In a blatant trend of the government favouring organisations linked to politicians,almost a quarter of the Jan Shikshan Sansthans (JSSs) approved by the Human Resource Development ministry since 2000 have been found to belong to leaders of key political parties or their relatives and friends.
These sansthans were launched as Shramik Vidyapeeths in 1967 and are district-level resource support agencies,especially for organising vocational training and skill development programmes for neo-literates and other target groups of the continuing education programme.
The HRD ministry gives Rs 25-35 lakh per year to each JSS for recurring expenses,Rs 10-15 lakh per year for non-recurring expenses,and a one-time building grant of Rs 20 lakh.
Since 2000,the NDA and its successor UPA government have allowed NGOs to set up 215 of these institutions across the country,taking the total number of JSSs to 271. At least 52 of the 215 are controlled by politicians or their near and dear ones,including 30 with Congress links and 17 with BJP links,The Indian Express has found.
The pattern of approvals since 2000 shows that the HRD ministry under both the NDA and the UPA governments favoured NGOs that were close to the ruling establishment. When Murli Manohar Joshi was HRD minister,NGOs belonging to BJP leaders or their relatives and friends were favoured with JSS approvals. Similarly,Congress members or those close to them gained when Arjun Singh was HRD minister in UPA-I.
In fact,when Kapil Sibal got the portfolio in UPA-II,he could not sanction a single JSS as his predecessor Singh had exhausted the entire quota of 73 sansthans available in the 11th five-year plan.
The process of selecting most of these organisations was not fully transparent,The Indian Express found on inspecting information obtained under the RTI Act. Although there are detailed qualifications for NGOs that desire to run a JSS and clear guidelines to select them,they were not publicised through advertisements. This,officials said,limited applicants to a circle of NGOs working closely with the HRD ministry or those linked to politicians.
Asked by The Indian Express through an RTI application to provide the list of NGOs whose applications were rejected during the selection process,as that would indicate the competition for sanctions,the HRD ministry replied that it keeps records of only those NGOs which were sanctioned JSSs.
The scramble to get a JSS seems to have pushed several BJP and Congress leaders in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to become activists. Congress leaders and their relatives who got JSSs in these two states or are linked to them include minister of state for HRD Jitin Prasad,MP Jagdambika Pal,CLP leader Pradeep Mathur,besides former MPs,MLAs,MLCs,party leaders and their relatives.
The list also includes Amod Kanth,a former UT cadre IPS officer who contested the 2008 Delhi assembly elections on a Congress ticket. Kanth runs a JSS in Delhi and another in Bihar.
BJP leaders and their relatives in this list include former MoS in the HRD ministry Rita Verma,former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa when he was in the BJP,former HRD minister M M Joshis former aide Ashok Kawadia,former UP minister Brijesh Sharma,former MPs Ashtabhuja Shukla and Kirit Somaiya and former Allahabad unit president Sunil Jain,among others.
Congress leader Pradeep Mathurs JSS in Mathura also figures in the list of 19 sansthans whose grants have been stopped since 2001 following allegations of mismanagement of public money. A probe by the secretary,NCERT and a deputy secretary in the HRD ministry has been ordered into the alleged financial irregularities.
Documents related to the selection of NGOs also show how some of them sought to impress the ministry about their standing.
For instance,on the covering page of the proposal for a JSS in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh,submitted by Mahashakti Seva Kendra,is a letter from Congress president Sonia Gandhi acknowledging and accepting a gift sent to her by the NGO. It also has an acknowledgment letter written by BJP leader Najma Heptullah in response to new year greetings from the NGO.
The NGO is headed by Indira Iyengar,a former member of the state minorities commission who was considered close to Arjun Singh. Her NGO got another JSS in Alirajpur in 2009.
The files also show that JSS applications by several BJP leaders or their relatives were approved in the first quarter of 2004,before general elections that summer. Similarly,many Congress leaders or their relatives got these sansthans approved during 2008-09,the last months of UPA-I and Arjun Singhs term as HRD minister.
Always scope for improvement in any process
HRD minister M M Pallam Raju said the ministry does not have authentic data on the number of JSSs that may be run by politicians or their relatives. …the process of sanctioning of JSS…is not skewed in favor of politicians. However,it cannot be denied that there is always a scope of improvement in any process, he said.
While the process of examination of applications was fairly transparent,Raju said a credible,open and transparent method will be followed when new JSSs are sanctioned. Instead of en bloc review of all sanctions,the specific instances of arbitrary or fraudulent sanction of a JSS could always be examined if any such instance is referred, he added. ENS