17130665810 says Ramanuj had been trained by Pune-based Maharashtra Academy of Engineering and Educational Research (MAEER) in 2016.
MAEER coordinating officer Mahesh Deshpande terms the blatant misuse of Skill India as mere "miscommunication". "No, no, no. There is some miscommunication. Students who apply for training can appear for exams and the ministry assesses them. And certification is issued as per integration with Aadhaar cards. Only then are certificates issued by the ministry," he said.
But documents and testimonies with India Today TV have unearthed a scam committed in the name of the scheme. Social worker Ruby Zainab, whose NGO Alfiza imparts vocational training to the underprivileged in Banda's Aliganj, was conned into believing that she was a partner in the ambitious programme.
Again it was the ministry's partner Modern Education Society, which 'assigned' Alfiza to train 150 young women in tailoring last year.
"We were asked to teach the women, who were even assessed by 'inspectors' [of Modern Education Society]," said Ruby, who started the class believing it was a credible scheme sponsored by the government.
Suddenly, the inspectors vanished after four months. "We wrote many letters and visited government offices but all in vain. Now, the trainees keep calling us," said Ruby, who believes that the inspectors stopped visiting after she shared Aadhaar details and photographs of the women.
A worried Ruby filed an RTI application with the ministry to determine the status of the programme. The reply on August 23 juddered Ruby: 146 women had already been trained at her NGO and 95 were employed! However, neither were the trainees provided certificates nor did Ruby receive payment for conducting the training.
But the RTI reply showed that the ministry did pay Modern Education Society a whopping Rs1.12 crore for conducting ISDS courses at various locations.
In her early 20s, Shabnam had enrolled for the course at the NGO. "I along with 50 of my friends undertook the training hoping to get certificates, loans and finally set up shops. I feel frustrated. My friends keep calling me to ask about certificates," she says.
Modern Education Society's then-president Mohinder Gaur rules out any irregularity. "The ministry's website contains all records about the number of trainees and placements. There's no question of any irregularity. Attendance of trainees is biometric and everything is monitored," he said referring to the ministry data.
Raja Bhaiya, a social worker in Atarra, had started a centre as part of a state government programme integrated with the Skill India mission only to shut it down because of alleged corruption.
Hoping that his centre would generate employment, Bhaiya was soon shocked when babus and officials allegedly demanded Rs 10,000 for approval. "They demanded Rs 10,000 more when exams approached," he said.
"Touts and middlemen are virtually stealing Aadhaar cards across villages in the name of skill development schemes. Subsequently, the victims are portrayed as fraudulent beneficiaries of government schemes and their details uploaded on government websites," he says.
The Congress was quick to react to the exposé with All India Congress Committee (AICC) communications-in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala slamming Modi for his claim that "if one rupee is released from Delhi, the entire 100 paise reaches the house of the poor".
Praising India Today TV for the exposé and "path-breaking investigation", Surjewala dubbed Skill India as a "scheme to deskill India". "Hats off to India Today TV, the truth is that every rupee Modi sends is siphoned off 100 per cent. Ghost records, and fraud companies and agencies given to BJP supporters to siphon off Skill India money proves that the scheme is to deskill India."
Jharkhand AICC-in-charge RPN Singh seconded Surjewala. "I want to congratulate India Today TV for the exposé, which shows no money is reaching the beneficiary. Modi recently said that one rupee released by the Centre reaches the last man in the village. But not even one paise is reaching the villager," he said.