Mumbai : A high-level investigation has revealed that at least Rs 800 crore of taxpayers money, meant to be used for skilling of the tribal population in Maharashtra, was siphoned off.
The investigation team, which was led by a retired High Court judge and comprised senior government officials, has blamed a nexus of politicians, contractors and officials for the alleged loot, and has sought their prosecution. Maharashtra government insiders, meanwhile, conceded the scam could go even deeper. “The investigation pertains to skilling initiatives taken up between 2004 and 2009. There have been complaints of irregularities in schemes implemented recently too,” said a senior official.
To increase the source of income of tribal families, the Maharashtra government has been implementing the skilling initiative since 1992. Under the initiative, ring-fenced funds are released for all the 24 tribal project offices in the state for localized skilling initiatives.
Besides grants or facilities to start small businesses, these included running various vocational training programmes. Training young tribal students for competitive exams and technical education courses were also taken up on a big scale under the initiative.
The investigation, however, revealed a majority of such training programmes, which were conducted across the state, between 2004 and 2009 were bogus. In most cases, it found no training was imparted at all, but the contractors, who had been appointed to run the training programme, were issued payments. “Bogus enrollment records were created to show the success of the training modules,” the panel said.
In its report on the scam, it also observed that the same set of contractors, who were appointed without following any tender norms, had bagged most processes across tribal belts in the state. “There is no record to show eligible students sat for the training,” the report states.
During the course of the inquiry, the investigation team said it also stumbled upon cases where “undergraduates” and “school students” were named in the list of the beneficiaries who were trained for taking competitive exams, including those for the Union Public Service Commission, the Maharashtra Public Service Commission, and the MSCIT.
Investigation chief, Justice (retd) M G Gaikwad, when contacted, said, “It was expected that the project offices would select candidates eligible for taking such training courses. But almost none of the offices appeared to have done this. In most cases we found there was no authentic evidence showing the qualification of students. It is clear the local project offices had connived with the contractors to project offices had connived with the contractors to mis-utilise the funds.”
Following directives of the Bombay High Court, a five-member committee was appointed under Gaikwad to probe allegations of rampant corruption in tribal welfare schemes between 2004 and 2009. The committee has submitted a 3,000-page report, which has even indicted then Tribal Development Minister Dr Vijaykumar Gavit for some irregularities. Gavit, earlier with the Nationalist Congress Party, is currently a BJP legislator. The Indian Express had earlier highlighted the committee’s findings regarding various irregularities in the cooking gas, irrigation and community marriage schemes.
While probing contracts awarded for running vocational and skilled training courses to tribal families, the committee also found instances where “the training was shown conducted before issuance of the work order”. It has also highlighted instances where ghost students were used to show the success of the skilling projects on paper.
The committee has also accused tribal department officials in various project offices of illegally disposing of bicycles and books procured for school and college-going children in these belts. This corruption was detected even in Naxal-infested Gadchiroli district, where bicycles meant for girl students were sold illegally to misappropriate funds. A similar modus operandi was detected in several projects for supply of bullock carts, ploughs, mini flour mills, grinder machines, sewing and stitching machines, digital cameras, musical instruments sets, loudspeakers and manure, which was meant to be distributed among tribal households.
“In a large number of cases the benefits never reached the tribals. But the conniving officials and the contractors laughed all the way to the banks,” said a senior official. The committee has estimated around Rs 789 crore was siphoned off in the garb of skilling in just five years. Manisha Verma, Secretary, Tribal Development department, when contacted, last week, had informed that the implementation of these schemes will now be monitored at the government-level.
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